Back to Parsha homepage Peninim on the Torah Previous issues
Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vayatz

And he dreamt, and behold! A ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward. (28:12)

Yaakov saw a ladder in his well-known dream. According to Chazal, the ladder was standing on a slant, the bottom resting in Be’er Sheva with the top parallel to Beis El. The middle of the ladder coincided with the site of the Bais Hamikdash. The Maharal wonders why the ladder stood slanted. The message of the angels ascending and descending would have been equally effective if the ladder had stood straight. While various reasons are suggested for the ladder’s specific position, the Maharal makes a compelling observation which presents a profound lesson. We view each subsequent rung on the ladder as a higher level in Torah erudition and spiritual development. When the rungs are straight, each one directly above its predecessor, it reflects a higher level, not a distinct one. Since they are all in the same line, on the same plane, they are not different from one another--only higher, loftier.

When a ladder is on a slant, each rung is in its own plane. Each is distinct from the preceding rung, not only in height, but also in position. It is as if each rung has its own unique position/character. Likewise, as one grows in Torah/spirituality, he becomes a totally new individual. He is not the same person as he was previously. He distinguishes himself from others who are not on his level. He cannot be compared to any individual who is not on his level of Torah and mitzvos.

Chazal tell us that if the previous generation can be likened to angels, then we are like humans. If we view them as humans, then we are no more than donkeys. As one grows spiritually, he becomes a new being. As one grows above his peers, he becomes a new personality, one totally distinct from his previous self. With this idea in mind, Horav Eliyakim Schlesinger, Shlita, explains why someone who is not yet privileged to be a ben Torah cannot fathom the qualities that distinguish a Torah scholar from everybody else. They might think that it is simply a matter of quantity--the talmid chacham just happens to know more, he has a greater and more profound knowledge of Torah. Chazal maintain that it is much more than that. The scholar is on a totally different plane than his counterpart, a position that the common man does not comprehend.

Furthermore, when a ladder is standing straight, each rung "sees" the rung above it. It, will therefore, perceive a distinction between the two--one is on a higher level than the other. When a ladder is on a slant, however, the lower rung cannot see anything above it. Consequently, it does not recognize that anything is higher than it. Similarly, the common Jew who has not yet had the opportunity to study and appreciate the beauty and profundity of Torah, does not ascribe any distinction to those who have mastered and excelled in Torah. As one ascends the ladder of Torah and mitzvos, he undergoes a transformation with each step.

And he became frightened and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of G-d." (28:17)

In his second interpretation of this pasuk, Rashi cites the Talmud in Chullin 91, which relates that Yaakov traveled to Charan to find a wife, according to his parents’ request. After a long journey, he reached Charan. When he arrived, he realized that he had passed by Har Ha’Moriah without having stopped to pray there. He was shocked at his oversight. How could he have passed the place where his father and grandfather used to say their tefillos and not take advantage of the opportunity to do the same?

He immediately turned around and began the journey all the way back to Har Ha’Moriah. As reward for his good intention, Hashem performed a miracle and Har Ha’Moriah came traveling towards him. We wonder why Hashem performed the miracle only after Yaakov had reached Charan and realized his error? What prevented Hashem from performing this at the more convenient time--when Yaakov was traveling towards Har Ha’Moriah?

Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, cites Yalkut Lekach Tov on Parashas Toldos which applies an anecdote to explain how Yaakov could have bought the birthright from Eisav for only a bowl of lentils. Certainly the bechorah is valued at much more than a bowl of soup! The story is related that a Jew, who was in dire need of a large sum of money with which to arrange his daughter's marriage, went to his Rebbe for a blessing that he somehow obtain the necessary funds. The Rebbe blessed him and said, "Invest in the first business deal that you encounter." The chasid left for home with a happy heart, secure in the feeling that Hashem would answer his prayers.

Along the way he stopped at an inn, where he met a group of businessmen. These were a group of highly successful power brokers who viewed the chasid with disdain. One of them, seeing an opportunity to have some fun, asked the chasid if he was interested in a business opportunity. Remembering the Rebbe’s advice, the chasid quickly responded in the affirmative. The businessman said he was willing to sell his portion in Olam Habah, the World-to-Come, for one ruble. The chasid quickly took out the money and paid for the fellow’s "share" in Olam Habah.

