The Quality of Torah

In this week’s Torah portion, VaYishlach, we learn of the reunion of Esav and Yaakov. We read that Jacob told his messengers to report to Esav, “I have sojourned (GaRTY) with Lavan”( Genesis 32:5). According to Rashi, the message was to communicate to Esav that Yaakov did live with the wicked Lavan, but he still kept true to observing the 613 (TaRYaG) commandments and did not learn any of Lavan’s evil ways. GaRTY and TaRYaG being the same letters in Hebrew in a different order. How does Rashi’s understanding of this word play affect the meaning of what Yaakov was trying to tell his brother?

In the plain meaning, Yaakov is trying to assuage his guilt over having stolen the birthright and blessing from his elder brother Esav. In this sense Yaakov is admitting to having done the crime and claiming that he served the time. Yaakov is a reformed man having just gotten out of  the jail of Lavan’s house. Maybe Yaakov is telling Esav that there was no great prize of the birthright or the blessing. Being “chosen” to keep the Torah was and will not be a cakewalk.

On a deeper level, we learn from Rav Meir Shapiro of Lublin that Yaakov was saying, “While I remained firm in my observance of the 613 commandments, I failed to learn from Lavan to perform the commandments with the same dedication and zeal as he pursued his evil ways.” Even though Yaakov had dutifully kept the Torah, he still has a lot to learn, even from Lavan. Yaakov is not perfect.

In my own life, I have found that living by the code of the Torah is important. I learn from Yaakov that no code can ever be an excuse to act immorally. Even if he kept that Torah, he still had to apologize to his brother for his wrongdoing. Moreover, regardless of how much Torah I ever learn in life there is still what to learn from the “non-Torah” world. The enduring quality of Torah is shown when it opens us up to a pursuit of truth, the Jewish community, the larger world, and even our inner selves. We all have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. 

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