Skip to content


TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayishlach

Parshat Vayishlach

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


   "The TorahAnyTimes"

Parashat Vayishlach                                                             Print Version
16th of Kislev, 5783 | December 10, 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Yoel Gold

The Giant Gentleman

On December 11th, 1995, at 8 p.m., a boiler exploded in the largest textile factory in America at the time, the Malden Mills. It burned the entire factory to the ground. The fire was so big that it could be seen from miles away and it took an entire week to put out the fire completely. At the time, Mr. Aaron Feuerstein, the CEO of the company, was celebrating his 70th birthday. In the middle of the party, one of the executives ran over to him and said, “Mr. Feuerstein, there's a fire at the mill.” By the time he got there, the factory that had been built by his grandfather in the early 1900s was mostly gone, which meant that overnight, three thousand employees who worked at Malden Mills lost their job. As far as Mr. Feuerstein was concerned, he was about to collect close to half a billion dollars from the insurance company. But now, he was faced with the following decision.

Either close the company and pocket the money, or he can rebuild the company down south and hire cheaper labor there and still make a lot of money. Either choice would have been common practice among CEOs at the time. Everybody expected Mr. Feuerstein to do the same.

The next morning, Mr. Feuerstein called a press conference. Thousands of people were crammed and jammed into this huge auditorium. Senators and politicians were there and in front of everyone, Mr. Feuerstein gets up and makes a stunning announcement. He pledged to rebuild the factory right in Massachusetts bigger and better than ever before. And not only that, he continued, but every single one of his employees would continue to receive their monthly paychecks until it was rebuilt.

The entire place erupted. There was so much emotion. It was charged because people were so anxious and nervous up to that point, thinking they lost their livelihood. And all of a sudden, the saint of a man gets up and pledges and promises that they have nothing to worry about. News media outlets showed the footage of him making the announcement, and they also showed people waiting in line afterwards to pick up their paychecks. It made national and international headlines. He was interviewed by dozens of news media outlets, and they asked them, “Why would you even do that?”

My father,” he said, “who was a very observant Jew, taught me and I still remember, ‘In place where there is no man, strive to be a man. In those circumstances where there is a moral vacuum. do everything within your power to be a man.’ That's what he instructed his children to do. And that's what I'm trying to do.”

In 1996, the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, invited him to the State of the Union and sat him next to the First Lady, honoring him. From thereon in, he’d call Mr. Feuerstein periodically to ask for business advice, recognizing that here was a man who didn't see money as the end of it all, as the bottom line.

Some might have said that the proper business decision for a seventy-year-old man was to take all $300 million in insurance and retire. “And what would I do with it?” answered Aaron Feuerstein. “Eat more? Buy another suit? Retire and die? No, that did not go into my mind. That was not an option. Not for a second.”

I was only 14 years old when this happened, but recently, when I heard about it again, I wondered if Mr. Feuerstein was still alive. Can I interview and can I meet him? And maybe even can I get a blessing from a great man like this?

I made some calls and found that he lives in Brookline, Massachusetts. He's alive and well. But he hasn't given an interview in 25 years.

He said yes to me.

I took along my twelve-year-old son, Shalom. We traveled to Boston and came to the house of his granddaughter, Marika Feuerstein. He lives with his granddaughter at ninety-five. Not a young man anymore, but completely healthy and completely with it. As I walked into his home and shook his hand, I could see in his eyes the wisdom, the life experience. The first question I asked him was, “Mr. Feuerstein, what gave you the courage, the strength, to walk away from hundreds of millions of dollars and do what's right and treat the workers properly like human beings, taking care of them.”

First of all, the Torah. As a young man, when I read and studied the Torah, it showed me the way of life. That was very, very important. Not to oppress the worker. We considered him a human being, not a pair of hands. And there's a difference.”

Mr. Feuerstein’s father was a great example and he also taught him to be a mensch.

My father was a tzaddik and had great influence over me. Today, we see Orthodoxy prospering. But when my father was a young man, Orthodoxy was dying, and my father was the one who kept Orthodoxy alive in Boston. The business was started by his father, Henry Feuerstein. He came to this country in his teens, and he read in the Forward's Yiddish newspaper that there was a factory for sale in Malden. He went to see the factory, knowing nothing about knitting machinery and nothing about sweaters. Nothing about anything. But, he said, there's a place where I can go to shul and be my own boss, so he bought it, and the business prospered. By the time I got to the business, the Malden Mills was ranked Triple-A for credit, and they were worth millions.”

