Ari Sacher

“Fact Checking” Parashat Vayishlach 5784

Factchecking is the act of verifying the factuality of a story or a claim. With nearly all of the information in the world readily available at our fingertips, factchecking has become an integral part of the news cycle. “No Stupid Questions”, one of the podcasts I regularly listen to, always concludes with the producer factchecking the hosts and always finding a few instances in which they were not completely factual. Google has openly available factchecking tools[1] to “allow you to search for stories and images that have already been debunked and lets you add ClaimReview markup to your own fact checks.” It turns out that these factchecking tools could be put to very good use in reviewing the Portion of Vayishlach.

Jacob, after spending twenty years in exile in Aram, prepares to return home, where his brother, Esau, awaits him. When Jacob last saw Esau, he had threatened to kill him for stealing his blessings from their father, Isaac. According to our Sages in the Midrash, Jacob prepares for his meeting with his brother by using a three-pronged approach: He prepares for war by dividing his family into two camps, he sends a lavish bribe to Esau, and he prays to G-d for salvation. He begins his prayer with the following words [Bereishit 32:10]: “G-d of my father Abraham and G-d of my father Isaac, G-d, Who said to me, ‘Return to your native land and I will deal bountifully with you!’” If we review G-d’s promises to Jacob, not once does He tell him that He “will deal bountifully (eitiva)” with him. G-d tells him [Bereishit 28:15 and Bereishit 31:2] that He “will be (eh’yeh)” with him, but never does He say that He will “deal bountifully” with him. Jacob then proceeds to take his habit of putting words in the mouth of G-d to another level [Bereishit 32:13]: “Yet You have said, ‘I will surely deal bountifully (heitev eitiv) with you and make your offspring as the sands of the sea, which are too numerous to count.’” The double use of a Hebrew verb is a sign of emphasis. For example, after Laban catches up to Jacob, who has fled Laban’s house along with his entire family, Laban tells him [Bereishit 31:30] “Very well, you had to leave (haloch halachta) because you were yearning (nich’sof nich’safta) for your father’s house”. The double-usage of the verb “halach (leave)” means that Jacob did not merely “leave”, he “ran out” of Laban’s house, and the double-usage of the verb “nich’sof (to yearn)” means that Jacob did not “yearn” for his parents, he “wanted to return home so badly that he could think of nothing else”. In a similar vein, when Jacob claims that G-d promised to “heitev eitiv” with him, it means that He promised that come hell or high water, He would deal bountifully with Jacob. The problem is that G-d never actually said such a thing. How could Jacob act so egregiously? Strangely, Rashi[2] plays along with Jacob’s apparent misrepresentation of the facts. Rashi explains that G-d’s double usage of the word “deal bountifully” denotes that G-d is saying “I will deal bountifully in your merit and I will also deal bountifully in the merit of your forefathers”. How can Rashi interpret words that G-d never said?

In order to proceed, we will implement a methodology advanced by the the Netziv[3]. When G-d orders Abraham to take Isaac to be sacrificed (at the akedia), He tells him to go to [Bereishit 22:2] “a place that I will tell you”. In the next verse we read how Abraham [Bereishit 22:3] “went to the place of which G-d had told him.” Nowhere do we read that G-d ever explicitly gave Abraham the coordinates of that location. Our Sages in Midrash tell of a cloud and the Divine Presence that hung over Mount Moriah but nothing appears in scripture that Abraham could plug into Waze. How did he know where to go? Later, when Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, goes to Aram to find a wife for Isaac, Rebecca performs exactly as Eliezer predicts by giving water to him and his camels. When Bethuel and Laban, her father and brother, hear the story from Eliezer, they tell him [Bereishit 24:50-51] “The matter has emanated from G-d. We cannot speak to you either bad or good. Behold Rebecca is before you, take [her] and go, and let her be a wife for your master’s son, as G-d has spoken”. Where in the Torah does G-d tell them that Rebecca is “the one”? The Netziv answers both of these questions[4] with a bold statement: Anything that is clearly G-d’s Will (da’ato ur’tzono) is also called “G-d’s Word”. There was something special about Mount Moriah. Abraham just knew that it was the place that G-d wanted him to go. And when Bethuel and Laban heard how Rebecca just so happened to arrive at the well and do everything that Eliezer had predicted she would do, they knew that a Divine Hand had to be moving pieces behind the scenes.

