Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues
Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeishev: Like father, like children
What is the significance of telling us that the land of Canaan was the land of Isaac's sojournings? Whatever happened to our Patriarchs was a sign for what would happen to their children in later generations. Kabbalists explain that Jacob wanted peace to serve G'd for himself and his descendants. Although he had returned to the land of Israel Jacob was still sojourning in a state of exile. The baseless hatred at the time of the Second Temple was instrumental in causing the Jewish exile by the Romans. The defilement of all the oils was a hint to the defilement of the Jewish souls. A little light pushes away a lot of darkness.
In the beginning of this week's Torah portion it says, (Bereishis 37:1) "And Jacob settled in the land of his father's sojournings in the land of Canaan." We may ask what is the significance of telling us that the land of Canaan was the land of Isaac's sojournings? The Midrash explains, as quoted by Rashi (ibid 37:2), that Jacob wanted to settle and live in peace and tranquility. But that was not to be, as the anguish of the incident of Joseph jumped upon him. G'd said "is it not sufficient for the righteous what is prepared for them in the world to come, that they also expect to live in tranquility in this world?" In other words, Jacob did not really settle at this point. Rather, we are told here that he would have liked to settle but G'd brought about that he was following in his father's footsteps by sojourning in the land. G'd had warned Abraham and said to him (ibid 15:13): "Your offspring shall be strangers in a land not their own"; and as Rashi points out (ibid) the fulfillment of this decree started after the birth of Isaac while Abraham and Isaac still lived in the land of Israel. Time and again they were treated like strangers that only sojourned there. This continued with Jacob, as it says, (ibid 35:27) "And Jacob came to Isaac his father in Mamre, Kiryat Ha'arba that is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned."
The Ramban mentions several times in his commentary that whatever happened to our Patriarchs was a sign for what would happen to their children in later generations (see ibid 29:2 and 32:4). The life story of Jacob, how he dealt with Eisav and with Laban during his exile, is related in the Torah to prepare and teach the Jewish people how to conduct themselves throughout their various exiles. It is interesting to note how many similarities there are between what happened to Jacob and later to the Jewish people. Jacob's first exile was to Haran, northeast of Israel. Similarly, the Jews after the destruction of the First Temple were exiled to Babylon which is in the same location as Haran. The Jewish people's suffering at the hand of Eisav's descendants, the Romans, is hinted at in Jacob's various hostile encounters with Eisav and his representatives. The Sforno (ibid 37:2) explains that the era of Jacob's life after he returned to live in the land of Israel corresponds to the era of the Second Temple and its destruction. The subsequent exile to Egypt with the exodus and return to the land of Israel was a preparation for the exile after the destruction of the Second Temple and the final redemption. During that era of the Second Temple, when the Jews had returned from the Babylonian exile, they experienced a unique exile under the foreign rulership of the Greek-Assyrian Empire. The Jewish people were "in exile" without being expelled from the land of Israel, just like Jacob was sojourning after returning to the land of Israel.
Peace to serve G'd
The Kabbalists explain that the meaning of Jacob's desire to live in peace and tranquility was not an expression of Jacob wanting to relax and enjoy his retirement. Rather, he wanted peace to serve G'd for himself and his descendants. Jacob as an individual had reached his full potential, as it is hinted in last week's portion (ibid 33:18) "And Jacob arrived complete to the City of Shechem." He was complete in his service of G'd and as such had accomplished what he had to do. However, the righteous do not just live for their own purpose. They have a broader responsibility, especially our Patriarchs who were paving the way for their future offspring. Jacob was under the impression that by completing his personal purpose, and having overcome the tests of his life, he had accomplished that there would be no more trials and travails for him and his offspring. To this G'd responded that there will indeed come a time when the evil inclination will cease to exist and there will be no more trial or tribulations, not from within and not from without. As it says, (Tehillim 122:7) "There will be peace within your walls and tranquility in your palaces.", but that will only be at the time of the final redemption when Mashiach comes to rebuild G'd's Kingdom of Glory. Despite Jacob's personal completeness, he still had a mission to fulfill as a Patriarch. Therefore, G'd brought about that Jacob had to go through further trials and tribulations in preparation for his offspring to show them the way to overcome their issues throughout the exiles.
