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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayishlach

Parashat Vayishlach

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When Ya’akov sends messengers to Esav, he instructs them to say to Esav as follows: "So said your servant Ya’akov. I have sojourned with Lavan and lingered until now." Rashi comments that the word "garti" (sojourned) has the numerical value 613, and adds that Ya’akov was saying: "Though I sojourned with the wicked Lavan, I observed (shamarti) the 613 commandments and I did not learn from his evil deeds." Commentaries on Rashi raise a very basic question. How could Ya’akov possibly have observed all 613 commandments? Many of the commandments are applicable only in Eretz Israel, such as all of the agricultural laws, and Ya’akov was outside the Land. And furthermore, many commandments are applicable only to the Jewish nation, such as appointing a king and building the Bet Hamikdash, and there was no Jewish nation yet.

In his commentary "Divrei David," Rabbi David ben Shmuel Halevi (author of the Turei Zahav on the Shulchan Arukh) suggests that the verb "shamarti," which we normally translate as "I observed," should be understood here to mean "I protected" or "I guarded." By studying the parts of Torah that were not applicable in his situation, Ya’akov protected these laws from being forgotten. Ya’akov felt their lack in his life and yearned to fulfill them. He wasn’t content with the abridged Torah that could be implementd in Galut. Instead, he delved into the laws that would take effect when he returned home. In so doing, he reminded himself that he was only living outside of Eretz Israel temporarily (the use of the word "garti" implies something temporary).

What Rashi is saying to us is that we too must realize that a Torah observant life ourside of Israel is incomplete. While in exile, we have to keep the mitzvot that can’t be observed in Galut in our consciousness so that they will give us the impetus to come home and implement them. May we all have the merit to participate in the building of the Bet Hamikdash and the activation of all of our Torah.

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