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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeitzei: Nothing is implemented above until it has been initiated below
Why does the Torah relate to us how Laban and his family viewed Jacob? G'd performed a miracle and assisted Jacob to get back to the Temple Mount in a very short time. G'd performed a second miracle to bring about that Jacob would stay there over night. Why did G'd not stop Jacob from passing by the Temple Mount originally when Jacob was en route from Beer Sheba to Haran? In order to merit Divine assistance, a person must initiate and decide what he wants to do. G'd is not necessarily going to look after a person's needs unless the person himself realizes the need and desires it. G'd created the world in such a way that nothing is implemented above until it has been initiated below. Only after Jacob realized that Laban and his family had changed their attitude towards him, and he himself felt the need to leave and go back home, did G'd reveal Himself to Jacob and instructed him to go. "Open for Me an opening the size of a needle, and I will open for you an opening through which wagons can drive."
Jacob and Laban
In this week's parasha the Torah relates how Jacob had to run away from his brother Eisav, who was scheming to kill him. Jacob found refuge in Haran at the house of his uncle Laban, who put him to work and constantly cheated him by breaking their arrangements. Despite it all, with G'd's assistance Jacob became very prosperous. This did not go unnoticed by Laban and his family and Jacob heard how Laban's sons spoke badly about him and said (Bereishis 31:1): "Jacob has taken all that belongs to our father." Laban's personal disposition towards Jacob was not much better, as it says (ibid 2): "And Jacob saw the face of Laban, and behold, it was not with him as the days before." Immediately after this the Torah says (ibid 3): "And G'd said to Jacob, 'Return to the land of your fathers, to your birthplace.'" The question arises, why does the Torah relate to us how Laban and his family viewed Jacob? It would seem to be sufficient to let us know that G'd instructed Jacob to go back home.
Temple Mount miracle
We may be able to answer this by looking at what happened at the beginning of this week's parasha, when Jacob was fleeing to Haran to stay with Laban. The parasha starts (Bereishis 28:10): "And Jacob went away from Beer Sheba and went to Haran." This indicates that Jacob actually reached Haran. However, in the next verse it says: "And he reached the place and he stayed there overnight, because the sun had set." Rashi quotes the Talmud (Chulin 91b) that has several comments of these verses. First of all, the Talmud points out that the Torah does not specify which place Jacob reached. The Talmud explains that the Torah is referring to a known and famous place where both Abraham and Isaac prayed. This is where Abraham had been ready to offer Isaac on the altar, and the very same place where the Temple was later erected in Jerusalem. The Talmud further notes, as mentioned above, that first the Torah tells us that Jacob arrived in Haran, and then that he reached the place of the Temple Mount. It would have made more sense if we were told first what happened on the way, and then that he reached his final destination. The Talmud explains that Jacob actually had reached his destination. Once he was there he realized that he had gone past that special place, where his father and grandfather had prayed to G'd, and had not stopped there himself to pray. He decided that he had to go back so that he could pray at the same place as his ancestors. At that point, says the Talmud, G'd performed a miracle and assisted Jacob to get back to the Temple Mount in a very short time.
Rashi further quotes the Midrash Rabbah (68:10) that points out an additional anomaly in these verses. Why did the Torah tell us that he spent the night there "because the sun had set"? The natural sequence would have been "and the sun set and he spent the night there. The Midrash explains that G'd performed a second miracle to bring about that Jacob would stay there over night. Although it was not yet time for sunset, G'd made the sun set early and in this way caused Jacob to stay there until the next morning. In this way, Jacob instituted a new prayer for night. G'd further orchestrated that Jacob went to sleep in this holy place, and had his dream of the ladder that reached from earth right into the Heavens.
Why not stop Jacob?
Asks the Talmud, we see that G'd performed several miracles in order to ensure that Jacob would stay on the Temple Mount overnight. So why did G'd not stop Jacob from passing by the Temple Mount originally when Jacob was en route from Beer Sheba to Haran?
Person must initiate
The Talmud answers that if Jacob did not think himself of stopping to pray at the sight where his father and grandfather had prayed, G'd would not interfere and stop him from continuing his travels. But when Jacob arrived at Haran and realized that he had passed this significant place without stopping to pray. There and then he decided to return. At this point G'd performed miracles to assist and smooth the way for Jacob. This teaches us that, in order to merit Divine assistance, a person must initiate and decide what he wants to do. This is what the Talmud (Makkos 10b) teaches: "On the path that a person wants to go he will be helped from above to get there." As human beings, we do not have the power to accomplish anything on our own, but we do have the ability to want to accomplish.
Satisfy the wish of every living being
With this we can understand an obscure verse in Ashrei. It says (Tehillim 145:16): "You open Your hand and satisfy the wish of every living being." We would expect this verse to describe that G'd satisfies the "needs" of every being. However, we learn from the above that G'd is not necessarily going to look after a person's needs unless the person himself realizes the need and desires it (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Bereishis: Eternal lessons for a successful marriage, October 14, 2009).
Initiate below before implement above
The Zohar (77b), in the beginning of Parashas Lech Lecha, elaborates on this concept and teaches that G'd did not instruct Abraham to leave his parental home and birthplace until Abraham himself realized the need to leave. The Zohar explains that G'd created the world in such a way that nothing is implemented above until it has been initiated below.
Sequence of events
We can now understand the sequence of the verses we started off with. Only after Jacob had realized that Laban and his family had changed their attitude towards him, and he himself felt the need to leave and go back home, did G'd reveal Himself to Jacob and instructed him to go.
Needle and wagons
We often encounter situations in life when we realize that we ought to get involved and do something. This occurs both in our personal lives and as members of the larger community. We wish that someone would take action so that we could also help. The Torah teaches us here that this is not sufficient. The right approach is to have a true desire to do what is necessary, and only then will we merit Divine assistance. This may be the meaning of what our sages tells us that G'd says: "Open for Me an opening the size of a needle, and I will open for you an opening through which wagons can drive" (see Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:3). A true desire to do what is right is like a minute prick with a needle. But when G'd sees our desire to do what is right, He will bestow upon us an abundance of His Divine blessings and assistance to accomplish what we would like to do.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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