When the businessman returned home and related to his wife that he had he sold his Olam Habah to a foolish passerby for one ruble, she became hysterical. "How could you do such a foolish thing?" she screamed at him. "Quickly, buy back your Olam Habah--regardless of the price!" I will not live one more minute with a man who would sell his Olam Habah."

With no other recourse, the fellow went back in search of the chasid to demand that the sale be nullified. He found him and began negotiating for his Olam Habah. He was shocked that the chasid would not budge. He refused to "return" the Olam Habah, regardless of the price. The only option left for the businessman was to go to the Rebbe of the chasid and beg him to talk some sense into his disciple. The Rebbe listened to both sides of the story and said, "In truth, my disciple is justified in not returning your Olam Habah. He bought it fairly. I think I can convince him to relinquish his title to your Olam Habah, however, if you pay him a specific amount of money." "How much?" asked the businessman. "I will pay any amount, just get me back my Olam Habah!" The Rebbe said, "My disciple needs a specific amount of money for his daughter's wedding. If you supply the necessary funds, I will see to it that your Olam Habah is returned to you." The businessman agreed to the sale, and everything was settled amicably; he received his Olam Habah in return for providing the necessary funds for the chasid’s daughter's wedding.

As the businessman was leaving, he turned to the Rebbe and asked, "While I followed the Rebbe’s instructions and furnished the funds that were asked of me, I still have a question. Yesterday this man paid one ruble for my Olam Habah . Today this same ‘merchandise’ is valued at thousands of rubles. Is that right?" The Rebbe countered, "Yes, my friend. The price is set according to the value of the merchandise. Yesterday, you were willing to ‘give’ it away for a mere ruble. This indicated that it had very little value to you. Today, when you realize that your marriage and your happiness are dependent upon this same merchandise, the price increases. Now it is worth much, much more to you!"

The same idea applies to the birthright. Originally, Eisav scoffed at the bechorah. It was worthless. A bowl of soup had more value than it. When Eisav later realized the blessings that the bechorah entailed, he screamed bitterly over his loss. At that moment, the value of the birthright increased commensurate with Eisav’s appreciation of his forfeiture.

Let us return to our original question. When Yaakov passed by Har Ha’Moriah without pausing to pray, he demonstrated a lack of appreciation for the sanctity of the place. Thus, he decreased its "value." If the place did not have sufficient meaning for Yaakov, then it was not worth performing a miracle there. Afterwards, when Yaakov realized what he had missed, when he reflected upon the lost opportunity to pray at the holiest site, the prestige of Har Ha’Moriah increased. If the site was now so valuable that Yaakov was prepared to return to it, then Hashem would perform a miracle. The mountain would move towards him. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so is its value.

She conceived again, and bore a son and declared, "This time let me gratefully praise Hashem; therefore she called his name Yehudah, then she stopped giving birth. (29:35)

In his commentary on this pasuk, Ibn Ezra makes a compelling statement. He interprets Leah’s "gratitude" as if she were saying, "I have had four sons. I, therefore, thank Hashem, for I want no more." It is as if she were saying, "I have enough; Hashem has been very kind. I am now grateful for everything that He has given me." Therefore she stopped giving birth. Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, infers from Ibn Ezra that Leah caused her own inability to bear additional children. She claimed that she had had enough. Thus, she stopped conceiving and giving birth. Whether it is to be perceived as a punishment or reprimand -- or simply an educative lesson -- there seems to be a relationship between Leah’s expression of gratitude and her ceasing to give birth.

Horav Ezrachi explains that Leah’s offer of gratitude to Hashem was deficient and can, therefore, be viewed as sinful. In areas of the spirit, one never has enough. One should never be satisfied with what he has attained. Leah said she had had enough. Hashem responded: Enough. She had forgotten that it was not that long ago that she had prayed for a child. She had forgotten the elevated esteem she had experienced when she was blessed with a child. One never says to Hashem, "I have had enough of Your favors." For, Hashem might just agree!