I asked him about the employees who returned to work at Malden Mills after it was rebuilt. They increased productivity by 40% without a wage increase, just as an expression of gratitude to Mr. Feuerstein for what he had done.

We had good employees. Many of them couldn't even speak English. But when treated like human beings, they were just terrific. They wanted me to succeed and they increased employment without a wage increase.”

Then I asked Mr. Feuerstein a very difficult question. I said, “Mr. Feuerstein, I know that eventually your company went bankrupt. Do you ever feel that had you not done that good deed and spent the tens of millions of dollars on the employees, paying them while the company was being rebuilt, that you would have had the money to continue going?”

No. You have no right to defame G-d's name with your business or with your family, whatever your enterprise is. ‘You shall sanctify G-d’s name in the midst of the Jewish people,’ the Torah says. I always kept in my mind that I should sanctify G-d’s name and not desecrate it. Business wise, I was too enthusiastic, and I should have gone slow. I wanted to go rapidly. And so I paid for it.”

Something else he was proud of was the building of the Young Israel synagogue in Brookline, Massachusetts. He kept telling me, “Make sure you go see the shul.” I did. A beautiful piece of architecture.

I remember, as a young man, that it was a fight to get a minyan in the shul, and I wanted to have a shul that was not in a basement. I thought that wasn’t respectful for G-d. If you want Him to dwell in your house, you have to make a nice house. So I put together the money and we built an Orthodox shul and it’s something G-d could walk into. I feel like some of the Jews who went to the Beis Hamikdash years ago. I'm in the presence of G-d.”

I couldn't help but feel that the entire conversation with Mr. Feuerstein was just an incredible experience. I was sitting in front of a giant. He didn't try to sound good or look good, but just wanted to impart the wisdom that he had gained over the years and that he had lived by it. And finally, I asked him, “Mr. Feuerstein, bless me, bless my son. I'm in awe of what you have done, what you have accomplished, the decisions you have made.

“May G-d bless you and make you secure; May G-d see you through security; and most importantly, may He give you in all that you do the divine objective to spread Torah.”

My son and I will never forget that interview, that experience. I said my goodbyes, we wrapped it up, and went back to Los Angeles.

Shortly after we came back to Los Angeles, we got a call from the family.

Mr. Feuerstein had passed away.

I thought to myself, if he hadn't given an interview in twenty-five years, why did he agree to do it now? I couldn't help but feel that Hashem sent me to Boston to share a story before he passed on so the world could know.

And something tells me I’m right.

Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser

Influence for Life

Upon preparing to face Eisav, Rashi tells us that Yaakov Avinu placed his daughter, Dina, into a chest so that Eisav would not see her. Because of this, however, Yaakov was punished, because he prevented his brother from the possibility that Dina might have caused him to repent and come back to a life of G-d.

How, though, would it be possible that Dina at her young age would bring Eisav to repent? And in fact, the halacha is that if a shidduch (marriage arrangement) was made and then it is found out that either the man or woman is an apikorus, heretic, the shidduch is annulled due to its misrepresentation.

Certainly, Eisav was wicked, and yet Yaakov is held accountable for not enabling Dina to possibly influence him. Why then is the halacha otherwise, that should someone be found to be a heretic, the engagement is annulled? We should consider the possibility that the other spouse would be able to steer them toward repentance.

There is an unbelievable comment made by the Daas Zekeinim from the Baalei HaTosfos. When Eisav saw the grandeur of the House of Yaakov, the honor, the dignity, the holiness, even Eisav was moved. Even he was inspired and kissed Yaakov. He wanted to become a part of it. Yes, Dina possibly could have brought him back in repentance, because that could have been the turning point of his entire life.

How amazing it is that there is hope for everybody, that anybody can be turned around. Sometimes, in a minute. Sometimes, in a flash.

The great R’ Yanky Meyer, the founder of Misaskim, worked tirelessly day and night, with self-sacrifice, on behalf of Klal Yisrael. He once called me to attend a gathering where the police department was going to be represented. There are a lot of policemen, and I was waiting for the meeting to begin. One of the policemen that I knew approached me and said, “Rabbi, good to see you.” Yes,” I said, “it’s very nice to see you too.” “You know,” he said, “when I watch Jack (they used to call R’ Yanky by the name Jack), sometimes I feel like I want to be Jewish.”

