Redemption Through the Refining of Rome
Sichos in English

Shabbos Parshas VaYishlach; 14th Day of Kislev, 5751

1. This week’s Torah portion begins by relating how Yaakov completed his service in Charan, established his family, and then sent messengers to Eisav, his brother, in the land of Seir. The latter act, however, of sending messengers to Eisav, is problematic: Yaakov was commanded by G-d to return to Eretz Yisroel, and G-d promised him, "I will be with you." It seems inappropriate for him to tarry and send messengers. Seemingly, he should have proceeded directly to Eretz Yisroel without any hesitation. This difficulty leads us to the conclusion that, as will be explained, in order for Yaakov to return to Eretz Yisroel in a full and complete manner, he had to send messengers to Eisav.

There is another problematic point concerning Eisav in this week’s Torah portion. After the portion relates the events that transpired until Yaakov returned to the home of Yitzchok, his father, it chronicles Eisav’s family and the nation, Edom, which descended from him. The Torah interrupts the narrative of Yaakov’s return to Eretz Yisroel and the events transpiring afterwards with what appears to be an entirely tangential matter. What is the reason for this?

Rashi addresses this difficulty in the beginning of his commentary to Parshas VaYeishev, relating:

"After [the Torah] relates the...chronicles of Eisav, in brief, because they are not important...it relates the...chronicles of Yaakov in detail, for they are important and worthy of elaboration... To cite an analogy, a pearl fell into sand. A person begins...sifting through the sand to try to find the pearl. He then discards the pebbles and takes the pearl."

The analog is that, at the outset, the pearl – i.e., Yaakov, and his descendants – is mixed together with sand, Eisav and his descendants. Relating the story of Eisav in brief is compared to sifting sand, and afterwards, full attention could be paid to Yaakov and his descendants.

Nevertheless, the very fact that the Torah does relate – albeit in brief – the chronicles of Eisav, implies that they possess a certain importance and are necessary to appreciate, by way of contrast, the chronicles of Yaakov. Furthermore, their mention in the Torah conveys upon them an eternal importance, and implies that they convey an independent lesson, that they are not mentioned merely to serve as a contrast to the chronicles of Yaakov.

There is another problematic aspect to the chronicles of Eisav. At the conclusion of the parsha, Rashi interprets "the lord of Magdiel" as referring to Rome. We must understand: a) What does Rashi base this interpretation on? b) What is his intent in conveying this information to us?

This week’s Haftora, "The vision of Ovadia," connects the Torah reading to Ovadia’s vision, relating what "the L-rd, G-d, says concerning Edom," describing in detail the retribution Edom will ultimately receive:

"The house of Yaakov will be a fire, and the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Eisav will be stubble. They will set them ablaze and consume them [until] there will be no remnant of the house of Eisav... Saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Eisav, and sovereignty will be the L-rd’s."

On the latter verse, Rashi comments: "[G-d’s] sovereignty will not be complete until He exacts retribution from the descendants of Eisav."

The choice of this reading for the Haftora raises several questions. The Haftora is intended to parallel the content of the Torah reading. In this instance, although the Torah reading mentions Eisav and Edom extensively, there is seemingly no allusion to the retribution Eisav will receive. On the contrary, the Torah reading relates how Yaakov subjugated himself to Eisav, while the Haftora prophesies how Yaakov’s descendants will obliterate the house of Eisav.

In this context, there are two other questions of general significance: a) In what sense is "the house of Eisav" so significant that it opposes G-d’s sovereignty, as it were? b) The Hebrew for retribution, "perayon," also has the connotation of repaying a debt. What debt is there to be repaid?

The Haftora represents the conclusion of the matters discussed in the Torah portion. It actually brings out the inner meaning of the Torah portion. The encounter between Yaakov and Eisav should not be perceived as merely an isolated event. Rather, it reflects a pattern of service for Yaakov that is also relevant in subsequent generations until the final confrontation of these two powers during the future Redemption.

