Parshas Vayishlach opens with the long-awaited confrontation between Yaakov and Esav. Even after twenty years, Esav still harbored vengeful feelings against Yaakov and came with 400 warriors ready to battle. For his part, Yaakov prepared for this clash by doing three things, 1) He sent Esav a large gift, hoping to win his favor 2) He prepared himself and his family for a possible battle 3) He davened to Hashem. All three of these things were vital to Yaakov’s survival, but it is the last one that we will discuss.
After arranging Esav’s gift and making sure his family was safe, Yaakov turns to Hashem and begins to daven. Yaakov ends his prayer by reminding Hashem of the promise Hashem made him many years earlier, “וְאַתָּה אָמַרְתָּ הֵיטֵב אֵיטִיב עִמָּךְ וְשַׂמְתִּי אֶת זַרְעֲךָ כְּחוֹל הַיָּם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִסָּפֵר מֵרֹב” “And You said, ‘I will surely do good with you, and I will make your seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of the multitude” (Bereishis 32:13). (Actually, Hashem promised Avraham that his children would be as numerous as the sand, but He then promised Yaakov that He would give him everything He had promised to Avraham, so it works out the same.)
The Kli Yakar asks, Hashem had promised Yaakov, that his children would be as numerous as the stars and the sand. While they are both numerous, the stars have the added advantage of being celestial objects, so their symbolism extends beyond abundances of offspring, to the greatness of the offspring as well. At this time when Yaakov needs to triumph over Esav, why does he ask Hashem to remember the promise that his children will be lowly like the sand and not great like the stars?
The Kli Yakar explains that when discussing the blessing of how numerous Bnei Yisrael will be, Hashem uses three examples to illustrate: stars, dust, and sand. When all is peaceful and Bnei Yisrael rule over themselves, they are compared to the stars. At the opposite times, they are compared to the dust.
Sand is the guardian of the beach. The ocean waves constantly crash onto the shore, trying to destroy the world, and the sand is always there to stop it. In this way, sand continually protects the world from destruction.
At times of war, you want to be like the sand. You want to be able to stand in front of the charging enemy, and repeatedly push them back again and again. That is why Yaakov reminded Hashem that his children should be like the sand. In the wake of Esav’s attack, Yaakov wanted to be able to withstand it, and throw it back in the direction it came.
May Hashem give us the strength to continue to stand tall in the face of our enemies like the sand on the shore.
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