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Aspaqlaria: Parshas Vayishlach

Small Vessels

What is the role of the laws of business listed in Choshein Mishpat (the quarter of the Tur and Shulchan Aruch on financial matters)?

One approach could be that working for income is a necessary evil. It's Hashem's punishment to Adam for eating the forbidden fruit -- "with the seat of the brow shall you eat bread". However, by following these laws these activities are kosher, they are rendered permissible.

However, this is not the approach of Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch. His motto of Torah im Derech Eretz (TIDE) -- Torah with the way of the world, is about the proper marriage between the Torah and the "real world".

The union between Torah and Derech Eretz in that tiny word "im" is not haphazard. In a collection of essays titled "Harav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch Mishnaso viShitaso", Rav Yaacov Yechiel Weinberg, the "Siridei Eish", gave this description:

"The Torah, according to Rav Hirsch, is the force that gives form. Form, to Aristotle's thought, means a thing's essential nature -- in distinction to the substance from which it is embodied. Derech Eretz is merely the matter on which Torah works."

It indicates that the halachic business deal is not a concession to reality, but part of the ideal. Choshen Mishpat doesn't merely render these activities kosher, it's makdish, it brings sanctity, it makes even business dealings sacred.

We can use this idea to understand an enigmatic statement the Gemara makes about our parashah. Yaacov crosses his family and almost all of his belongings across the river, and has to return for some small vessels. There, on the far side of the river, he encounters and battles an angel until dawn.

"'And Yaacov was left alone.' (Bereshis 32:25) R. Eleazar said: He remained behind for the sake of some small jars. From here [we learn] that to the righteous their money is dearer than their body. Why [do they care] so greatly? Because they do not extend their hands to robbery." (Chullin 91a)

At first this is very hard to understand. Are tzaddikim, righteous people, supposed to be that materialistic? However, as we see from the answer, it's not the monetary value of their belongings, but their spiritual value that holds the attraction. It is their sanctity of being acquired within the laws of Choshein Mishpat.

To Yaacov, his possessions were holy because they were the substance to which he applied the form, the blueprint, of the Torah.

When we look at Esav in this light, the see that he took the exactopposite approach. The Torah explains Yitzchak's attraction to Esav with "ki tzayid befeev" which Rashi understands to mean "he used his mouth to ensnare". Esav would impress his father with shows of religiosity, asking questions like the correct way to tithe salt, knowing full well that salt isn't tithed.

To Esav, Torah was a tool, something you manipulate, to gain material ends.

Rashi quotes the Gemara that the identity of the angel battled was the guardian angel of Esav's children, the Edomite people.

Perhaps this is why the angel chose this moment to attack. When Yaacov embodied the proper relationship of physical and spiritual, when he saw that there is a holy way even to purchasing small jars, that was when he had to face the specter of Esav.

© 1995 The AishDas Society