Yaakov and Eisav represent the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Edom. The Torah relates: "The upper hand will go from one to another." Rashi explains: "They will not share greatness. When one ascends, the other will fall." This implies that in addition to his individual service, Yaakov’s sphere of activity must involve the refinement of Eisav, the father of Edom (symbol of all gentile nations). In a larger sense, this refers to our service in refining the world at large, elevating the Divine sparks that have become invested in the material substance of the world. According to Kabbala, these sparks fell from the sublime realm of Tohu. Thus, they contain particularly high spiritual potentials, and their elevation, returning them to their sublime source, can be compared to the repayment of a debt.

To accomplish this purpose, Yaakov sent emissaries to Eisav, his brother, in Edom. After he completed establishing his household in Charan, he realized that to complete his purpose within the world, it was necessary for him to begin the refinement of Eisav. In Kabbalistic terms, he had completed the refinement of the realm of Tikkun (the realm which is intrinsically related to him) and he had to begin the refinement of Tohu (Eisav’s realm), in which Divine energies are revealed that transcend the level of Tikkun. To facilitate this objective, Yaakov sent messengers to notify Eisav that this process was about to begin.

The messengers returned to report, however, that Eisav was not ready for such refinement. On the contrary, he was marching against Yaakov with 400 men of war. When Yaakov realized this, he saw that his objective could not be accomplished immediately. Therefore, he decided, "I will proceed slowly, at the pace of the work that is before me...until I come to my lord in Seir." When will he come? Rashi explains: "After the coming of Moshiach, when saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Eisav, and the sovereignty will be the L-rd’s." Then G-d’s sovereignty will be revealed over all the inhabitants of the earth for eternity.

Based on the above, we can understand why Rashi interprets "Magdiel" as referring to Rome. After Rashi explains that the confrontation between Yaakov and Eisav will continue until the future Redemption, a question arises: What connection does the present exile have with Eisav? Rashi clarifies by explaining that one of Eisav’s progeny, Magdiel, is identified with Rome, the power that destroyed the Beis HaMikdash, and under whose authority the Jews will remain until Moshiach comes.

It is still necessary to understand: Why is the refinement of the gentiles so important that it represents the fulfillment of Yaakov’s service? The resolution to this question relates to the Jew’s position as "the smallest among the nations," and is connected with the interrelation between eichus (quality or inner content) and kamus (quantity). Generally, it is explained that the Jewish people possess the dimension of eichus, and the gentiles, kamus. This, however, is not a fully developed resolution of the question.

It is wrong to say that the gentiles possess only the dimension of kamus and do not possess any eichus whatsoever. On the contrary, eichus and kamus are interrelated. Beings created by G-d from absolute nothingness have their very existence – and surely their quantity – directly connected with their eichus, the Divine life-force which brings them into being. Thus, the fact that the kamus of the gentile nations is more than that of the Jewish people forces us to say that they also possess, at least from one perspective, an advantage over the Jewish people.

The advantage possessed by the gentiles parallels the advantage possessed by the t’shuva for sins over the essential service of t’shuva, which is t’shuva that is not to compensate for sin, but rather – as implied by the simple meaning of the term – the "return" of the soul to its Divine source.

Most people’s conception of t’shuva is as repentance for sin. Although this is a mistaken perspective, for the essential meaning of t’shuva is for the soul to return and cling to its G-dly source, the fact that this perspective exists indicates that from a certain standpoint, t’shuva for sins does possess a superior dimension.

The advantage of the latter form of t’shuva is that it has an effect on – and transforms into holiness – a lower level of existence, a form of conduct that is against G-d’s will. In fact, the highest sparks of G-dliness are invested in this form of conduct, and through t’shuva they are elevated to their source.

Nevertheless, in an ultimate sense, there is an advantage to t’shuva that has no connection to sin, for through this form of t’shuva we connect our souls to their source, the essence of G-d. Indeed, it is this essential connection that generates the potential for repentance for sin and endows the t’shuva connected with repentance to lead to the reestablishment of the Jew’s ultimate essential bond with G-d.

