In This Issue:
Rabbi Moshe Weinberg
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Yaakov had every reason to be afraid. His brother Eisav wanted him dead, and judging from Eisav’s past performances, we know that Eisav was not afraid to kill (Rashi to BeReishit 25:29 s.v. VeHu Ayeif). Yet Rashi tells us at the end of last week’s Parashah (28:9 s.v. Achot Nevayot) that Yaakov stops off en route to Charan at the Beit Midrash of Eiver for fourteen years of Torah study! It were as if he never really left his father’s side, so much so that the Torah opens this week’s Parashah by telling us, “VaYeitzei Yaakov,” “Yaakov left” (28:10), as if to say he left a second time (Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Cheilek 15, Sichah 4).
Why did Yaakov feel he needed to study Torah for so long? He certainly had no shortage of Torah in his life up to that point. At age 63, when he entered this fourteen-year period of intensive learning, he had already distinguished himself as a Torah scholar par excellence. The Torah had already informed us that Yaakov was the first full-time “Kollel man,” and the Torah rightfully accords him the title “Ish Tam Yosheiv Ohalim,” “A wholesome man, abiding in tents (of Torah study)” (25:27). Rashi comments that he was accustomed to sitting and learning in the Yeshivot of Sheim and Eiver. Furthermore, the Yalkut HaPelaot (Erech Avot) tells us, in the name of earlier Midrashic sources, that Yaakov studied 15 hours a day for a span of 15 years with both his father and grandfather. The author of Yalkut HaPelaot astutely notes that in reality Avraham and Yaakov resided in this world together only for 15 years, bringing us to the conclusion that Yaakov was studying 15 hours a day immediately after his birth! Yet this should not surprise us, as we know that Yaakov longed to study Torah (and let his mother know it) even before he exited the womb (see Rashi to 25:22 s.v. VaYitrotzetzu). (Regarding the question as to why he was not satisfied with the Torah of the Malach in vitro [as per Gemara Niddah 30a], see the Sefer Zikaron of Rav Betzalel Zolti who explains that Yaakov longed to study the Torah with his own Ameilut [diligence].) So what exactly was the sense of urgency that led Yaakov back into the Yeshiva for a fourteen year-long, sleepless (see Rashi to 28:11 s.v. VaYishkav BaMakom HaHu) study session before heading off to Lavan’s home?
Rabbi Meir Yechiel HaLeivi of Ostrovtza (1852-1928), a renowned Chassidic Rebbe and noted Talmid Chacham, explains that in the years prior to Yaakov fleeing from Eisav, Yaakov had studied how to live as a Ben Torah and an Oveid Hashem amongst his fellow Jews. Now, in preparation for arguably the greatest trial of his life, leaving Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov needed to be trained in a different type of Torah. Yaakov needed to learn how to exist as a Jew amongst the nations of the world and not be negatively influenced by their ways. Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky in his work Emet LeYaakov continues with the above theme and notes that Yaakov understood that there could be no greater role model for himself than Sheim and Eiver. After all, Sheim, the son of Noach, was a survivor of the most corrupt generation to ever inhabit this earth, the Dor HaMabul. The other great Rosh Yeshiva of the time, Eiver, was equally suited to teach such survival tactics, as he was a survivor of the Dor Haflagah. We would expect such fine mentors to give Yaakov the tools to survive, and indeed, Yaakov passed with flying colors. As Rashi notes at the beginning of Parashat VaYishlach, “Im Lavan HaRasha Garti VeTaryag Mitzvot Shamarti,” “With the wicked Lavan I resided, and I kept all 613 Mitzvot” (32:5 s.v. Garti).
The tragic events of this past week’s terrorist attack in Mumbai, India certainly serves as a harsh reminder of the danger, both spiritually and physically, that exists for the Jew in the Galut. The story of innocent, caring, righteous Jews whose lives were stripped from them solely for being Jewish should leave us wondering what we as a people did to deserve such a decree from On High. Yaakov understood that the key to his survival was by questioning how to approach such a challenge strictly from a Torah perspective. We too must strengthen our resolve to Torah and recommit ourselves to Torah and its values to ensure that such a tragedy never again befalls the Jewish people. May the lessons of Yaakov inspire us to turn our anger and sadness into action and greater commitment towards Hashem, His Torah, and our fellow Jews. As such, we will not allow the lives of our brethren, Hashem Yinkom Damam, to be lost in vain, and we will feel consolation through sanctifying Hashem’s name in these trying times which precede the arrival of Mashiach.
When Yaakov is ready to leave his father-in-law Lavan’s house, he tells his wives, “Ro’eh Anochi Et Penei Avichen Ki Einenu Eilai KeTmol Shilshom VEilokei Avi Hayah Imadi,” “I have noticed that your father’s disposition is not toward me as in earlier days; and the God of my father was with me” (Bereishit 31:5). What does the beginning of the Pasuk, speaking of Lavan no longer being a friend of Yaakov’s, have to with the end of the Pasuk, which speaks of Hashem appearing to Yaakov?
Rav Matis Blum, in his Sefer Torah LaDaat, gives one answer based on a Drash of the Pasuk “Hashem Li BeOzerai VaAni Ereh VeSone’ai,” “Hashem is with me by my helpers, and I will see my foes” (Tehillim 118:7). The Midrash explains that one does not need any special help from Hashem to recognize certain people who hate him; normally, a person “sees his foes.” However, there are several people who appear to be a person’s helpers. Some of these are truly helpers while others actually intend to hurt that person. To protect against these people that person needs special help from Hashem, which is why the Pasuk says “Hashem Li BeOzerai” – Hashem is with me, protecting me against those people who appear to be my helpers but are actually enemies in disguise.
