Addition by Subtraction

Vayishlach 5774-An installment in the series From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School For series introduction CLICK By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood   Yaakov remained alone, and a man wrestled with him until just before daybreak.

-Bereshis 32:25

He had forgotten small flasks and [unwilling to squander them] returned [unaccompanied] for them. 

-Rashi Ibid

But Esav said, “I have plenty, my brother; let what is yours remain yours.”, “Please no!” Yaakov said “If indeed I have gained favor with you, then please accept my gift.  After all, seeing your face is like seeing the face of the Divine, you have received me so favorably. Please accept my welcoming gift as it has been brought to you.  Elokim has favored me [with it], and I have all [I need].” Yaakov thus prevailed upon him, and [at last] Esav took [it].

-Bereshis 33:9-11

Yaakov was among those Tzadikim who “value their property more than their bodies”(Chulin 91A).   So much so that he found it unconscionable to let a few small flasks go to waste.  Rav Leibeleh Eiger points out that his imploring Esav to accept his substantial gifts seems totally incompatible with his earlier behavior and attitude.  Even had he been less frugal, the fact that the recipient was the wicked Esav should have curbed his generosity and apparent urgency to part with his own property.

“But of the Tree of the Knowledge Joining Together of Good and Evil, do not eat of it; for on the day that you eat of it you will definitely die.’

– Bereshis 2: 17

The word Da’as means joining together and becoming as one. We’ve learned that the Original Sin, ingesting of the fruit of the Tree of the Joining Together of Good and Evil resulted in the Yetzer HaRa became internalized and integrated into mans very being. When Adam and Chava became what they ate this had a universal cataclysmic effect as the mish-mash of good and evil spread throughout the macrocosm as well. The catastrophic result of the Original Sin is that on both a human and a cosmic level there is no longer any unadulterated good or any unmitigated evil.

To resolve Yaakov’s inconsistencies Rav Leibeleh applies and expands this concept. He maintains that the physical manifestation of mans intrinsic evil is the foreskin. The bris milah-covenant of circumcision is intended to separate this congenital admixture of evil.  No one considers circumcision an act of maiming nor circumcised people to be amputees. On the contrary; the preamble to this covenant is “Walk before me and become perfect!” (Bereshis 17:1). One achieves perfection through excision of the superfluous. Circumcision is addition through subtraction.

Milah serves as the template for free-will endowed human beings to continue exercising their will in making birurim-refinements that sift the evil away from the good and expunge it. When HaShem bestows munificence and kedushah-holiness on deserving individuals that kedushah contains traces of evil as well.  It is the recipients’ mission and challenge to sift away and remove these smatterings of evil.  The Divine Wisdom determines the quality and quantity of evil that is in the mix, customizing the “compound” that requires refining so that it is appropriate to the soul tasked with the refining.

In our patriarch’s case, the vast stream of benevolence and kedushah overflowing from HaShem to Yaakov was adulterated by the pollutants of Esav’s evil. But until Yaakov isolated and detached the portions belonging to Esav that he’d received, he himself was as imperfect and spiritually maimed as one who is uncircumcised.  While Yaakov was, indeed, very parsimonious and possessive of that which belonged to him, he was eager to divest himself of all that belonged to Esav. This explains why he literally begged Esav to accept his gift. Yaakov was not giving away, he was giving back.

This helps explain the odd grammatical construct of pasuk 11; “Please accept my welcoming gift as it has been brought to you” is in the past tense. The pasuk would have been less stilted had it read: “Please accept my welcoming gift that I bring to you/ that I am giving you”. Subtextually Yaakov is telling Esav “Don’t imagine for a moment that I’m giving up anything (good/holy) that is actually mine. I’m merely transferring something that belonged to you from long ago. It had been brought to you in the past as an extraneous, superfluous add-on of evil at the time that HaShem’s shefa-overflow of benevolence came to me (כי חנני אלוקים). The welcoming gift that I present to you now was always meant to be yours.   On the contrary, you must take back what was always your portion from me so that what remains with me will be refined, unadulterated holiness. I must add to myself, perfect myself through this subtraction. Giving you this gift is another iteration of cutting away my foreskin.”

