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The Ox and the Donkey
According to one opinion, the angel appeared as an idol worshipper; according to another, it appeared as a Talmudic scholar.
Intermediate Intermediate

The Ox and the Donkey


In the Weekly Torah Reading of Vayishlach, Jacob finally leaves the house of his father-in-law, Laban, taking his family with him, and heads back for the land of Israel. His first act on departure is to send a message to his brother, Esau, who had previously vowed to kill him: "I have oxen and donkeys, sheep, servants, and maidservants…."

This message seems to suggest that Jacob, a wealthy man, intends to pay handsomely to appease Esau's wrath. But the Midrash says that the oxen were code for "the priest who leads the Jews out to war" and the donkeys were code for "the Mashiach himself."

What was Jacob trying to tell Esau?

If so, what was the real meaning of this cryptic message? What was Jacob trying to tell Esau?

The Megaley Amukot (lit. "Revealer of Depths") says that Esau married into his uncle Ishmael's family in order to "get back" at Jacob for walking away with the birthright. By marrying a daughter of Ishmael, he would be able to attack Jacob from two different angles:

1) From one side, he would attack him with his own negative influence, known as the "ox."

2) From the other side, he would attack him with the negative influence of his uncle Ishmael, known as the "donkey."

So what happened?

After leaving Laban's house, Jacob wrestled with an angel – who turned out to be the guardian angel of his brother Esau. One opinion is that the angel appeared to Jacob as a pagan idol worshipper, while a second opinion says that the angel appeared as a Talmudic scholar.

Rabbi Abraham of Sokochov [father of Shem miShmuel – KOL] explains that these are two different kinds of yetzer hara or evil inclination. The idol worshipper represents the power of the evil inclination to draw us into lustful thoughts and actions, on account of the physical pleasure associated with them. The Talmudic scholar represents the power of the evil inclination to seduce us with arguments which appear on the surface to be sound, but which are really specious. In so doing, the evil inclination comes in the guise of a Talmudic scholar to tell us that a given behavior isn't really so bad, or that it is even a mitzvah, while in reality it's just another transgression.

These are the two "sides" which the Megaley Amukot referred to when he said that Esau wanted to attack Jacob from two angles. The idol worshipper wants to attack the person's heart by getting him addicted to lust from which he finds it difficult to free himself, like a donkey who is always laboring under a load. And the Talmudic scholar attacks the person's head, convincing him that good is bad, and vice versa, like an ox who doesn't know his owner.

Esau wished to attack Jacob in both ways, in the heart ("donkey") and in the head ("ox")...

Esau wished to attack Jacob in both ways, in the heart ("donkey") and in the head ("ox"), but he wasn't successful.

Shem miShmuel says that the Jewish people will ultimately be saved from the evil inclination by the Mashiach ben Joseph and Mashiach ben David. (Joseph is called the "head" of the tribes, while David, composer of Psalms, is the "heart.") Together they will cleanse the minds and hearts of the Jewish people and redeem them from the evil inclination. Both the Mashiach ben Joseph and the Mashiach ben David exist in every generation, but whether they are revealed as such depends upon the behavior and merit of the generation. If the generation deserves it, then the Mashiach is revealed; if not, then the presence of both of them at least aids greatly in fighting the battles against the evil inclination of that generation.

And this is what Jacob, according to the Midrash, wanted to hint to Esau when he told him, "I have oxen [the priest who goes out to war] and I have donkeys [the Mashiach himself]." He meant, "I have the Mashiach ben Joseph who fights the battles of the head, and I have the Mashiach ben David, who fights the battles of the heart." The truth is that with the advent of the Messianic Era, the battle of the heart will already be won, because the evil inclination will recognize where true pleasure lies – in the pursuit of G-dliness and spirituality. However, the evil inclination of the intellect will remain, and it will be the job of the Mashiach ben Joseph to fight that battle.

"So, there's no point in attacking me," says Jacob, "even if you're coming from both angels! Your weapons are not capable of affecting me and my descendants, and you yourself should join us in serving G-d!"

[From "Inner Lights from Jerusalem" based on the Shem miShmuel and other Chassidic and Kabalistic Sources]

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By David Sterne   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
David Sterne, originally of Los Angeles, is the founder and director of "Jerusalem Connection," an educational outreach organization in the Old City of Jerusalem, where he lives. He is the author of "Love Like Fire and Water: A guide to Jewish Mediation" and "Inner Lights of Jerusalem" -- Insights on the Weekly Torah portion based primarily on Shem miShmuel, both available for purchase from Kabbala Online Shop

 



 


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