17 Nov PARASHAT VAYISHLACH- JEWISH PHOTOSYNTHESIS
We read in Parashat Vayishlah of the angel that attacked Yaakob Abinu as he made his way back to Eretz Yisrael from the home of Laban. The Rabbis teach us that this angel was Satan himself. Every nation has a heavenly angel that advocates on its behalf, so-to-speak, in the heavens. Satan “volunteered” for the job of being the angel of the nation established by Esav, which represents evil and the antithesis of everything that Am Yisrael is meant to represent. Satan’s attack on Yaakob Abinu was launched in order to prevent Yaakob Abinu from establishing Am Yisrael, the nation that would, for all eternity, struggle against the evil of Esav. Fortunately, Yaakob Abinu won this battle, and although he was injured, symbolizing a diminution of Am Yisrael’s power, nevertheless, he triumphed over Satan and indeed we, his descendants, are still able to wage this struggle against the evil spiritual forces in the world.
Rav Elhanan Wasserman (1874-1941) raised the question of why Satan waited until the emergence of the third of our patriarchs before launching this assault. Why did he not try to attack Abraham Abinu, who founded the nation that was destined to be Satan’s nemesis? Wouldn’t it have been wiser for Satan to try to “nip it in the bud,” to cut off Am Yisrael at its very root, the moment Abraham Abinu came onto the scene? And even if, for whatever reason, Satan deemed it unwise to launch this assault against Abraham, why did he not attack during the time of Yishak? Why did he wait until the time of Yaakob?
Rav Wasserman answered this question by analyzing the particular points of strength of the three patriarchs. They were all towering spiritual figures, but each had his own “specialty,” his unique forte, if you will. Abraham excelled especially in the area of Hesed, loving kindness. But although he bequeathed this quality to his descendants, and Am Yisrael has always distinguished itself through its generosity, charity is not a uniquely Jewish quality. Many gentiles are also selfless and giving, as are many non-observant and unaffiliated Jews. Satan did not launch his attack against Abraham, because a nation that is defined primarily by Hesed is not guaranteed to endure. He did not feel threatened by Abraham, because a nation built mainly around loving-kindness, as important as this quality certainly is, will not likely last.
Yishak, too, did not pose an immediate risk to Satan. Yishak, who was offered as a sacrifice, signifies the quality of prayer (which is associated with sacrifices). Prayer, like Hesed, is a crucial aspect of religious life, but does not guarantee Am Yisrael’s survival. Many synagogues here in the United States and elsewhere were unable to continue past the first generation after their establishment. Satan did not feel threatened by Yishak because he knew that praying is not enough to produce another loyal generation of G-d-fearing Jews.
Yaakob Abinu, however, posed a grave threat to Satan. Yaakob is described as a “Yosheb Ohalim” (“tent-dweller”), a devoted student of Torah. His outstanding quality was Torah learning. Once Yaakob came onto the scene, Satan realized he was in trouble. A nation that devotes itself to learning and education is guaranteed to endure. If there are yeshivot where children are trained and educated to follow the nation’s laws, values and customs, the nation will continue to reproduce itself, generation after generation. And this is why Satan launched an attack against Yaakob. Seeing Yaakob’s commitment to Torah, Satan realized that Yaakob is indeed capable of producing an eternal nation that will hinder his attempts to promote evil. He therefore attacked Yaakob, and although he succeeded in inflicting an injury, making it more difficult for Yaakob and his descendants to fulfill their mission in the world, Yaakob prevailed.
Needless to say, every aspect of Judaism is critically important and may not be ignored. But we can learn from Satan that Torah education is what holds the key to Jewish survival. Satan can handle packed synagogues on Shabbat and charity events, but Torah learning is his kryptonite. It is our greatest weapon against him.
In nature there is a process called photosynthesis which is vital for life. Plants receive energy from the sun, and they process this energy in order to produce oxygen. Without this process, of course, we would not be able to live. In Judaism, we have another kind of “photosynthesis,” which occurs not in plants, but within our precious children. The children receive the “energy” from the Torah, and with this spiritual force they produce our “oxygen” – the key to our survival. When we send our children off to school to learn Torah, we are doing our part to produce our nation’s “oxygen,” ensuring our continued existence.
Torah study is the ammunition we need to fight the Satan. The more we invest in Torah education, the more successful we will be in this ongoing battle, and ensure that Kedusha will prevail and triumph over evil.