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Home » Uncategorized, Vayishlach

Vayishlach: Donors and Recipents

Submitted by on November 10, 2013 – 2:35 amNo Comment | 2,014 views

I am Great

Thirty-six years after Esau vowed to murder his brother for stealing his blessings, Jacob and Esau met up. Expecting a violent engagement, Jacob sent a lavish peace offering in advance of the meeting, but when they finally met, Esau greeted him cordially and offered to return the gift. “I have greatness,” He said, “brother keep what is yours.” Jacob demurred, “Please accept my gift… for G-d has blessed me and I have everything.”[1] On the surface their exchange sounds like a simple offer and refusal, but upon examination we discover a clash of two worlds.

Before returning the gift Esau boasted of his greatness to explain his refusal of the gift. Great people don’t receive gifts, they bestow them, Esau was saying. Jacob, on the other hand, replied, I am blessed and have everything. If you want some of what I have, some of everything, accept my gift.

The Purpose

I once worked for a synagogue that organized a charity Golf Tournament. The entire congregation was invited to the tournament and a number of regular synagogue attendees arrived. One of them noted the honor accorded to the mega donors and lost heart. Until that day he had thought that he was the center of the Rabbi’s attention, now he learned that the Rabbi had much larger fish to fry.

I tried to explain that the donors honored at the podium were merely a means to an end. The donors provide the building and furniture that enable people like himself to pray. The donors are not the purpose, they are a tool. The true purpose here, I told him, is you. My pleas fell on deaf ears, but the point remains salient.

The one who provides is not the great one. The one who uses the provisions to study Torah and serve G-d is the great person. Donors does not give because they are great. Donor give because great people will use the donation to serve G-d.

My argument didn’t succeed because on the surface the donors are feted and honored while the lay sit on the regular chairs. This is because on the surface the donors are the providers, they provide for the recipients, but when you dig deeper you learn that the opposite is true, the recipient actually provide for the donors. It is an honor for the donors to give to the recipients. Donors - innerstreamThe donors might be seated at the top, but they are the servants. Their role is to ensure that the lay have the means to worship.

Reb Shmuel Munkes a Chassid of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, rigged a harness to the the Rebbe’s door and swung merrily about. Asked to explain his antic he said that if a watch is hung from the front door of a watch store, a chassid should hang from the Rebbe’s front door.

Humor aside, there is an apparent flaw in his logic. If it is the Rebbe’s door, why shouldn’t the Rebbe be harnessed to it? The answer is that the watchman’s role is to make watches and the Rebbe’s role is to guide Chassidim. The Rebbe sits at the front and receives all the honor, but he is not the master, he is the servant. He is there to provide teaching and inspiration to the Chassidim. If the Chassid is the purpose of the synagogue, he must be the one to hang from its doors.

Three theatre owners argued over the best way to cover a seat. One argued that seats are best covered in vinyl, an easy material to clean. The second argued that seats are best covered in cushion, a comfortable material to sit on. The third argued that seats are best covered in customers. The point of this story is that the vinyl and cushion provide a place to sit, but the purpose of the seat is the customer.

The same applies to donors. They supply the funds, but the purpose is to enable the lay to worship.

An Honor to Serve
When Rebeca was pregnant with her twins a prophet told her that the great [older] son would serve the younger one.[2] The prophet’s original vision for the two brothers was that Jacob would study Torah and be supported by Esau. Esau would be the wealthy brother, but Jacob would be the provider of merit; the great and wealthy one would serve the younger scholarly one. Esau would receive from Jacob.

Once issued from the womb, the twins separated. Rather than work in tandem toward a unified goal, they went their separate ways. Esau did not use his hunting skills and wealth to provide for his brother and thus reap the merit of Jacob’s Torah. Instead he used the money for himself and established a reputation for wealth and greatness.

When Jacob sent him a gift, it clashed with his world view. I should not receive gifts. I should give them – that’s what great people do. Jacob told him different. You are not great on account of your wealth and don’t think that giving to me will make you great. If you want to give to me, give because you want some of what I have. I have everything. I have a relationship with G-d and you can have a portion thereof, a portion of my everything, if you choose to support me.

The Prophet told Rebeca that the great one would serve the younger one. If the wealthy one provides for the Torah student because he wants some of the Torah merit, he becomes great. If the wealthy one provides for the younger one to enhance his image of self-greatness, he loses all vestige of greatness.

We don’t provide because we are great, we become great because we provide. It is not an honor to receive a donation, it is an honor to give it. Why then are the wealthy donors feted and given a seat on the dais? It is for the merit that they receive from the congregation. They are honored and called great because they serve the congregation by supporting it and thus receive a portion of their merit.

Esau accepted Jacob’s argument and stopped insisting on returning Jacob’s gift. He realized that he had much to receive, gain and learn from his younger brother. He accepted the gift and they parted as friends.[3]



[1] Genesis 33: 9 & 11.

[2] Genesis 25: 23

[3] This essay is based on Torash Moshe (Chassam Sofer) ad loc.

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