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The Torah's Weekly Portion, VaYeshev, in Bereshit
Sand, Pebbles and Pearls
November, 2007, Contributed by Asher ben Shimon
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In this week's Torah portion, Vayeshev, we continue to read about all that transpired in the live of Yakov and his children. This comes in contrast with the end of last week's portion where we found a long list of all Esav's descendants without any attention being given to how they lived

This is, as Rashi explains, because they were of no importance. Similarly we find regarding the ten generations from Adam to Noach and the ten generations from Noach to Avraham. There too the Torah only mentions the names of all the leaders of the generations without elaborating. When it reaches Noach an entire portion is divided to his life. Then the Torah fast-forwards again till it reaches Avraham." This can be compared to a pearl that falls into the sand: A person searches in the sand and sifts it with a sieve until he finds the pearl, and when he finds it, he casts the pebbles from his hand and keeps the pearl."

We can understand why the fast forwarding between Adam and Avraham and Avraham and Noach is compared to looking through sand, only stopping by the pearls. When it comes to Yakov however the parable does not seem to be applicable. Yakov was a son of Yitzchack. There was no need to start sifting between all Esav's descendants to find Yakov, Esav's twin brother.

One may argue that to a certain extent there is a need to separate between Yakov and Esav since both are mentioned in the Torah in connection with each other. Even when it tells us that Esav moved AWAY from Yakov the Torah does so in connection with Yakov. It was a known fact that Yitzchack's offspring would inherit the land of Israel. When Esav moved away it became clear that Yakov would be the only one to inherit the land.

However, to say that Yakov was HIDDEN within Esav, as the parable would suggest, does not seem to apply to two brothers who only had a CONNECTION.

Besides, the Torah enumerates all the kings that came forth from the house of Esav till the time of King Shaul who lived many generations later. This strongly differs from the listing of the generations BETWEEN Adam, Avraham and Noach. Obviously we cannot speak about sifting through the names for Yakov in a list that spans many generations AFTER him

Rashi makes mention of sand and pebbles. What do they symbolize?

The parable said that "when he finds the pearl, he casts the pebbles from his hand and keeps the pearl."

Why does it have to tell us that he cast away the sand? Obviously he would only look at the pearl! It seems to indicate that even after finding the pearl there needs to be a 'casting away the sand and pebbles'.

Rashi found this parable in the Midrash. There are however slight differences between the way the Midrash wrote it and the way Rashi quotes it .

-The Midrash says 'looking for pearls'; Rashi says 'sifting with a sieve'.

-The Midrash talks about both sand and pebbles. Rashi starts with looking through sand (only) and after finding the pearl he throws out PEBBLES. There is no more mention of sand.

-The Midrash speaks about leaving the sand behind; Rashi speaks about casting it away.

Why prompted Rashi to make those changes?

We read in the portion of Vayishlach about the meeting between Yakov and Esav after not having seen each other for many years. Esav invites his brother to join him in his homeland Se'ir. Yakov answers him:" I will move at my own slow pace, according to the pace of the work that is before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my master, to Se'ir."

Yakov did not lie. From then, till Moshiach comes Yakov, and us- his children, are on our way to Esav. This is found in the words of the prophet : And saviors shall ascend Mt. Tzion to judge the mountain of Esav." How fast we will get there depends on the amount of work we have and how fast we do it. Based on this we can say that everything the Torah tells us about

Yakov and his travels is in essence telling us how Yakov is preparing to face Esav in the future.

With this approach it is understood why we need to be told to look for Yakov within Esav like for a pearl between sand. If the Torah would only be telling us about Yakov to let us know where he lived it would be out of place, now that we know that everything Yakov did was part of his dealing with Esav it makes perfect sense.

How does one deal with Esav?

One way is by TRANSFORMING evil. The Talmud states that in the future even a pig, symbol of non-kosher food, will become Kosher. Why is the pig known as THE non-kosher animal if there are many more animals that we are not permitted to eat?

A kosher animal must chew its cud and have split hooves. A pig has only one sign; the split hooves. When a pig lays down it always has its feet stretched out in front of it. It is as if it is trying to show people it is kosher while it really isn't. This concept of fooling people is Esav's trademark. The Torah tells us he used to ask his father questions concerning Torah laws making believe he was a righteous person while at the same time steal and murder innocent people. This pig, Esav, will ultimately becomes Kosher too.

There is however another element of Esav that cannot be transformed. This is pure evil. that must be destroyed. This will also happen when Moshiach comes as it says: And the house of Yakov shall be fire, and the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Esav shall become stubble"

What do 'sand' and 'pebbles' symbolize?

Sand only covers over the pearl. It is not harmful. It refers to something that can be useful too. When Moshiach comes "strangers will be our shepherds". This refers to the Esav part that can be transformed.

