Parsha Encounters



Parshas Vayishlach:        [MS Word Format available here]
Sand I Am
Rabbi Moshe Menachem Liberman

In this week's parsha we see how Yaakov Avinu employed a three-pronged strategy in preparation for the confrontation with his brother Esav: battle, prayer, and tribute.

At the conclusion of his prayer Yaakov says as follows, "And You had said, 'I will surely do good with you, and I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea which is too numerous to count (Bereishis,32,13).'"

Rashi notes that although Hashem had directly promised Yaakov, "and your offspring will be as the dust of the earth," Hashem had made the aforementioned promise to his grandfather Avraham in reference to Yaakov. Why did Yaakov refer to the promise made to Avraham rather than to the promise made directly to him?

Another peculiarity is that at the beginning of Yaakov's prayer he says, "Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav, for I fear him lest he come and strike me down, mother and children."

Why did Yaakov Avinu have to pray specifically for salvation "from the hand of Esav"? He had already asked for salvation "from the hand of my brother," and he only had one brother so either part of the prayer should have sufficed.

Reb Yoshe Ber Soloveitchick, the Beis HaLevi, explains that Yaakov's prayer was twofold. Firstly, he requested salvation from the hand of Esav, who still harbored hatred and desired to kill him. And secondly, he prayed for salvation from the hand of his brother, who might demonstrate brotherly love and cause Yaakov to become enamored with him, but ultimately, Yaakov would be in danger of falling victim to the negative influences of Esav's culture.

This insight sheds light on Yaakov Avinu's decision to utilize Hashem's promise to his grandfather Avraham Avinu in his prayer. Yaakov Avinu viewed that promise as a dual one: a promise of quantity, "I will make your offspring too numerous to count," and a promise of quality, "I will make your offspring as the sand of the sea."

Day after day, week after week, the waves of the sea pound against the sand that contains them, yet the sand remains unchanged. The water has no impact on the sand, but dust, on the other hand, turns immediately into mud when it comes in contact with water.

Therefore, Yaakov Avinu referred to the promise Hashem made to Avraham Avinu in praying that the offspring of Avraham possess the quality of sand so that they will be able to withstand the negative influences of Esav's culture.

May Hashem continue to protect us from the hands of our "brothers" and from the hands of the descendants of Esav.

Rabbi Liberman, an alumuns of the Kollel, learns daily with the Kollel Boker program.

Halacha Encounters

It's That Time of Year

Some Halachos pertaining to interacting with non-Jews on their Holidays

Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein

Yaakov Avinu tells Eisav in this week's Parsha, " Im Lavan garti , I have been living with Lavan." Chazal tell us what he was really saying was, " .viTaryag Mitzvos shamarti , [and even so,] I kept all 613 mitzvos." We too spend our lives living in a society and culture that is alien to the ideals and morals that Torah represents and we too try out hardest to be able to say vitaryag mitzvos shamarti . At no time of year is it more apparent that we are living in a community that is not strictly our own as it is this time of year, the "Holiday Season." One cannot do anything from shopping to going to work without the "themes" of the season being apparent from all sides. As it has become the custom in their culture to give each other gifts at this time of year, many of us find ourselves in the situation that we too need to be involved in the exchanging of gifts with our non-Jewish employers, employees or associates. In this week's Halacha Encounters we will examine some of the halachos related to the giving of gifts to Gentiles, particularly during this time of year.

Giving "Holiday" Gifts

In olden times when the Gentiles were assumed to be actual idol worshippers, it was forbidden to give a gift to them on their holidays (or three days prior as well). The reason for this prohibition was that they would, as a result, thank their gods. Since Gentiles are bound by the Seven Mitzvos B'nei Noach, including the prohibition to recognize or serve other gods, the Jewish gift-giver would have thereofre violated the prohibition of lifnei ivier lo sitein michshol , not placing a stubling block infront of another person. The poskim point out that nowadays this problem is less prevelant and it is therefore permissible to give gifts, although it is preferable to give the gift somewhat before the actual day of the religious observance. 1 If, however, one was not able to give the gift earlier, it is better to give it on the actual day than to give it later, as this may be insulting to the recipient and cause animosity. 2 If one includes a card, one should not mention the actual name of the holiday on the card 3 but should rather write "season's greetings" or the like. 4

Giving a Gift of Non-Kosher Food

There is a general prohibition against doing business with food that is not kosher. 5 According to many poskim , this prohibition is Biblically prohibited. 6 In general, this prohibition includes raising, buying and selling or most other forms of profiting from dealings with non-kosher food products. 7 The poskim also address giving non-kosher foodstuffs as gifts. The Beis Yosef rules that one may not give non-kosher products as gifts either. Since the purpose of a gift is really to strengthen one's relationship with the recipient (especially when it comes to a business associate), this is akin to a business deal and is therefore included in the prohibition. 8

Some poskim mention that if one is giving the gift strictly out of fear of repercussions, then it is permissible as this can not be considered a "business deal." 9 However, under other, normal circumstances, it would not be permissible to give a non-kosher gift (for example, a gift basket with treif food in it or the like) to clients, secretaries, co-workers or other business associates.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are however, several criteria and exceptions to the prohibition of doing business with non-kosher food products.