Exile in Israel
G'd showed Jacob that although he had returned to the land of Israel he was still sojourning in a state of exile. The Ramban (Book of Redemption Gate 3) states that when the Jews returned from their exile in Babylon, Daniel thought that everything had been atoned for, and that the Jewish people were finished with their days of exile. This, says the Ramban, was what Daniel had in mind when he prayed to G'd and said (Daniel 9:17): "And now our G'd listen to the prayer of Your servant and his supplications and let Your countenance shine upon Your desolate sanctuary." However, an angel came and informed him that this was not yet the final redemption, the new Temple they were building would be destroyed and there would be another exile. Rabbi Chaim Friedlander explains that the era of the Second Temple was a preparation for the exile we are still suffering from. This was the time of the Great Assembly that established our daily prayers and blessings, a time when the studying of Torah was strengthened by the Rabbis of the Mishnah. Again, we see the similarity with what had taken place when Jacob lived with his family in the land of Israel after returning from Haran. Rashi explains (ibid 37:3) that whatever Jacob had learned in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever he passed on to the next generation, primarily to Joseph. Later when they had to go down to Egypt, it says (ibid 46:28) "And he sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to instruct". The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, explains that this means he established a house of study that would instruct and make halchachic rulings during the exile. The Midrash Rabba (Shemos 5:16) teaches that the tribe of Levy never stopped studying throughout the exile in Egypt and subsequently did not take part in the slavery there. Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian notes that the tribe of Levy only survived during the years of slavery due to the generosity of the other tribes who shared their meager food rations with their brothers who never left the house of study. The Jewish people understood already then that it is vital for their survival that part of the nation dedicates themselves to Torah study. This has also repeated itself throughout our exile till today (see Midrash Tanchuma Noah 3).
Although Jacob himself had reached his full potential and was a complete servant of G'd, his children, the twelve tribes, had not yet reached that level. Despite their greatness and holiness there was some friction between Joseph and his brothers. Mutual misunderstandings eventually brought about hostile feelings to the extent that the brothers sat in judgment and decided Joseph deserved capital punishment. We find a similar situation during the period of the Second Temple. As the Talmud (Yuma 9b) relates that, although they were studying Torah and fulfilling the commandments, there was friction and baseless hatred amongst the Jews. The Zohar Chadash explains that the hostility amongst the brothers was instrumental in causing the exile to Egypt. In the same way, says the Talmud (ibid), did the baseless hatred at the time of the Second Temple cause the Jewish exile by the Romans. G'd, however, never forsakes His children. Joseph's arrival to Egypt prior to the rest of the family had a deeper purpose. Joseph lived a life of purity in a very immoral society and overcame the most difficult tests of life with his strong belief and trust in G'd. Thus he prepared that throughout this exile the Jews excelled in their high moral standard. There was only once instance with a Jewish woman having a relationship with an Egyptian man, and even that was without her realizing it (see Rashi Shemos 2:11).
During the era of the Second Temple, the Jewish people were highly influenced by the Hellenists and the moral and ethical standard fell drastically, with rampant corruption even in the Temple service. At that time the family of the Chashmonaim led by the High Priest rose to the occasion and were ready to sacrifice themselves for the purity of the holy nation. They stood up against the Hellenists and their followers, and by so doing managed to restore the integrity and holiness of the Jewish people. The famous story of how they rededicated the Temple and purified it after the desecration of the Hellenists is well known. The Talmud (Shabbos 21b) relates how they only found one little vial of pure oil for kindling the Temple menorah. The Hebrew words for "vial of oil" are "pach hashemen". Hashemen has the exact same letters as the Hebrew word for soul "neshemah". The Kabbalists explain that the defilement of all the oils was a hint to the defilement of the Jewish souls. Only in the merit of the self-sacrifice of the Chashmonaim, who kept their souls pure, were they able to find the little vial of pure oil and reinstate the purity of the Jewish nation.
Illumination of Torah
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 2:4) describes the era of the exile under the Greek-Assyrians as a time of darkness. When the darkness was most severe, a few individuals were able to kindle the light of the menorah as well as the light of the Torah. Our sages say a little light pushes away a lot of darkness. This was clearly seen at that time. We also nowadays experience a lot of darkness around us, with so many of our brothers and sisters being influenced by modern-day Hellenists and being estranged from the light of Torah. When we light our Hanukkah menorah, we thereby dedicate ourselves to follow in the footsteps of the Chashmonaim. Just as the light of the menorah is displayed where its light shines to the outside, we trust that the light of the Torah will illuminate the darkness around us to the unaffiliated and give them the opportunity to live a life brightened by this beautiful and pleasant light.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network