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Torah Attitude: Parshas Vayeitzei: The rolling of the stone

Summary

Yacov went to study at the yeshiva of Shem and Ever for fourteen years. Throughout the fourteen years at the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, he had been studying with such diligence, day and night, that he never had time to lie down. Yacov rolled the large stone off the top of the well all by himself. At a time of emergency people are able to "lift mountains". Yacov's tremendous devotion to help another person, not because of any emergency but out of the goodness of his heart, is definitely a great merit. Yacov understood that every moment is in fact special and must be utilized to its fullest potential. After midnight, King David would gather his strength like a lion and study Torah with full force. We have to make sure that we are there to accept and receive the Divine help and assistance that G'd makes available.

Yacov studied for fourteen years

Towards the end of last week's Parasha, the Torah describes how Yacov had to flee from Esau. With his father's blessings and his mother's encouragement, he left his parent's home on the way to his mother's brother, Lavan, in Charan. Rashi quotes the Talmud (Megillah 17a) that teaches that before Yacov proceeded to Charan he went to study at the yeshiva of Shem and Ever for fourteen years.

Yacov not lie down for fourteen years

In the beginning of this week's Parasha, the Torah relates how Yacov finally was on his way to Charan, and how he stayed overnight in a certain place. The Torah describes in great detail how Yacov prepared himself for the night, as it says (Bereishis 28:11): "And he took from the stones of the place and arranged them around his head, and he lay down on that place." As quoted by Rashi, the Midrash Rabbah (68:11) points out that it would have been sufficient had it said "and he lay down". What is the significance of saying that he lay down "on that place"? This teaches us, says the Midrash, that this was the first night that Yacov went to lay down since he left his parental home. Throughout the fourteen years at the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, he had been studying with such diligence, day and night, that he never had time to lie down.

Yacov's superhuman strength

The obvious question is, how is it humanly possible to last for fourteen years without even one good night's sleep? To answer this Rabbi Chaim Shmulevits, the Rosh Yeshiva who transplanted Yeshivas Mir to Jerusalem after World War II, points out another seemingly superhuman occurrence that we find by Yacov a little later. As Yacov continued on his way he met three shepherds with their flocks at a well. When he asked them why they did not water their flocks and let them go back to graze, they explained that the large stone on top of the well was extremely heavy, and they needed the combined effort of all the shepherds to roll it off the well. Soon after that Rachel arrived with her father Lavan's flock and Yacov went and rolled the large stone off the well all by himself, as if he was removing a light top from a bottle.

Adrenaline to "lift mountains"

Rashi quotes from the Midrash Rabba (70:12) that this teaches us that Yacov had great strength. Says Rabbi Shmulevits, this does not refer to regular physical strength. Rather, it refers to the reserve of power that is dormant in every individual. It is well known that at a time of emergency people are able to "lift mountains". This is due to the adrenaline that surges through their bodies, and gives them strength that seems to be well above their regular capacity. This is the kind of strength that Yacov exhibited when he rolled the stone off the well.

Yacov's tremendous devotion to help others

He quotes the special prayer that we say on Shemini Atzeres where we ask for rain in the merit of each of our Patriarchs, among others. In connection with Yacov it says: "He dedicated his heart and rolled a stone from the mouth of a well of water for his sake do not hold back water." Physical strength is not a great merit that we would use to evoke G'd's mercy to provide us with rain, says Rabbi Shmulevits. But Yacov's tremendous devotion to help another person, not because of any emergency but out of the goodness of his heart, is definitely a great merit.

Every moment is special

In general, people are able to exert themselves in an emergency situation as they realize the significance of that moment and how much depends on their special effort just then. Yacov utilized this special strength not only at a special moment. He understood that every moment is in fact special and must be utilized to its fullest potential. This, says Rabbi Shmulevits, is the secret behind Yacov's ability to study Torah day and night for fourteen years, without lying down even once for a good night's sleep.

King David studied Torah like a lion

Rabbi Shmulevits continues to explain that we find the same concept in Tehillim (119:162) when King David says: "I rejoice over Your word [of Torah] like one who finds a lot of spoil." The Chofetz Chaim explains that in a time of war, if one finds some spoil one has only limited time to pick it up. No one in his right mind will go to sleep first and then come back to gather the valuables. This, says the Chofetz Chaim, is how King David studied Torah. He would gather all his strength and study Torah every spare moment. As the Talmud (Berachos 3b) relates, every night King David would study Torah till midnight and nap a little bit. And after midnight, he would gather his strength like a lion and study with full force. Says Rabbi Shmulevits, we all know that the Torah is as precious as the most valuable spoil and that our time in this world is limited but we are far from the diligence of our Patriarch Yacov and King David. As the Mishnah says in Pirkei Avos (2:20): "The day is short and the job is big, but the workers are lazy."

Divine assistance

When we really want something we are not lazy at all and we know how to exert ourselves. Our problem is, as we mentioned last week, that we put our effort into making it in this world rather than preparing for the World to Come. We are not on the level of Yacov and King David, but we are definitely able to be more dedicated and exert ourselves to better utilize our potential to study Torah and to fulfill the commandments. In fact, we ask for Divine assistance to accomplish this every morning in the blessing before Shema. As we say, "Our Father have mercy upon us and instill in our hearts to study and to teach and [help us to] dedicate our hearts to love and fear Your name so that we shall not be embarrassed [in the World to Come] for all eternity." Here we express our innermost feelings. No doubt G'd is there for us ready to assist and help us in every possible way. But we have to make sure that we are there to accept and receive the Divine help and assistance that G'd makes available.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

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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