Dvar Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Before Jacob’s confrontation with his brother, Esau, he made preparations to ensure the safety of his family and his possessions. Following this, the Torah relates:
“And Jacob remained alone…” (Genesis 32:25).How are we to understand the significance of his remaining “alone”?
The Midrash (Beraishis Rabbah 77:1) states that ‘just as the Almighty is alone, so too Jacob was alone’. We see from this that the Sages understand that the word “alone” is a positive attribute and a form of emulating the Almighty. “Alone” means that you have an independent attitude and perspective.
The Mishna (a teaching) in Pirke Avot 4:1 (Chapters of the Fathers –a compilation of Jewish wisdom) defines four key terms: “Who is the wise man? The one who learns from everyone. Who is the strong person? The one who conquers his negative impulses. Who is the wealthy person? The one who is happy with his portion. Who is the honourable person? The one who honours others.”
Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, of blessed memory, explained the Mishna in light of the positive attribute of being alone — that every person can only obtain the most important things in life independently of anyone else. The important things depend on your attitude and perspective.
Wisdom is an approach to life, not a comparative contest. The wise man is the individual who does not compare his wisdom to that of others, but because of his love for wisdom he chooses to learn from everyone, for each person has wisdom to share. True strength is having the ability to overcome your negative tendencies and impulses. If it were dependent upon being victorious over others, as soon as someone else is stronger, you are no longer the strong man. True strength is only dependent upon yourself. Wealth is not dependent on how much money you have or the number of your possessions. If it were, then you could lose your entire wealth overnight. Rather, true wealth is feeling joy for what you do have. If honour were dependent on how others treat you, what are you supposed to do if others decide not to honour you? Woe to a person whose honour is dependent on the whim of others. True honour is up to you. You are honourable if you honour others regardless of how others treat you.