Imagine the influence, the moment, the ability that a person has to change themselves and alongside, change the world.

Mr. Charlie Harary

The Blessing of the Challenge

This Torah portion contains one of the most confusing actions done by our forefathers, Jacob. On the surface, it makes very little sense, but when you delve deeper, it's actually an incredible lesson in life.

Jacob is on the way back. He ran away, built a family and he's now coming home where he will deal with Eisav. There's a lot of drama in the Parsha. But on his way back, there's a subtle digression that contains an unbelievable story.

Jacob settles his family and camp for one night, but he then realizes that he forgot some items on the other side of the river. So he crosses back over the river to retrieve them. But as he turns around from retrieving them, he sees a man. Now this man happens to be an angel. And the man comes up to him and starts wrestling with him. Yaakov is alone in the desert and he’s not having it, so he fights back. They fight all night long.

At the end of the night, the Angel says, “I have to go back to Heaven.” But Jacob isn’t too quick to agree. “No, you're not leaving; you’re going to give me a blessing.” “Well, what’s your name?” asks the Angel. “Jacob,” he says. “Your name will no longer be Jacob; it will be Israel.” This is the switch. Israel, the children of Israel.

If you think about the story, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Imagine some Israeli commando in some tough area in America makes the wrong turn, and ends up in an alleyway and some guy jumps him. Can you imagine that at the end of that altercation, the Israeli commando says, “Can I ask you for a favor? Can you give me a blessing? Could you put your hands on my head and bless me?” It doesn’t make sense. You’re asking for a blessing from the man who attacked you? How desperate is Jacob for blessings? He speaks to G-d and G-d Himself appears to him! How low is the standard for being someone who blesses others?

Jacob is teaching us an incredible lesson. Jacob is coming back to the Land of Canaan, and he faces a battle with the man who represents his enemy. Jacob is fighting and struggling for what's right. And Jacob realizes throughout the entire night that the challenge that he is facing is going to be the pathway to the blessing he's going to get. And so, when the Angel is finished, Jacob turns to him and says, “Now that I've engaged you in challenge, I want my blessing. The only reason why you came to me and packaged yourself as a challenge is because G-d wants to give me a blessing.”

Jacob understood that one of the ways in which you gain blessing in life is through the package called challenge. Challenge. Struggle. Battle. Battling what is wrong is what makes you great. Greatness is not when things come comfortably easy. Greatness is uncomfortable. Jacob sees that he's engaged in this battle, and he knows that this is just a blessing in disguise. So when the battle is done, he turns around and goes, “Alright,” and the Angel gives him the blessing. But the Angel doesn’t just say, “Great job, you should be strong. G-d should make you healthy for the rest of your life.” The Angel says to him, “Your name is no longer Jacob. Your name is Israel because you battled with an Angel and with man, and you won.”

The root of the word Israel is “sarita,” which means to battle, to engage, to struggle. That is the perspective of the Jewish people. We are who we are because we're not scared to engage in challenge.

If you look at some of the greatest compliments ever made, we've always been there. Whether creating the modern state of Israel, rebuilding in America, or anything else, we emerge because of challenge. If you look at the Jewish story, you will find the story of a few people that were not scared of challenge. And from the challenge, blessing is born. Incredible blessings. That's what it means to be Israel. That's the blessing of this week's Torah portion. That's the story of our lives.

Many times, the hardship that G-d sends us in our lives are our pathways to blessing. We are built for it. We have it in our blood. Our forefather Jacob battled evil, battled challenge, and as a result, he emerged not as Jacob, but he emerged greater than before – as Israel.

All of us, if we look at every one of our tests as our pathways to blessings, and we battle it and engage in it, emerging with a perspective that this is going to make us great, then we’re not only tapping into what's inherent in the success over the struggle, but we're tapping into who we are. We are the children of Israel because we have it in us to engage in the challenge and to emerge greater with true blessing.

Picture of newsletter
100% free

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter

Timely Torah insights, stories, and anecdotes from your favorite TorahAnytime speakers, delivered straight to your inbox every week.

Your email is safe with us. We don't spam.