And Yaakov came ‘shalem’ to the city of Shechem….”
(Bereishit: Chapter 33 Verse 18).
What does the phrase ‘shalem’ mean?
Rashi explains that the word shalem should be taken in its literal sense – i.e. perfect or unimpaired. The verse therefore depicts that Yaakov arrived in Shechem unimpaired in three areas. He was unimpaired in body (health), because he was cured of the wound to his thigh recently inflicted during his conflict with the ‘mysterious man’ (saro shel Esav); he was unimpaired regarding his possessions for he was not short of anything even though he had given gifts to Esav; and unimpaired in his spirituality even though he had spent so much time in the house of Lavan, in an environment certainly not conducive to religious progression.
Ramban, having quoted Rashi, and before making his own suggestion, adds the explanation of Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra that the sense of the verse is that Yaakov arrived in peace from his lengthy journey and that as of yet nothing had happened to him; this being by way of introduction to the events regarding Dinah.
The Ramban himself explains that until entering the land of Canaan, Yaakov did not feel safe, because only then did he know that Esav would not harm him, because his father was nearby, or possibly because the people of the land would help him as his father was a prince of G-d in their midst, or because the merit of having entered the land would save him. Ramban essentially translates the word ‘shalem’ to mean ‘safe’ as opposed to ‘perfect’ as was understood by Rashi, or ‘at peace’ as was understood by Ibn Ezra.
Malbim takes a slightly different direction. In trying to understand why the events of Dinah took place, Malbim suggests that the verse informs us that Yaakov returned home unharmed, in order to remind us that Yaakov did in fact make a vow to G-d before leaving Eretz Yisrael that if he were to return safely he would go to the house of G-d and build an altar as a symbol of thanksgiving. Having returned safely, Yaakov did not fulfil his part of the agreement, therefore the incident regarding Dinah occurred.
Meshech Chochmah takes an opposing view to Malbim. He suggests that the verse, by explaining Yaakovs physical health now, is in essence explaining why he had not yet offered a thanksgiving sacrifice to G-d. As we know, a ‘Baal Mum’ – ‘a blemished’ Cohen cannot offer sacrifices. The verse therefore informs us that Yaakov was not shalem – physically fit, until he reached Shechem. That is why he did not offer a sacrifice until he reached Shechem. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains the word ‘shalem’ to indicate a full harmonious undiminished completeness, not only in material matters, but also, above all in moral and spiritual matter, especially considering the moral dangers that beset a man who has to make the most strenuous efforts to secure material independence. Shalem is the expression of the most complete harmony, especially the complete agreement of external matters with internal ones. All true peace, worthy of the name shalom, even of civil life is not one made according to stereotyped external patterns, but must come out from the inside, from the nature and ideal of the harmonious order of the matters of life.
I would like to add a suggestion of my own regarding our verse:
Yaakov since entering the world had been faced with many difficulties. According to the Midrash these confrontations even began in his mother’s womb. Yet few, if any of these confrontations were direct. He was born whilst holding on to the heel of his twin brother. Even in birth, Yaakov made his claim not directly but indirectly.
Having watched the behavior of his brother and concluded that Esav was unfit to take the official position of firstborn; once again instead of direct confrontation, Yaakov chose to make a deal with Esav at a time when he was, albeit arguably, vulnerable. There is no debate between the brothers as to who is more apt to hold the birthright – there is no ideological discussion, where each makes his claim in an objective forum. On the contrary, at a time when Esav least expects it, Yaakov makes his move.
Even when aiming to receive a blessing from his father, and even though he was under the direct instructions of his mother, Yaakov seemingly ‘steals’ the blessing, once again not by confronting his father with the undeniable reality regarding Esav, but rather by ‘tricking’ his father into thinking that he was in fact Esav.
When meeting Lavan, Yaakov was faced with twenty years in an atmosphere of deceit and trickery. In an atmosphere in which he needed to be on guard constantly. He was tricked at the canopy, and was underpaid time and again.
In essence until meeting with Esav, in this weeks parasha, Yaakov has always needed to face his difficulties in a round about fashion. Yet when Yaakov meets the ‘man’ otherwise known as ‘saro shel Esav’, for the first time there is direct confrontation. Yaakov overcomes the angel, and is renamed Yisrael. Now when he meets Esav he meets him face to face, ready for direct confrontation, and thus when he reaches Shechem he is in fact shalem. He is no longer Yaakov he is Yisrael, he no longer needs to approach the conflict indirectly, he now has the acknowledged status and ability to directly confront each issue whatever it maybe.
Yet as opposed to Avraham and Sara, whose names were totally replaced, Yaakovs name was actually added to. Sometimes he would be known as Yaakov, and sometimes he would be known as Yisrael. Both ways of dealing with conflicts are justified, depending on the situation and the context in which the conflict occurs. Yet only when Yaakov is both Yaakov and Yisrael, only then is he shalem.
I have mentioned before in these writings, that the two approaches, reflected by Yaakov and Yisrael, could very much depend on where we are. In the galut, the diplomatic round about fashion of dealing with conflicts, is not only preferable, but very much a necessity. When in galut, a point often forgotten today, we are not at home we are in exile. We are not meant to feel so at home that we take the direct approach. I remember in my youth being troubled by this recurring phenomenon that my brethren around me felt more at home in England than in Israel. If we are to live in exile then we must live there remembering that we are in exile. However many Kosher restaurants there may be, however many shuls and schools we build, they are temporary, and should bethought of as such. As my teacher Rabbi Bernstein of blessed memory always said, chutz la’aretz is a station not a destination. In exile we ar.
However, when we enter Eretz Yisrael, this is Eretz Yisrael not Eretz Yaakov. This is the land of our independence. This is our land, here we are baalei batim, here the approach is direct, the approach is Malchut. In the same way that it is of no relevance to behave as Yisrael in the Diaspora, it is equally irrelevant to behave as Yaakov in Eretz Yisrael.
“Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkenotecha Yisrael” – “How good are your tents oh Yaakov, you’re your dwelling places oh Yisrael” (Bamidbar: Chapter 24 Verse 5).
Yaakov – exile is referred to as a tent – temporary. It is the correct approach at the right time and in the right place. Yisrael – is our dwelling place, it is our permanent home, we are the baalei batim, and our approach therefore needs to reflect that reality.
Yaakov came shalem to Shechem. He was now perfectly capable of dealing with every situation. In the future he would need the approach of Yaakov, when standing in front of Pharoah, once again in exile. However, at this moment as he arrives at Shechem he arrives as Yisrael.
Last Erev Shabbat, another twelve of our people entered the history books of our ongoing struggle for independence in our Homeland. Yet these twelve gibborim were at the least the absolute symbol of Yisrael. Faced with an impossible reality, each defender, one after the other ran directly into danger, knowingly risked, and lost their lives, in order to defend their brethren and their homeland. Their messirut nefesh is an example for all of us. Yet it is not only their messirut nefesh, it is the messirut nefesh of their families, who will continue to live here despite the sacrifices that they have made.
There is no more apt name for our country than Yisrael, because, bezrat Hashem, our country exists because of thousands of people who like these twelve incredible men, have never hesitated in order to ensure our independence and the safety of our people. There are no words that can express my honor and admiration for our soldiers and defenders who daily behave as Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. Yet in truth, everyone of us living at home is not only living in Eretz Yisrael, but due to the wonders of our time, due to the zechut of having been born in such a historically important period for our people – we have merited to live in Eretz Yisrael as Am Yisrael (not as Bnei Yaakov), as baalei batim in our homeland.
Yehi Zichram Baruch