Pebbles, in Talmudic literature are always mentioned in connection with damage. There is the famous case in the laws of liability where an animal stepped on pebbles causing them unintentionally to damage other people's property. This refers to the part of Esav that can not be transformed and must be destroyed.

Yakov will only be complete when the promise of "The elder (Esav) will serve the younger (Yakov)" will be fulfilled.

Why is it that Esav is being referred to as 'rav' (elder but also implying stronger and mightier) and Yakov as young and weak. We can understand this from the food pyramid phenomenon

Humans, who top the pyramid, derive nourishment from all that is under them. Animals plants and the inanimate - water etc. Animals live off smaller animals plants and water and so on.

The reason why the higher feeds only off the LOWER is because of the 'falling stone' effect. When a stone falls down from a high wall it falls further away the when it fell from a lower position in the wall. In other words, the lower something is in this world, the higher its source must be in the spiritual worlds. It is this higher source that nourishes us.

In order for Yakov to reach perfection he needs to retrieve the spark of holiness hidden deep within Esav. A spark that comes from a higher spiritual source than Yakov.

This gives us additional insight as to why the Torah enumerates all the kings " who reigned in the land of Edom BEFORE any king reigned over the children of Israel"

They reigned before any Jewish king because they were higher and more important in source which caused them to rule earlier in time.

The Torah finds it necessary to tell us about these kings in order for us to understand how much Yakov will gain by dealing with all these 'kings'.

Everything created by G-d must, in order to exist, have a heavenly spark - a pearl- in it. As a Jew we have an obligation to retrieve that spark and re-connect it with its source.

Some of the 'pearls' are only covered with sand. All kosher food and most physical items fall into that category. By making a blessing over kosher food and by using money to do business in an honest way or to give charity we elevate them to a higher level; thereby re- connecting them with their source.

Then there are 'pebbles' which refers to all matters perceived as negative in this world.

This explains why it says that even after the pearl is discovered the sand still has to be cast away. When eating tasty kosher food after a blessing was made over it we should keep in mind that we are not enjoying the 'sand' part of it, the good taste, but that we are busy with a divine service elevating the pearl.

The reason why Rashi only mentions sand in the beginning of his example and leaves out the pebbles is to teach us that we shouldn't be looking for pearls between pebbles. Although evil is also created by Hashem, it is not our job to deal with it in order to find the hidden good in it. Pebbles and pearls naturally don't mix. The only place where we should be looking, is the sand. Only those items that are permitted for use should be the focus of our attention.

(To deal with hidden good within evil is only possible by sinning and subsequently repenting for that sin)

We should take the sand with the pearl mixed into it and SIFT IT WITH A SIEVE. - By sifting the sand ALL the sand will fall out and ONLY the pearl will remain. It is not enough to merely point out that there is a pearl, it must be the only thing we deal with. After the sifting process there is no more mention of sand. All that is left is now considered pebbles. Once the pure is separated from the impure only the negative -pebbles- remain. These pebbles must be cast away. Rashi seems to be telling us tat it is not enough to realize that sand is only sand; the sand should be considered pebbles! One should realize that if it weren't for the holiness contained within the physical, it would be harmful to the soul - pebbles.

The ability to deal with the world in such a way comes from the Torah. Before the Torah was given it wasn't possible to totally disregard the physical. With the giving of the Torah a new, more powerful, G-dly light entered the world which came from a high spiritual plane where the world does not take place.

The era of Torah started with Yakov. In order for the Jewish people to receive the Torah they needed to undergo a preparation which consisted of several hundred years of slavery in Egypt. In two weeks from now we will read how Yakov and his entire family moved to Egypt which was the first stage that led to the slavery. That is why it is precisely here that we are given the example and the lesson of finding pearls in sand and pebbles.

By Avraham and Noach Rashi did not bring down the parable although it applied to them too.

The LESSON did not totally apply there though. Noach was able to rectify all the damage that had been done the first ten generations of the existence of the world. He dealt with the WORLD Avraham started spreading monotheism. He taught the world that there is something HIGHER than the world too. A Creator. Yakov started the process of CONNECTING the world with that higher power leaving all else behind. That is why Rashi found it necessary to wait till here to teach us about retrieving pearls from within dust.

By the exodus from Egypt it says that the Jewish people left in a hurry. What was the rush? Since they had been granted permission to leave they should have taken their time to prepare for the journey. The answer to that is that since their spiritual task in Egypt had been completed, the pearls had been retrieved, all else was like pebbles and harmful. Even Goshen the nicest part of Egypt where they lived became a place that had to be escaped from.

The same thing will apply to all of us very soon when we will finish our job dealing with the world and we will fly instantly on clouds and eagle's wings to our Holy Land.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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