In today’s Parsha we read about the meeting between Eisav and Ya’akov. Ya’akov sent word to Eisav that he was willing to take him on. Ya’akov said, “I dwelled with Lavan .” Rashi teaches us the famous words of the Rabbis that the Hebrew word “garti – I dwelled” is the same letters as the Hebrew Taryag – 613 – representing the 613 Mitzvos. Ya’akov sent word to Eisav that he lived in Lavan’s household for 20 years, kept all 613 Mitzvos and didn’t learn from Lavan’s ways.” Therefore, you, my brother, will not be able to harm me.
Rabbi Yissachar Frand makes note of a comment by Rabbi Ruderman, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore. Rav Ruderman noted that there is an apparent redundancy in the words of Rashi. If Ya’akov kept all 613 Mitzvos, of course, he did not learn from the ways of Lavan!
So, Rav Ruderman explains that it is not a redundancy. It is possible to keep all 613 Mitzvos and still emulate the lifestyle of Lavan. In the Talmud such a person is called “a corrupt person who follows every law of the Torah.” A person stays within the confines of Jewish law, yet does not act within the spirit of Jewish law.
We have to be thankful to G-d, that he has placed us in this country that, so far, thank G-d, is an exception to every past exile where the Jewish people have found themselves. We have freedom to practice or not practice Judaism to whatever degree that we want. We have much to be thankful to G-d here in America. The rebirth of Torah study and practice of Mitzvos is very strong. But we must ask ourselves; does all of our Mitzva observance make us more religious? Does it bring us closer to G-d, or does our fascination with American materialism drive us further away?
Rabbi Frand explains that that was Ya’akov’s statement. I have kept all 613 Mitzvos. Not only have I been frum but I have also remained perfectly religious. I was not influenced by Lavan. I have kept my values intact.
G-d willing, we will be celebrating Chanuka in less than two weeks. As we celebrate at this time of the year, we should reflect upon our actions and be sure that we follow the ways of Ya’akov, living according to the Torah and in the spirit of the Torah.