“I have been diminished by all the kindnesses and by all the truth that You have done Your servant, for with my staff I crossed the Yarden and now I have become two camps” (Genesis 32:11).
Yaakov Avinu was speaking of Hashem’s great kindness in sustaining him financially and was concerned that perhaps his merits had run out due to this kindness.
The Zera Shimshon asks: Why wasn’t Yaakov worried when he was saved earlier from Lavan and Esav? Why didn’t he worry that he had no zechuyos left?
The Zera Shimshon answers: Because Hashem had promised Yaakov before he started out that he would have shemirah elyonah – Divine protection. “Behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you until I have done that which I have spoken of to you” (Bereishis 28:15).
Because of this promise, Yaakov didn’t worry that he had lost any zechuyos when he was saved from Esav and Lavan. But when he received abundant material wealth from Hashem, he was afraid. He feared that this wealth came at the expense of his zechuyos.
According to the Midrash, Yaakov said to Esav: “With Lavan the rasha I lived, and I kept all the mitzvos.” Rashi writes: Not only did Yaakov keep all the mitzvos; he didn’t learn from any of Lavan’s bad ways.”
Yaakov’s statement seems strange for what difference did it make to Esav whether Yaakov kept the mitzvos or not? Did it matter to Esav what Yaakov learned or didn’t learn?
The Noas Desheh explains that Yaakov made this statement for the following reason: Esav thought he had the upper hand because for 20 years he fulfilled the mitzvos of honoring one’s parents and living in Eretz Yisrael while Yaakov hadn’t. However, Yaakov had a very difficult time keeping mitzvos under Lavan, and the schar of a person who overcomes a difficult challenge is much greater than that of a person who doesn’t work hard or go through a challenge. It was this message that Yaakov wished to convey to Esav.
During World War II, the Germans occupied Lublin. One year, as Sukkos approached, the Jewish community realized they had no way of getting an esrog for Yom Tov. Rav Aryeh Tzvi Frommer, zt”l, searched all over for an esrog but to no avail. He davened and beseeched Hashem for divine assistance in finding an esrog, and a great miracle occurred – Rav Frommer found one!
The esrog was shriveled and old. Its color had turned from bright yellow to melancholy brown. Yet, the joy in Lublin was great that Sukkos. Each day, many people lined up and waited their turn to shake the esrog and had more feeling and emotion when they did so than ever before.
The greatest level a person can reach comes from striving to keep mitzvos – especially when it’s difficult.