Parshas Vayishlach 5757 - 1996
Outline # 12
Chodshei Hashanah Following the Weekly Parsha
After many years, Yaakov returns home. He sends word to his brother that he is coming, only to hear that Esav is approaching with an army. Yaakov is terrified -- "lest he be killed, or lest he kill others." (Rashi)
In the hours that follow, the true character of the Patriarch comes out. He prays, expressing his gratitude and fervent desire that his wives and children be spared. He prepares a gift for his brother -- expressing his plea for rappraochment in physical terms -- and prepares for defence.
The question has often been raised regarding Yaakov's fear. Granted he would be concerned regarding the safety of his family, but why was he afraid of killing -- it would only be an act of self-defence! The super-commentary Sifsei Chachamim has a rather forced answer to this difficulty.
In Tractate Sanhedrin, the Talmud explains the Torah's legislation that exonerates one who kills an intruding thief. The typical explanation of the passage is that the intruder is presumably ready to kill, if necessary. Therefore, the act of the house-owner is seen as self-defence. The Ran, however, has a unique opinion. Why should we assume that a thief will automatically kill? Rather, the presumption begins with the house-owner: A man will defend -- with violence, if necessary -- his possessions. Even if legally wrong, the house-owner would kill the intruder. The intruder, therefore, prepares himself with some sort of weapon for his own preservation. When the confrontation emerges, either side sees the other as the aggressor. The Torah exonerates the house-owner from murder. Why, asks the Ran, is the house-owner exempt, since the presumption of violence begins with him? The Ran concludes that the behavior of the thief cannot be defended, because he began the confrontation (by his crime of armed robbery).
So Yaakov is afraid. If he kills in self-defence, perhaps he will be seen as the initiator of the entire confrontation! Indeed, the Medrash takes Yaakov to task for seeking his brother, who was known to harbor vengeful thoughts. He should have proceded directly to his father!
Here is the character of the Patriarch. The true war is not with guns and ammunition. Late in the night, struggling with a mysterious man, Yaakov receives a blessing. This "man" is the guardian angel of Esav, and Yaakov bested him. The prayer, preceding the war, removed the necessity for violence. The presents and humble greeting, too, caught Esav by surprise; they thwarted, internally, his vengeful demeanor.
Anyone who reads and believes in these incidents would not condone assertiveness and individualism. It is the gratitude and humility of Yaakov that allows the resultant superhuman victory.
In order to understand today's calendar, we will first examine the complexities of the ancient declaration of the new moon. If the reader finds himself getting lost -- stay tuned! More "down to earth" material is coming...
In determining the Jewish lunar month, three elements must be taken into account: The "molad" (calculated conjunction), the actual conjunction and the visual sighting of the witnesses (corresponding to the moon's first phase).
The "molad" is the conjunction between the sun and the moon, when the moon is centered between the sun and the earth, and cannot be seen. However, the Torah says that the month begins after the moon is spotted by witnesses, and this only occurs hours later, at the beginning of the moon's first phase. This stage is referred to as "chiduso shel lavana" -- the renewal of the moon's cycle.
The rabbis knew (by astronomical calculation) approximately when the "molad" (conjunction) would occur. As we saw last week, the calculation was extremely precise -- but the calculation was only for the mean, or average lunar cycle. Therefore, it did not determine the exact time of the conjunction.
Moadim Uzmanim relates a contemporary debate: The visual sighting in ancient days was performed, of course, without aid of instruments. If the power of the court were resumed today, would the witnesses use telescopes to arrive at a closer determination of the conjunction?
1. The Chazon Ish would allow the telescope.
2. The Brisker Rav, however, would not: From Rashi's commentary to the Torah the six hours between the actual molad and the sighting of the witnesses is an eternal "shiur" (legally binding measurement). The meaning of this obscure passage would seem to be the following: The sanctification of the moon is not determined by the actual molad (conjunction), but by the appearance of the moon's first phase. Therefore, the fact that by use of telescope the molad can be detected earlier, has no affect on the determination of the month. It is still several hours before the first phase of the moon is detected here on earth...
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
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Text Copyright © 1997 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.
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Last Revision: January 27, 1997