Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Table Talk - Vayishlach 5768

As Ya’akov approaches the Land of Cana’an on his return home, he learns of Eisav’s plans to meet him on the road. Concerned about Eisav’s intentions, Ya’akov sends gifts to Eisav with a message of peace and goodwill. Yet, when the messengers return with the news of Eisav’s four hundred men, Ya’akov becomes truly afraid. ויירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו – “and Ya’akov became very afraid and he was very distressed.” Commentators struggle to understand what generates such great fear in Ya’akov. After all, God promises to protect and guard him on at least two occasions. So, blessed with divine protection, why is he so scared?

Some suggest that Ya’akov fears that שמא יגרום החטא – “perhaps sin would cause [his downfall]. Yet, Kli Yakkar rejects this suggestion outright. After all, God had reiterated his Divine protection just eight days previously. What great sin could Ya’akov have possibly committed that would produce such calamitous results in such a short time? Kli Yakkar offers one suggestion: flattery (in Hebrew known as chanifah - חניפה).

When Ya’akov sends the messengers to Eisav he takes a subservient position to his brother, showering him with lavish praise and flattery: “Say to my master Eisav…” (see 32:5) Afterwards, Ya’akov inherently realizes the dictum of Chazal which states that ‘One who flatters the wicked will ultimately fall into his hands.’ Ya’akov understands that when he flatters his wicked brother he unintentionally elevates Eisav’s stature and enables his evil behavior. After all, why should the wicked change his ways if his righteous brother is happy to lavish praise upon him?

What about us? When we praise people who perpetrate problematic performances, do we realize that we encourage that behavior to continue?