A similar concept applies in regard to the contrast between the Jewish people and the gentiles. The gentiles possess an advantage in the realm of eichus as well as in kamus, for the refinement of the gentiles – who are ostensibly on a lower spiritual plane – elevates a higher level of Divine sparks, the sparks that fell from the world of Tohu. The Divine intent is, however, focused on the service of the Jewish people, for their ultimate source transcends the levels of Tohu and Tikkun. Furthermore, it is the service of the Jewish people that makes possible the refinement of the gentiles, as reflected in the Rambam’s statement that the Jewish people are "commanded by Moshe, our teacher, from the Alm-ghty, to compel all the inhabitants of the world to accept [the seven] mitzvos, which were commanded to Noach’s descendants."

These concepts can be related to the Torah’s mention of Eisav and his descendants. This serves, not only as a mere preparation for the description of the chronicles of Yaakov and his descendants, but it emphasizes that there is an advantage to the service of the refinement of the gentile, and that this advantage can be achieved through the service of the Jewish people. Indeed, the most complete level of a Jew’s service must include these activities as well.

Based on the above, we can also appreciate the connection between the Torah portion and the Haftora, "The vision of Ovadia." Our Sages explain that Ovadia was an Edomite convert. Thus, G-d’s revelation of the vision concerning the retribution to be given to Edom reflects a pattern of "from [the forest] itself, comes [the handle of the axe] which fells it." This is the transformation of the negative aspects of Edom, the lowest aspects of existence, which prepares the world for the revelation of G-d’s sovereignty and the advent of the era when, "I will make the peoples pure of speech so that they will all call in the name of G-d and serve Him with a single purpose."

Based on the above, we can appreciate the sequence of the three Torah portions, VaYeitzei, VaYishlach, and VaYeishev, and the phases in Yaakov’s service which they reflect.

Parshas VaYeitzei describes Yaakov’s service in establishing his own household and acquiring his personal property, i.e., elevating his portion in the world at large. It concludes with his arrival at Machanayim (meaning camps), a place named after the appearance of the two camps of angels, the angels of Eretz Yisroel and the angels of the Diaspora. As explained, these camps of angels refer to service in the realm of holiness and service in the realm of permitted things, respectively.

This explanation, however, is insufficient. The complete fulfillment of Yaakov’s potential also involves his refinement of the lowest aspects of existence, those that are not permitted. For that reason, Yaakov sent messengers to Eisav. This service came as a result of his previous activity. Yaakov’s efforts to establish his home and refine his surrounding environment generated the power necessary for him to elevate Eisav, the lowest aspects of existence.

After his efforts in refining Eisav, Yaakov was able, as related in Parshas VaYeishev, "to dwell in the land where his father lived," to the extent that he "desired to live in prosperity." Surely, this does not refer to material prosperity alone, but also spiritual prosperity, which reflects, in microcosm, the prosperity of the Era of Redemption.

Since, however, Yaakov had not completed the refinement of Eisav – for as of yet, he had not "come to my lord in Seir" – he was not able to appreciate the full dimension of prosperity in this world. To enable him to do so, he was beset with difficulties resulting from the sale of Yosef, ultimately leading him to descend to Egypt. Yaakov’s continued progress in those years and the refinement of Egypt that he accomplished (which is connected with the transformation of the lowest aspects of existence), allowed him to enjoy true prosperity there.

The refinement of Eisav (which Yaakov did not complete) was left for us, his descendants. Through our service in the present exile, the exile of Edom (Rome), we bring about (through the power given us by Yaakov Avinu) the refinement of the gentile nations, and thus prepare the world for the revelation of G-d’s sovereignty. Then we will appreciate true prosperity even in this material world.

2. Parshas VaYishlach, which describes the refinement of Eisav, is connected with Yud-Tes Kislev, which marks the beginning of the service of "spreading the wellsprings of chassidus outward," refining even the lowest elements of existence by making them a source for the spreading of the deepest dimensions of Torah.

