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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayishlach

Parashat Vayishlach

Long-term Investments

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During their dreaded meeting, Yaakov’s wives and children approached Eisav and bowed down. Eisav looked at the women and children and responded with a question: "Who are these to you?" Yaakov answered: "The children whom Hashem granted your servant." Did Eisav really not know who the children were? Also, why did Yaakov answer only about his children’s identity, not his wives’? The Ba’al Haturim connected a midrash on Parashat Toldot with a gemara (Berachot 17a) and interpreted Eisav’s question as follows. Upon struggling in Rivka’s womb, Yaakov and Eisav reached a settlement that Eisav would receive prominence in olam hazeh (this world) and Yaakov in olam habah (the world to come). Chazal describe oam habah as a place which does not have eating, drinking or procreation. Thus, Eisav argued that Yaakov had contradicted himself. If he wasn’t interested in this world, then why did he have an extensive family?

The Ba’al Haturim does not provide Yaakov’s response to this question. However, a look at the Torah’s report of his answer along with some Torah-based common sense can show that Yaakov answered it profoundly. Yaakov answered Eisav that the children were granted from Hashem. We sometimes call children a gift from Hashem. However, a gift is something one gets for free, and he can do whatever he wants with it. So maybe we should call children an investment that Hashem gives us as a joint venture. If one uses investment money wisely, it brings returns to the investor and to the active partner in the venture. So too, when someone like Yaakov brings up his children in the way Hashem desires, both the parent and, kaveyachol, Hashem, gain.

Eisav also had a few wives and many children, as mentioned at the parasha’s end. He saw them as an element of olam hazeh. His wives gave him physical pleasure, and, for him, the more pleasure, the better. Eisav’s children were warriors, with whom to conquer lands and intimidate his brother. These were all things that Yaakov had claimed to pass up on. Wouldn’t one wife be enough, like it was for their parents? Yaakov did not ignore the question about the wives. He answered by saying that the additional wives were not for olam hazeh purposes. Rather, they were a means of having more children, and they were not his plan but a result of the Divine Providence. (Had he married Rachel the first time and she had born children, he would have not married Leah or taken Bilhah and Zilpah.) Regarding the children, Yaakov explained that he didn’t want them to serve his personal interests in olam hazeh. Rather, they were a joint venture with Hashem. The expected profits from the venture of Yaakov’s children were in olam habah. He dreamed of training them to follow the path of their forefathers and build a holy family and, eventually, a holy nation. As a result, patriarchs and descendents would all merit a healthy return in the world to come, as Hashem desired.

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