In this light, Rav Blum answers the original question, and also explains a puzzling fact about this statement of Yaakov. Lavan had always pretended he loved Yaakov, and had successfully tricked him in the past, most notoriously by marrying him to Leah instead of Rachel. It does not seem that Lavan would, at this point, outwardly display his intentions to hurt Yaakov; however, Yaakov seems to say he did in his words, “Ro’eh Anochi Et Penei Avichen Ki Einenu Eilai KeTmol Shilshom,” “I have noticed that your father’s disposition is not toward me as in earlier days.” Why does Lavan exhibit this sudden change?
Rav Blum explains that we can logically assume that, in fact, Lavan continued to pretend that he loved Yaakov and was an Ozeir, a helper. However, Yaakov succeeded in recognizing his evil intentions because “Hashem Li BeOzerai” – Hashem had revealed them to him. Thus, Yaakov’s second statement that “Elokei Avi Hayah Imadi,” “The God of my father was with me,” is an explanation of how he recognized Lavan’s behavior which he had mentioned in his first statement.
On Pesach, we briefly compare Lavan to Paroh, and conclude that Lavan was worse, because “Lavan Bikeish LaAkor Et HaKol,” “Lavan wanted to destroy everyone.” This may be the Midrash’s way of saying that the most dangerous enemies of the Jewish people are not the seeable foes such as Paroh, but the enemies in disguise such as Lavan. These enemies include not only people and external influences, but also the Yeitzer HaRa, which through its internal influences of desire tries to make us stumble. We may not always get special revelations from Hashem like Yaakov did. Instead, we must defend ourselves as well as we can from our enemies in disguise, and hope for secret help from Hashem in doing so.
In Parashat VaYeitzei, we learn about Yaakov’s famous dream in which he sees a tall ladder extending from the ground to the heavens with angels ascending and descending. This dream is different from all other dreams we hear about in Sefer BeReishit because the interpretation relies solely on commentaries as opposed to being explained directly by the text.
One interpretation states that Hashem foreshadows to Yaakov about two of his descendants, Moshe and Korach. Moshe ascended to heaven while Korach was swallowed by the earth.
The Baal HaTurim notes that the Gematria, numerical value, of the words “Sulam (ladder) and “Mammon” (money) are both equal to 136, if the “Vav” is included in both. What is the connection between money and a ladder? A ladder is a metaphor for both money and poverty. A ladder can bring a person to his greatest height but can also bring him to his lowest depths. The same can be said of money; on one hand, if Hashem grants a person wealth, he has the potential to reach great heights because he can choose to give a remarkable amount of charity and do Chesed (rieghteous deeds) with the gift. If so, the money will have brought him to his greatest peak. On the other hand, if one is extremely selfish with his money or uses it for worthless pursuits, the money can bring him to the lowest levels of debasement.
The connection between money and a ladder can be applied to Korach and Moshe as well. Our sages tell us that both of these men were very wealthy, yet one was a leader of the Jewish people, and one was swallowed by the earth. Korach used his wealth to challenge Moshe’s authority, which brought him down. Moshe in contrast, became the father of all prophets and the teacher of all of Bnei Yisrael. Moshe’s wealth led him only upwards.
Even in this day and age, everyone should ponder Hashem’s message to Yaakov and essentially Hashem’s message to us. Our challenge is to use Hashem’s gifts to bring us to our highest potential just as Moshe achieved. On a broader note, we should incorporate in our daily lives that everything in this world has the ability to be used for good or bad. We should all be Zocheh to express gratitude to Hashem and eventually we should be able to thank Him for the bringing of the Mashiach, BeMheira BeYameinu.
In this week’s Parashah, we begin by recalling the story of Yaakov Avinu’s flight from his brother, Eisav. Soon after, Yaakov finds a place to sleep, and makes himself comfortable for the night. The Torah then relates the peculiar dream Yaakov dreamt that night, in which he sees angels climbing and descending a giant ladder rising to the Heavens. There are many ways to understand such an unusual and curious occurrence. One way, is to fit it into the context of the Torah so far. On Simchat Torah, we read about man’s creation in Parashat BeReishit. The following week we read Parashat Noach which describes man’s betrayal and abandonment of God. Then Parashiot Lech Lecha, VaYeira, Chayei Sara, and Toldot discuss Avraham Avinu, man’s repentance to God, and the covenant between God and man. The common factor in each of these Parashiot is their emphasis on man’s creation and his connection to God.
This week, in Parsahat VaYeitzei, the final and most important creation of all is recounted, namely, the creation of 12 tribes of the Bnei Yisrael. However, just before the Torah recalls the story of the beginning of our nation’s origin, the Torah must teach one final lesson about the way man is connected. The odd dream of Yaakov portrays to man that no matter how low we are spiritually, we can always just “climb the ladder” of spirituality towards Hashem. No one is ever too late, and everyone has the ability to change and repent. The Torah is also careful to use angels to teach that even if one has not reached there potential, or even began their climb back towards Hashem, they are still angels in the eyes of The Omnipresent One.
This remarkable connection between Hashem and man was needed before the Torah tells us of Yaakov’s wives and children, because this idea is crucial to our faith. Hashem sees us all as angels with great capability, and we all have the ability to reach our potential as god fearing Jews. Only after the lesson of this great revelation could Yaakov continue on his journey and begin the Jewish Nation.
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