The Chief Rabbi’s Weekly Insight for Vayishlach

What are the three greatest challenges facing the Jewish people?

Realistically, there are many more than three, but If I were to focus on three, I would identify ‘the three A’s’. So what are the three challenges which all start with the letter A? Before I explain, let’s have a look at Rashi, at the commencement of Parsat Vayishlach.

Yaakov Avinu, Jacob our Patriarch, sent messengers to his twin brother Esau just before the two brothers were to meet. Yaakov declared,

“Im lavan garti,” – “I have been living with Lavan.”

What was it that Yaakov wished to convey with these words? Rashi tells us that the word garti has a gematria, numerical equivalent, of 613. Indeed, if you rearrange the letters of garti then you get taryag, 613. So what was it that Rashi was saying?

Says Rashi,

“Im lavan harasha garti,” – “I have been living with Lavan the Wicked,”

“V’taryag mitzvot shamarti.” – “and despite living in that environment, I have kept all 613 commandments,”

“V’lo lamadti mima’asav hara’im,” – “and I didn’t learn from Lavan’s bad ways.”

Now those concluding sentiments seem to be redundant. If Yaakov was keeping all the commandments, that means that he didn’t learn from Lavan’s ways.

The Chofetz Chaim, as brought down by his talmid, his student, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, gives the following peirush, explanation: Yaakov constantly strove to raise his levels of spiritual attainment and in this regard he was self critical because he always wanted to do better. Yaakov noticed that when Lavan went out to perform an aveira, an evil deed, he was filled with passion and enthusiasm for that task.

Yaakov therefore meant to say, “I haven’t carried out my mitzvos in the way that Lavan carries out his aveiros. I didn’t learn from his evil ways.”

From Yaakov Avinu we can learn an important lesson. If we are to successfully convey the wondrous qualities of the mitzvot to the coming generations, we need to perform them with passion and enthusiasm.

And this now brings me to my three A’s.

The three greatest challenges that we as a people face today are:

Antisemitism, Assimilation and Apathy.

The first two are obvious. One is a threat from within, the other a threat from without. The third one, apathy, is a hidden danger. We need to learn from the ‘Lavans’ of this world and the way in which they carry out their aveiros how passionate and enthusiastic we should be when it comes to our mitzvot.

Shabbat shalom.