This explanation is not meant to denigrate Leah’s sense of hakoras ha’tov, appreciation. Certainly she had a remarkable sense of appreciation to the Almighty. The manner in which she expressed her gratitude, however, was lacking. Indeed, later on when she gave her maidservant, Zilpah, to Yaakov, she was blessed with more children. She realized that something was amiss, and she sought to correct it. Our overwhelming responsibility to grow spiritually demands that we are never satisfied with what we have already attained.

And Rachel took the teraphim and put them into the camel’s pack-saddle and sat upon them. (31:34)

Rachel sat upon Lavan's idols, which she had stolen, in an attempt to hide them. Lavan did not ask her to rise when she explained to him that the way of women was upon her. The Zohar Ha’kadosh, however, reveals to us an entirely new explanation for Rachel’s actions. She sat upon the idols because of her utter contempt for them. The teraphim were like many of the other idols which also had the ability to serve as mediums for divining the future. Rachel stole the teraphim, so that Lavan could not use them to find out where Yaakov had gone. In order to ensure that there would no longer be any supernatural powers of impurity left in the teraphim, Rachel sat upon them, thereby humiliating and degrading them. Why did she do this? Was it not sufficient merely to remove them from the house and bury them in the ground? Their entire power is founded in the respect and dignity that one accords them. Attributing power to them bestows power upon them. Thus, the Zohar explains, by degrading the teraphim, Rachel rendered them powerless.

Horav Avigdor Nebentzhal, Shlita, observes that this idea applies similarly to various other "forces" which control our lives. They have an effect on us only as long as we ascribe significance to them. Probably the greatest of these forces is the yetzer hora, evil inclination, whose goal it is to ensnare us in its clutches. Chazal tell us that the yetzer hora is compared to the se’or she’b’issa, yeast/rising agent of dough; it provokes a person to "rise" in arrogance and defiance to sin in the same manner that yeast causes dough to swell and rise up. The Chachmei Ha’kaballah state that the nullification of chametz prior to Pesach symbolizes -- and thus encourages -- our nullification of the yetzer hora within us. Indeed, according to Biblical law, it is sufficient to be "mevatel," nullify, one’s chametz, so that he will no longer transgress the prohibition of having chametz in his possession on Pesach. Rabbinic law added the prerequisite of burning the chametz as an additional precaution in the event one were to find chametz in his possession.

Why is this? Why is nullification considered a sufficient form of purging chametz from our midst? Horav Nebentzhal suggests that it is consistent with the nature of chametz. Dough becomes chametz as a result of its being "blown up," just as misplaced arrogance causes one to inflate himself out of realistic proportion. By nullifying the chametz, the Jew negates any significance it may have. Thus, the reason for its prohibition has been undermined. One’s lack of recognition of the chametz removes its power; the se’or she’b’issa no longer has any effect; it is no longer "chametz." This parallels the yetzer hora which has an effect only as long as one ascribes chashivus, importance/eminence, to it. When we attribute power to a force of impurity such as the yetzer hora, we are granting it the capacity to influence us. The evil inclination can sway only those who are inclined to heed it.


1. The Torah says that Yaakov "encountered the place." To which place is this referring?

2. A. How many years had passed from the time that Yaakov left home until the moment when he had his famous dream?
B. Where was he during this period?

3. Chazal tell us that the land literally "jumped" closer to greet Yaakov. Which place jumped?

4. Why did Yaakov cry when he met Rachel?

5. How old was Yaakov when he married Leah?

6. Who named her son by emphasizing her special gratitude to Hashem?


1. Har Ha’moriah

2. A. 14 years
B. He was studying in the yeshivah of Shem and Ever.

3. Har Ha’moriah "came" from Yerushalayim to Bais El to greet Yaakov.

4. Rashi gives two reasons. 1. He saw b’ruach Ha’kodesh that Rachel would not be buried with him. 2. He came empty-handed, without gifts. His father, however, had come with many gifts when he came to meet his mother.

5. 84 years old.

6. Leah derived Yehudah’s name from "Odeh es Hashem," "I thank Hashem.


Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first three years have been published in book form.

The third volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588.

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
Jerusalem, Israel