Let us implement the innovation of the Netziv on our factchecking of Jacob. Jacob had spent twenty years with his father-in-law, Laban. Laban was a trickster with a murderous streak. Time and time again he swindled Jacob – out of his wife, out of his earnings, and nearly out of his life. And yet, here Jacob stood ready to meet his brother Esau, free from Laban, accompanied by four wives, twelve sons and a daughter and, oh by the way, he had acquired nearly all of Laban’s extensive flocks, making him fabulously wealthy. How did this happen? Because he was a good businessman? Because women found him attractive and charming? Jacob understood that this was G-d telling him that He had been blessing him. How could Jacob be so certain it was G-d talking? The accumulation of wealth alone is not an indicator. What enabled Jacob to become so wealthy could have easily been explained by a combination of business acumen and a rudimentary knowledge of population genetics[5]. The Netziv asserts that what enabled Jacob to hear G-d’s Voice was his family. Immediately after Jacob mentions G-d’s so-called “promise” to deal doubly bountifully with him, he segues to G-d’s promise to “make your offspring as the sands of the sea, which are too numerous to count”. G-d did indeed make this promise to Jacob [Bereishit 28:14]. Moreover, he made the very same promise to Isaac [Bereishit 26:4]: “I will multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens”. And He made the very same promise to Abraham [Bereishit 22:17]: “I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand that is on the seashore”. But while Abraham and Isaac had only two sons[6], Jacob was the first forefather with a large family. As per Rashi’s explanation, Jacob had merited from promises G-d had made to him and he had merited from promises that G-d had made to the forefathers.

How do we know when G-d is talking to us? According to the Netziv, righteousness is not a requirement – even the evil Laban could hear G-d talking. I suggest that we can hear G-d by using a two-pronged strategy of keeping our ears to the ground and knowing what to listen for. For years, we have heard drones flying over our home. They fly at about 15,000 feet on their way to places like Lebanon and Syria. Their Rotax motors make a dull growl. Since the war began in October, another drone has begun flying over our home. It is a reconnaissance drone patrolling the surrounding neighbourhoods. It flies much lower than 15,000 feet and it makes a whole lot more noise. Recently, I saw a clip taken in Eilat of a Samad drone carrying an 18 kg warhead. The drone hit a school but miraculously no-one was hurt. The Samad made the exact same sound as the new drone over my home. When I hear a drone overhead, how do I know that it is an Israeli drone protecting us not a Samad sent to kill us? I know this because I know that G-d promised our forefathers that He would make them as great as the stars in the sky and the sand on the beach. He promised that He would surely deal bountifully with Jacob. And I know that the Watchman of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers. I can hear Him calling. He’s telling us [Jeremiah 30:10] “Fear not, my servant Jacob…”

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5784

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Sheindel Devorah bat Rina, Hila bat Miriam, Rina bat Hassida, Pinchas David ben Gittel and Esther Sharon bat Chana Raizel.


[2] Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known by his acronym “Rashi”, was the most eminent of the medieval commentators. He lived in northern France in the eleventh century.

[3] Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin, known as the Netziv, who was the Dean of the prestigious Volozhn Yeshiva in Lithuania in the nineteenth century.

[4] See also Shemot [16:23] and Vayikra [10:3].

[5] Jacob acquired Laban’s flock by using genetical principles to exponentially increase the number of spotted sheep in the flock.

[6] While Abraham fathered a number of children with Keturah, he sent them away before he died.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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