Dvar Torah: Parshat Vayishlach
This week’s parsha, Parshat Vayishlach, begins with the reunion between Yaakov and Esav.
Many years earlier, Yakov had run away from his home in order to escape his brother’s wrath. Esav felt he had been wrongly deprived of his birthright and his father’s blessings and wanted to kill Jacob. Jacob had gone to the home of his uncle Lavan, far away to the east in Haran. There he had gotten married, brought up a family, and prospered. He had amassed large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. Now he was finally returning to his homeland, but he feared the confrontation with his brother Esav.
So, Yakov made emergency plans. He decided to send a peace offering of several herds of different kinds of livestock and a message of conciliation. He also sends a message to his brother: “So says your servant Jacob: I have lived temporarily with Laban, and I stayed there till now. I have oxen and donkeys, sheep, servants and maidservants; and I have sent this gift to you, to find favor in your eyes.”
The Sages pose a simple question on this verse: why is it that Yakov stresses the fact that his stay with Lavan was temporary? After all, Yakov did live with him for just about 20 years.
The answer to this question can provide us with valuable insight into Yakov’s approach to wealth. Without a doubt, Yakov had worked very hard to become wealthy. For this reason, he was sending a large gift to his brother. At the same time, though, Yakov wanted to send a message to Esav about his attitude to this wealth. While the things of this world are important, they are only temporary.
Yakov was letting Esav know that the importance of his material wealth came not through its monetary value, but rather through the way he used it to serve Hashem. In fact, the word used in the torah for “I have lived temporarily” is garti. In gematria, the Jewish system of assigning number values to letters, this word has a numerical value of 613. Jacob was saying, “Yes, I lived with Lavan. Yes, I was deeply involved in providing for my family, and eventually became very wealthy. But, at the end of the day, the real purpose of my toil was to observe the 613 Commandments of the Torah.”
B'ezrat Hashem, we should all try to take this lesson to heart and renew our outlook on the material world.