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Vayishlach 5771

Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! What is the absolute minimum "quality of life" where life is still worthwhile? Perhaps the following true story will give insight: Several years ago a young Jewish man walked across his college campus in Chicago. A shot rang out and the college student collapsed to the ground, a victim of race crime (for being white, not for being Jewish). When he awoke in the hospital he found that he was a quadriplegic. He asked himself, "Is life worth living if you can't move your hands or your feet?"

After long thought he broke out in laughter. Why? He realized that nobody could conclude that the purpose of life IS to be able to move your limbs - and the only reason we don't ask the question about the purpose of life is that we are too distracted by all the things we do and can do when our bodies work.

As he lay in bed, he continued to mull over what gives ultimate meaning to life - his academic accomplishments? His athletic accomplishments? Marriage? Children? Then he started thinking about whether or not there is a God and whether there is intrinsic meaning in life. Eventually this led him to call a rabbi.

So, what does the Torah teach about meaning and purpose of life? Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto - one of the greatest minds in Jewish history, a philosopher and kabbalist - wrote Mesilat Yesharim (Path of the Just) in the 1700's. It is a guide to spiritual perfection and is studied in yeshivot (Jewish academies of higher Torah learning) throughout the world. If one is going to aspire to spiritual perfection, then he needs to understand the purpose of life, his goals, aspirations and obligations in this world. (Path of the Just is available in English from your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.) So, I will share with you some of Rabbi Luzzatto's thoughts, paraphrased and presented as best I can:

The purpose of life is pleasure - and the ultimate pleasure is the pleasure in being close to God. The true place for that pleasure is the World to Come. However, this world is the path to the next world. As it says in Pirkei Avot, "This world is like a corridor to the World to Come."

How do we obtain the next world and closeness to God? The mitzvot, the commandments of the Torah, are the means to this goal. And this world is the place for doing the mitzvot. As it says in the Talmud, "Today is for doing the mitzvot and tomorrow if for receiving their reward" (Eruvin 22a).

Where do we see sources in the Torah that being one with God is the ultimate pleasure? King David wrote in Psalms, "But for me, nearness to God is my good" (Psalm 73:28) and "One thing I ask from the Almighty, to dwell in His house all my life" (Psalm 27:4).

And what of the earthly desires of this world? They are trials for us to overcome, to strengthen us and to give us reward. For example, wealth and poverty - as King Solomon said in Proverbs 30:9, "Lest I become satiated and deny, saying 'Who is God?' or lest I become impoverished and steal..." Overcoming one's desires and fulfilling the mitzvot create the whole person and unite him/her with the Almighty.

How do we know that just the enjoyment of the pleasures of this world isn't the goal of man? Rabbi Luzzatto writes: Not one in a thousand gets great pleasure, satisfaction and contentment from this world -and even he, if he lives to 100 years old, still passes and vanishes from this world. Furthermore, if this world were all there is, the Almighty would not have given us a soul which takes no satisfaction from this world's pleasure. Only by serving God does the soul have pleasure from this world. Only then will we have contentment and satisfaction from this world.

We all know that one cannot fill a spiritual emptiness with material things. It is proverbial that the more material things a person has the greater his angst and his depression over lack of meaning. Only through spiritual aspirations and growth can we have great joy from this world. Seek classes, Torah books to read, like-minded people to study with. Go to for great articles, seminars and direction.

And what became of the quadriplegic gunshot victim? In his words, "Being shot was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I spent over 200 hours for my doctorate examining Beowulf and I never spent 2 minutes thinking about the purpose of my life." Today he lives in Jerusalem, with his wife, as a Torah observant Jew learning the Torah, fulfilling the mitzvot and helping other people less fortunate than himself.

For more on "Meaning of Life" go to!


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Torah Portion of the Week

On the trip back to Canaan, Jacob meets his brother Esau; Jacob wrestles with the angel. Then they arrive in Shechem; Shechem, the son of Chamor the Hivite, (heir to the town of Shechem) rapes Jacob's daughter, Dina; Dina's brothers, Shimon and Levy, massacre the men of Shechem; Rebecca (Rivka) dies; God gives Jacob an additional name, "Israel," and reaffirms the blessing to Avraham that the land of Canaan (Israel) will be given to his descendants; Rachel dies after giving birth to Benjamin (Binyomin); Jacob's 12 sons are listed; Isaac dies; Esau's lineage is recorded as is that of Seir the Horite; and lastly ... the succession of the Kings of Edom is chronicled.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Esau learns that Jacob is returning to the Land of Israel; he sets out with an army to kill Jacob. Jacob prays to the Almighty, "Save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau" (Genesis 32:12). Jacob has only one brother. Why did the Torah specify "from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau"?

The Torah is telling us by the repetition that when a brother turns into an enemy, he becomes a much more dangerous enemy than a stranger.

Tosafot, a commentary on the Talmud, adds that just as a one-time beloved friend is the worst enemy, so too when two enemies become friends it is the strongest of friendships.

When you have difficulties in getting along with someone, don't think that just because at present you do not like each other it must last. On the contrary, if you will be able to overcome the animosity between you, the former negative feelings can be transformed into extremely positive feelings. We have seen countries which have fought bitter wars against each other finally make peace and become close allies. This should serve as a lesson for us in making peace with individuals who have quarreled with us in the past.

Rabbi Meir Yechiel of Ostrovtzah saved the Jews of his city from a pogrom during the First World War. The Austro-German army left the city and the Russian army entered. In other places, the Jews suffered greatly when the Russian soldiers came in. Rav Meir Yechiel called a meeting of the notables of his city and told them about his plan to greet the Russian soldiers as liberators. They would give out food and cigarettes to the soldiers and develop a friendly relationship with them. This is what they did and the soldiers acted in a very friendly manner towards the Jewish population of the city.


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When a man is pushed, tormented, defeated,
he has a chance to learn something.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson



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