Our weekly Torah portion begins with the word Vayishlach – and he sent. Yaakov sends messengers to Eisav. Verse 5: Yaakov instructs his messengers to tell Eisav “im lavan Gartee” I lived with Lavan. What was the point of saying this? Rashi – Garti unscrambled reads Taryag – he was saying, “im Lavan Gartee, V’taryag Mitzvot Shamartee” I lived with the evil Lavan, but kept all the Mitzvos anyway. He was letting Esau know there was no swaying him to evil.
Yaakov’s message then goes on to explain how he has accumulated a livelihood for himself, the results of his own hard work (according to the commentary of Rabbeinu Bachya).
The weird thing to note is that usually when the Torah mentions or a righteous man mentions the various animals he possesses, it is usual for the sheep to be listed first. Here the Ox is the first thing mentioned. The reason why, according to the Midrash is that Yaakov was informing Esav that Yosef was in the world already. Yosef’s symbol is the ox and from him ultimately will be the counter-force, Moshiach ben Yosef, who will finally be able to stand up to and defeat the evil of Esav.
The Messengers came back to tell Yaakov that Eisav was headed his way to harm him with four hundred men. Seems like the message of peace is only heard by those who want to have peace. Those who are intent upon war don’t back down, no matter what the negotiations might be.
There are three ways to deal with danger: try to bribe prepare for battle, pray and try to bribe.
Yaakov prepared by dividing up his family so that just in case some get killed, there will be (verse 9) a “plaitah” survivors. Keeping in mind that “ma’aseh Avos siman la’banim – the actions of our forefathers were harbingers/signs for the children” we realize Yaakov was not just doing this for the immediate moment, but was setting up a precedent that would play itself out again and again in history. This is why throughout our exile – even as we were being persecuted in one land, there was always another place where there was a “plaitah” a surviving community of Jews.
Rabbeinu Bachya points out that from this strategy we also learn a person should never put all his eggs, so to speak, in one basket financially.
Quoting: “Our Sages have said, Always a person should divide his money in three – one-third should be invested in real estate, one third in merchandise and one third in his hand [cash]”
Lore has it that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, ZT”L, was once told of a wealthy man who had been wiped out financially and the response had been that the man had been negligent for he had put all his resources into one investment, rather than diversifying as our sages had instructed us to do.
Now, you might ask, as men of faith, why the need for all the planning. Why not just “rely on G-d” blindly. I read in the wonderful book penned by Y. Besser entitled “The Life and Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld” that Rabbi Friefeld felt it is the curse of our generation, how we throw up our hands in despair and pretend to be helpless creatures, hiding behind “ayn unoo al mee lee’heesha’ayn – we have no one to rely on but on G-d” when really G-d expects us to give it our all before doing that reliance-on-G-d routine.
Here in the narrative of how Yaakov handled challenges you see that lesson clearly. Yaakov doesn’t only rely on prayer and miracles. He prepares carefully, strategically, resourcefully. G-d expects man to put in his efforts.
May we all merit to have the wisdom to put in the right efforts and have those efforts blessed with success from G-d.