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Nov. 19, 2021

Respect is Earned (Vayishlach)

I used to (read: still) have a sweat band that I would wear on my arm while playing tennis. This fact alone has nothing to do with anything, and I am sure you are eagerly waiting for some inspirational content. So here it is. The sweat band contained many letters, and these letters made up words, and the words formed a sentence. It read as follows: Respect is earned when no one is looking.

Woah. I know, right? Perfect moment to ponder about a mind blown emoji. I mean, that quote – Respect is earned when no one is looking – is just so motivational.

But what does it actually mean? Does it mean anything? Is it even true? It sounds inspiring and all, but now that I’m thinking about it, isn’t respect earned specifically when people are looking? How can respect be earned when no one is looking? The whole notion of respect is that other people are aware and looking at you? Am I missing something?

I think the pesukim by Yaakov Avinu can give us a clue, an insight, and a direction to understand this idea that respect is earned when no one is looking. In Chapter 32, Verse 25, the Torah says: וַיִּוָּתֵ֥ר יַעֲקֹ֖ב לְבַדּ֑וֹ וַיֵּאָבֵ֥ק אִישׁ֙ עִמּ֔וֹ עַ֖ד עֲל֥וֹת הַשָּֽׁחַר – Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until day break.

Our Sages tell us that “until day break” is an allusion to the גאולה העתידה, the future redemption from exile. Exile is in the realm of nighttime and darkness. Ultimately, at the end of days, when Moshiach comes – may it be soon, speedily in our days – we will experience “day break” and a sense of clarity and Divine inspiration will be manifest in the world.

Until that happens, though, we – just like Yaakov Avinu – are in the realm of לבדו – aloneness, fighting tirelessly throughout the night. The words “Yaakov was left alone” are coming to teach us that respect is earned when no one is looking. Sounds familiar, right?

It is easy to win a battle when everyone is watching and cheering your name. Take a gladiator, for example. Can you imagine an entire colosseum filled with thousands of people, all yelling and rooting for you to kill a bull, or a peasant, or whatever? When there is that amount of people rooting for you, watching you, and seeing your every move, it is easy to accomplish what it is they want you to accomplish. Singers, speakers, athletes, you name it, all feed off the crowd. The adrenaline in a person kicks in and carries them to act in ways that the crowd wants them to.

This is not the imagery we are given when it comes to Yaakov Avinu. The Torah describes Yaakov Avinu’s fight with man, which was really the שרו של עשו, as being in the realm of ויותר יעקב לבדו – Yaakov was left alone. There was no crowd. No cheering. No rooting. No external force driving his adrenaline to prevail. No one was looking, not a soul. That is, no one except for us – the readers of the Torah. We are the ones that can see what really happened. We can see that Yaakov Avinu fought ALONE throughout the darkness of the night. This type of fight is one that will surely prevail

Yaakov Avinu fought for what he knew was right, at his very core. No fanfare necessary. Internally, Yaakov Avinu had tremendous self-respect for who he was and what he was capable of achieving, and that core belief gave him the adrenaline to fight through the night. Yaakov Avinu, through his battle at night – alone – with the שרו של עשו, taught us that indeed, respect is earned when no one is looking.