The very act of urging, pleading, nagging, almost harassing, Esav to accept the gift, was out of character for Yaakov.  While non-violent, it resonated of the type of compulsion and intimidation we normally associate with Esav, he to whom “the arms” belong, who lives by his sword and who engages in tyrannical imperialism. The technique of this gift-giving, actually divestiture, was itself, a part of the birur. “Prevailing-upon” his brother, Yaakov used his persistence as body language to tell Esav “Take your own haftzarah-your compelling, prevailing-upon away from me. ויפצר בו…ויקח

On that day Esav returned on his way to Seir. Yaakov journeyed to Sukkoth.  There, he built himself a house, and made shelters for his livestock. He therefore named the place Sukkoth. [Shelters]

– Bereshis 33: 16-17

The Torah’s narrative progresses from the episode of the “gift” to Esav to the final separation of the two brothers from one another. Rav Leibeleh concludes that this segue is as seamless and reasonable as the irreversible separation of the foreskin from the perfected body.

Adapted from Imrei Emes Vayishlach D”H Kach page 37  

9 comments on “Addition by Subtraction

  1. Somehow
    A. Yasher Koach
    B. maybe you’re handling the dikduk irregularity in the panim of P’shat and Rav Leibeleh is doing so in the panim of Sod.

    I might also argue that, despite their physical proximity to esav and his entourage, the animals had not yet been accepted by esav, he had no kijyan in them, and so the lashon Ahvahr is still shver.

  2. Daylia-

    “use the flasks as an apology to Esav”

    Perhaps I didn’t write over Rav Leibeleh’s Torah clearly enough but the flasks were never given to Ezav. OTC his initial question is based on what he sees as a huge incongruity in Yaakovs stingy, parsimonious retrieval of the flasks and his over the top generosity and largesse in the gifts of livestock.

    As to your actual question; The acts of parting the birthright and blessings from Esav are examples of undoing the Original sin via בירור הטוב מן הרע =the separation of good from evil . Whereas this gift of livestock to Esav represents the much finer and trickier refinement of removing trace elements of evil that were “still stuck” to the good.

    The tikun of the Original sin proceeds in stages.

  3. Bob Miller:

    Re #2, again Rav Leibeleh Eiger is silent on this point but the Siduro shel Shabbos writes that, as was the case by Noach’s ark, all of the animals that made up the gift to Esav came of their own accord (מן הבא בידו)such that Yaakov then knew without a doubt that davka these animals , in these particular numbers, were the ones that he needed to give “back”(emphasis mine) to Esav .

    I doubt that any corollary to this existed when he gave away his money to Elifaz on his way out of Canaan.

    I would add (and I hope that I’m not subtracting in the process ;-)) that the property that he was forced to give away to Elifaz on his way out of Canaan had been given to him by his parents and, as such, probably contained far fewer traces of evil. In contrast, Yaakov’s huge herds of livestock were derived from Lavan’s estate and , it stands to reason that, as such, probably contained a comparatively larger admixture of evil.

    Moreover, what belonged to Lavan had a qualitative association with Esav as well. cp Ohr haChaim (25:20)who writes that Esav “took after” his uncle Lavan.

  4. Bob Miller:

    Re #1 Rav Leibeleh Eiger is silent on this point but the Ohr haChaim writes (32:15)in the name of his grandfather that the gimatriya of Seir (Easv’s natural habitat)is “Tokef”=580. This was the amount of livestock that Yaakov sent as a gift to Esav “to break his strength(tokef shehlo)”. How, pray tell, does a gift that significantly enriches the recipient “break his strength” ?

    But this dovetails nicely with Rav Leibeleh Eiger’s p’shat. he is giving back to esav his Mahus, his very essence, as represented by the gimatriya of his natural habitat. This breaks Esavs strength as the strength of all rah derives only from its mixture with, and attachment to kedusha. So when Yaakov gave back this Seir-like “foreskin” and detached it from his kedusha, it effectively killed it.

  5. The pasuk would have been less stilted had it read: “Please accept my welcoming gift that I bring to you/ that I am giving you”.

    But in reality, the present had already been given before Eisav finally reached Yaakov, hence the past tense makes perfect sense.

  6. yaakov used trickery to switch the birthrite, and this nullified the sin by chava & adam with the snake,which was trickery, then why did yaakov have to give back
    to esav and basically use the flasks as an apology to esav????????

    H’ wanted yaakov to get the birthrite,and we all know that rivka & yaakov reversed esav’s
    receiving of the birthrite.
    then why why why did yaakov feel it was necessary to give him those flasks. he could have simply greeted his brother with love.

  7. 1. How do the specific physical gifts (type, quantity…) to Esav correlate with the specific spiritual gains to Yaakov?

    2. When Yaakov was forced to give away property on his way out of Canaan (so he could become poor = “dead”), was there some similar separation process?

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