Vayishlach – Torah Scales

The Orchos Tzadikim at the end of the Gate of Miserliness brings two episodes from this week’s Torah portion of Vayishlach to demonstrate how a person must live by the traits of magnanimity and miserliness throughout their lives, switching from one trait to the other when appropriate. “The good in this quality is that the miser does not throw away his money on foolishness and at times is restrained from committing grave sins. Then, too, because he deprives himself of good things, he does not affect the arrogance often found in the generous person who, because of the good that he does and the pleasure that he gets from it, sometimes rebels against his Creator. Therefore, a man should be careful with his wealth; he should be generous where generosity is called for, but where it is not proper for him to give, let him be miserly and withholding. Let him weigh all this in the scales of the Torah. Let him learn from Yaakov, our father, who was miserly without parallel as it is said, ‘And Yaakov was left alone’ (Breishis 32:25), and our Rabbis, of blessed memory, said that he had forgotten some small jugs and returned to get them. This teaches us that the righteous value their money more than their bodies because they do not get their money easily through plunder (Chullin 91a). Behold this great miserliness — that a man as rich as Yaakov felt compelled to return for some little jugs. Yet we find in another place that he was generous without parallel, as our Rabbis taught, ‘In my grave which I have dug for me’ (Breishis 50:5). This teaches us that Yaakov took all the silver and gold that he had brought from Lavan’s house, and he made a pile and said to Esav, ‘Take this for your share in the cave of Machpelah’ (Shemos Rabbah 31:17). Was there ever anyone else as liberal as this? From this a man can learn that he should not squander his money on useless things and to no purpose. However, when it comes to fulfilling a mitzva, for example, dispensing charity and other mitzvos which involve expense, such as acquiring a teacher, a companion or books, he should be very liberal in order to attain lofty qualities. He thereby restores the soul to its place of purity so that it will be bound up in the bond of life, as it is written, ‘Yet the soul of my master shall be bound up in the bond of life’ (Shmuel Alef 25:29).”

Towards the beginning of this week’s Torah portion Yaakov goes back for some small jugs he had left behind, endangering himself and ultimately getting into a fight with Eisav’s ministering angel. Yaakov felt it was worth going back because “the righteous value their money more than their bodies,” as the Orchos Tzadikim quoted from Chullin 91a. The Aley Orach, commentary on the Orchos Tzadikim explains, “that because he earned everything through toil and hard work, as Yaakov mentioned to Lavan in last week’s Torah portion, ‘This is how I was: By day scorching heat consumed me, and frost by night; my sleep drifted from my eyes’ (Breishis 31:40). All this in order so that there would not be any concern that their (the righteous’) money was acquired through stealing. Their money is mehadrin min hamihadrin kosher, and therefore it is so beloved to them.” Yaakov’s money was more precious to him than his body, because he recognized the effort and hard work he put in to acquiring it honestly. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Towards the end of the Torah portion the Torah briefly discusses the passing of Yitzchak: “And Yitzchak expired and died, and he was gathered to his people, old and fulfilled of days; his sons Eisav and Yaakov buried, him” (Breishis 35:29). The Medrish Rabba (Mishpatim 31:18) elaborates on an episode that happened right after the burial, between Yaakov and Eisav. “When Yitzchak died Yaakov and Eisav came together to split all his property. Yaakov said (to himself), ‘This wicked person will, in the future enter Maaras HaMachpela with his children, and will have a share in the burial plot with the rest of the righteous buried there.’ [Yaakov] immediately got up and took all his money on hand, made a pile, and said to Eisav, ‘My brother, do you want the share in this cave that you have, or do you want this gold and silver?’ At that moment Eisav said, ‘A burial place can be found anywhere, and for one burial plot I have in this cave I should lose all this money?’ [Eisav] immediately got up and took all the money and gave [Yaakov] his portion.” The Anaf Yosef points out that Yaakov did this so that Eisav wouldn’t have a portion and living space for his body amongst the righteous, for its not comfortable for a righteous person to have a wicked person buried next to him. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Yaakov was known as an “ish tam yoshev b’ohalim,” “A wholesome (innocent) man, abiding in tents” (Breishis 25:27). Rashi there says he learned in the tent of Shem and in the tent of Ever. In fact, after Yaakov received the blessing before he went to Lavan’s house, Yitzchak had instructed him to learn in Yeshiva of Shem and Ever for 14 years. We see that Yaakov was very learned and must have known how to weigh every situation in his life very carefully.  We also see that Yaakov in one instance was very scrupulous with his money, to the extent that one might say he was acting frugally by going back for such insignificant items; but as we saw in the Orchos Tzadikim, there was a valid reason for what he did. On the other hand, we also see that he was magnanimous with his money, willing to give away piles of it just to ensure the right thing was done in the burial spot of the forefathers, and not for the intent of getting that spot for himself, even though he deserved it.

What Yaakov did, the Orchos Tzadikim says, is an example of how we should live our lives. But why does the Orchos Tzadikim emphasize here, more than any other place in his book, that a person should, “weigh all this in the scales of the Torah.” Shouldn’t that always be true for any decision made in life?

However, the Orchos Tzadikim at the end of the Gate of Haughtiness says that while one might have to go to the opposite extreme in order to get rid of a bad character trait, one should end up at a healthy median for pretty much all character traits. Granted, finding that healthy median isn’t so simple, and the Orchos Tzadikim in his introduction emphasized that one always has to use his seichel, mind, and constantly learning and figuring out how to ensure one is doing the right thing. However, when it comes to one’s money, and when to be frugal or when to be giving, which are constant decisions that could very well result in opposite extremes, depending on the circumstances, the Orchos Tzadikim emphasizes that one should weigh all this in the scales of the Torah. Since there is no proper median to these traits, and fluctuating circumstances constantly come up, a reminder and emphasis must therefore be made, to always weigh the options as exact as possible based on proper Daas Torah.