This concept is reflected in the letter sent by the Alter Rebbe to Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev:

"G-d wrought wonders and performed great [miracles] within the world...sanctifying His name in public, in particular, before the officers...of the king. They were also amazed by the circumstances...and recognized that ‘this is from G-d; it is wondrous in our eyes.’"

Nevertheless, despite the widespread effects of the redemption of Yud-Tes Kislev, the Russian government remained in power and continued to oppose Yiddishkeit and chassidus. Thus, the Mitteler Rebbe was also imprisoned. Although he was redeemed on Yud Kislev, and this caused an even further refinement of the power of Edom, this did not change the fundamental stance of the Russian government vis-à-vis the Jewish people, and thus, in subsequent generations, each Rebbe in his generation had to confront and fight against the decrees of that government.

This pattern continued after the Revolution, and ultimately, led to the arrest of the Rebbe Rayatz. Although his redemption brought about a powerful refinement of Edom, he was still forced to leave that country and move the center of Chabad activities to the United States. Nevertheless, after our service in the present generation, spreading the wellsprings of chassidus outward, Eisav’s power will be used to collect the treasures of the world and present them in a chest to the Jewish people. Furthermore, the Jewish people are also given the key to the chest.

All that is necessary is for (to quote the Rambam) a Jew to perform one good deed, and thus "tilt the balance of the entire world to good, and bring deliverance and salvation." This is particularly true in light of the Rebbe Rayatz’s statement, made years ago, that all that is necessary is to polish the buttons and to "stand ready and prepared" to greet Moshiach.

The above has special relevance this year, a year when "I will show you wonders." Greater importance is placed on the wonders that occurred in connection with the Alter Rebbe’s redemption, and on the appreciation of these wonders by the nations throughout the world.

This should arouse great happiness on the part of the Jewish people, and inspire them to increase their study of Torah and, in particular, pnimiyus HaTorah as revealed in the teachings of Chabad chassidus. In this form it can be studied together with nigleh, the revealed aspects of Torah, and they can be appreciated as two dimensions of the "perfect Torah."

Of course, this study should lead to action, an increase in the performance of mitzvos b’hiddur and an increase in one’s efforts to motivate others to similar activities, spreading Yiddishkeit and chassidus throughout the world.

The above is particularly relevant in the month of Kislev, which shares a special connection to the revelation of pnimiyus ha’Torah, as evidenced by its inclusion of the festivals of redemption, Yud and Yud-Tes Kislev, Tes Kislev (the Mitteler Rebbe’s birthday and yahrtzeit), Rosh Chodesh Kislev (the beginning of the month) and Yud-Daled and Tes-Vav Kislev (which are connected with the shining of the full moon, which reflects the idea of a wedding). Surely, these unique days should be utilized in a complete manner to spread chassidus and Yiddishkeit.

In this context, it is worthy to stress the importance of organizing farbrengens for Yud-Tes Kislev in each and every place as is customary. As is appropriate for 5751, a year when "I will show you wonders," these should be wondrous farbrengens. The potential for this is enhanced by the fact that Yud-Tes Kislev falls on Thursday. The three days from Yud-Tes Kislev to Shabbos should be used for a three-day continuum of chassidishe farbrengens, the first to be held on Wednesday night, the beginning of Yud-Tes Kislev, the major farbrengen to be held on Thursday night (the night between Yud-Tes and Chaf Kislev, when it is customary to hold the major Yud-Tes Kislev farbrengen), and to hold farbrengens on Friday night and Shabbos day.

To make sure that these farbrengens are successful and truly wondrous, one should consult with others and begin the preparations immediately.

May these activities lead to the coming of Moshiach even before Yud-Tes Kislev, and the revelation – in a full and complete manner – of G-d’s sovereignty throughout the world.


In what sense is "the house of Eisav" so significant that it opposes
G-d’s sovereignty?




Through our service in the present exile, the exile of Edom (Rome), we bring about (through the power given us by Yaakov Avinu) the refinement of the gentile nations, and thus prepare the world for the revelation of G-d’s sovereignty. Then we will appreciate true prosperity even in this material world.



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