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Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach 5773

Parashat Hashavua: Presents, Prayer, and Battle Always?

Harav Yosef Carmel

In the beginning of the parasha, we find that Yaakov employed three types of tactics in anticipation of his encounter with Eisav: presents, prayer, and preparation for battle (see Rashi, Bereishit 32:9). Rabbeinu Bachyei discusses how this three-pronged approach is to be the model throughout history, and that indeed King Chizkiyahu learned this approach from Yaakov. He adds that we (talking to the people of his time and likely beyond) should learn from our patriarch to approach those whom we fear with presents, soft words, and prayer before Hashem. He adds: “but in battle we cannot, as it says: ‘I made you swear, O daughters of Israel …’ (Shir Hashirim 2:7) – that they would not get involved in battle with the nations.”

Rabbeinu Bachyei uses this thesis to solve one of the most difficult questions that face the student of Tanach. In Melachim (II, 18: 13-15), the navi describes Chizkiyahu’s handling of the threat from Sancheriv, the King of Assyria. Chizkiayhu apologized for his lack of loyalty and agreed to pay whatever duty that Sancheriv would place upon him. This turned out to be 30 gold bars and 300 silver ones, which required him to empty out the royal storehouses and those of the Beit Hamikdash. Following that, we see the intimidating rhetoric used by Assyrian officers to the encircled Jews of Jerusalem. This prompted Chizkiyahu to send an urgent request to the prophet Yeshaya to pray on the people’s behalf before Hashem (ibid. 19: 2-4), which he did in a most moving way (ibid. 15-19). Here we see the approaches of presents/appeasement and prayer.

In Diveri Hayamim (II, 32: 3-8), though, we see a very different story. Chizkiyahu entered into strategic discussions with his officers. They decided to divert the water supply for their advantage, build up the fortifications, and rally the people to be brave in defense of the city. This, of course, is a very different picture, of a king not willing to humble himself but who is willing to fight for the life of the city and its inhabitants. According to Rabbeinu Bachyei, there is no contradiction. It was not one approach or the other. Rather, Chizkiyahu followed Yaakov’s lead and used all three tactics.

Let us end off with a question for our readers. Rabbeinu Bachyei said that at his time, the approach of waging battle had to be taken off the table because of the decree that Jews of exile do not wage war. We can ask: nowadays, that we have an independent sovereign state, and there are no superpowers at war with us, from whom we are not naturally able to protect ourselves (as Chizkiyahu had) – should we take the approach of humbling presents/appeasement off the table?

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