1 - Issurei diRabonnon. The prohibition applies only to food items that are prohibited from the Torah. 10 Any food that is only Rabbinically prohibited is permissible. Therefore items commonly found in gift baskets (or the like) may not be subject to this prohibition at all. Items like wine, liquor or chocolate may very well only be prohibited midiRabonnon . Certainly, however, most meat or cheese products as well as caviar from non-kosher fish are, in fact, assur min haTorah and would therefore be subject to the prohibition. If one is purchasing a gift basket that contains many items, one must be sure to ascertain that there are no issurei Torah contained in it.

2 - If the Jew received the basket as a gift. The prohibition of doing business with non-kosher food only applies if one set out initially to deal with the treif food; if one went out to buy the food with the intention of reselling it or giving it as a gift. 11 Food that one receives "by chance" is not subject to the prohibition and one may therefore sell it or give it away. There are several common scenarios where this dispensation will apply. If one receives a free sample in the mail of non-kosher food or a voucher for a meal in a restaurant, one would be permitted to give it away to a non-Jewish neighbor or housekeeper. Likewise, if one received a gift basket or the like that contains non-kosher food in it, one would be permitted to give that basket (or any of the non-kosher food contained in it) to a non-Jewish neighbor, associate, worker or housekeeper. 12

3 - If the gift is going to an employee. Some poskim permit the giving of non-kosher food to employees. They contend that this is not called "doing business" with the food but rather "using" the food. 13 This leniency is the subject of a dispute amongst the poskim and it is therefore questionable if one should rely on it limaaseh . 14

4 - If the gift is coming from a group. If a group of non-Jewish employees are pooling their funds together to purchase a gift for their employer, it may be permissible for a Jew to contribute as well. 15 This too is questionable and one should be sure to clarify the Halacha before agreeing to participate.

These are the basic guidelines concerning how and when it is permissible to give a gift to Gentile associates. As always, one should consult their Rav for a final Halachic ruling on these matters. BE"H we should be zocheh to make a Kiddush Sheim Shamayim and be able to say next year " B'America garti v'Taryag Mitzvos shamarti. "


1 Rema Y.D. 158:12

2 Shach 158:13

3 See Y.D. 147:2 and Gra 3

4 Rav Shmuel Fuerst, shlit"a and contemporary poskim

5 Y.D. 117:1 in the name of the Rishonim

6 See Taz 1

7 See 117:1 and commentaries

8 Y.D. 186b quoting Hagahos Maymonios Ma'achalos Asuros 8:8.

9 Pri Toar Y.D. 117:3

10 117:1

11 ibid.

12 See Chidushei R' Akiva Eiger Y.D. 117 s.v. v'im nizdamein .

13 See Shach 117:3

14 Especially given that the machlokes is in reference to employees that one has a responsibility to feed. It is questionable as to whether or not one can apply this to our case as well where there is no actual responsibility on the part of the employer to give a gift to the employee.

15 See Aruch HaShulchan 117:23; Darchei Teshuva 39; Sha'arim Hamitzuyanim b'Halacha siman 64

Rabbi Rosenstein learns full time in the Kollel and is a frequent contributor to Halacha Encounters.

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[1] See Magen Avraham 201:4 and M.B. s.k. 13

[2] O. C. 167: 14 and 201: 1

[3] M.B. 167 s.k. 70. It is only forbidden if the reason the Talmid Chacham is giving over the honors is because he is a Kohein.

[4] The reason that he should make the Hamotzi is because he will give out the portions in a more generous fashion (M.B. 167 s.k. 73). Regarding the host leading bentching see Biur Halacha Siman 201.

[5] Biur Halacha (ibid)

[6] M.B. 201: s.k. 13 (At a very large meal see Birchas Naphtali siman 4)

[7] This paragraph is from the psak of hagaon Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyshiv, shlita quoted in Sefer Birchas Naftali (Ch. 3).  The Gemarah in Gittin says that a Kohein takes precedence in all matters of kedusha. One of the examples the Gemara gives is to be served first at a meal. The Pardes Yoseiph in Parsh Emor questions how being served first at a meal is considered a "matter of kedusha". He answers that the Gemara is talking about a "seudas mitzvah". However the poskim do not differentiate between a seudas mitzvah and an ordinary meal. Therefore some attempt to explain the Gemorah in Gittin that the Kohein goes first in all matters that bring him honor, and by doing that we are acting towards him with kedusha. (Birchas Naphtali Siman 5)

[8] Quoted in Birchas Naphtali (end of siman 5)

[9] Siman 201

[10] see Mkor Chaim (Chavas Yair) 168: 14 (Kitzur Halachos)

[11] see Rivash siman 94, The Aruch Hashulchan  (O.C. end of siman 128) speaks out strongly against those who want to suggest that we are uncertain of their lineage.

[12] see Mkor Chaim (ibid)

[13] M.B. 201 s.k. 13




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