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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vayatze

He encountered the place and spent the night there because the sun had set. (28:11)

Chazal credit Yaakov Avinu with introducing Tefillas Arvis. Thus, the word "vayifga," which is usually translated as "he encountered," means, "and he prayed." Prayer is, in essence, an encounter with the Almighty. The Patriarchs initiated each of the daily tefillos. Regarding Avraham Avinu, who originated Tefillas Shacharis, the Torah says, "Avraham rose early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Hashem" (Bereishis 19:27). The Torah uses the word, "amidah," standing, regarding Avraham. In contrast, pegiah, encounter, is used in regard to Yaakov. Finally, the word, "sichah," - "Yitzchak went out to supplicate (lasuach) in the field," (Bereishis, 24:63) is used to describe Yitzchak's introduction of Tefillas Minchah. Why does the Torah characterize the individual tefillos of the Avos in such disparate terms?

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, explains that each tefillah represents the unique form of avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty, manifest by the individual Patriarch who instituted it. Avraham Avinu's major goal in life was to disseminate to the world a monotheistic concept of belief in the Almighty. He accepted every challenge that came his way, overcoming enormous odds and trials. He succeeded as a result of one specific attribute, his ability to stand firm, stalwart and unyielding in his commitment. He synchronized every talent and ability he possessed toward reaching that goal. He was immovable and resolute. His standing to pray reflected his unique form of avodas Hashem.

Yitzchak, the heir to Avraham's outreach efforts, was mired in a predicament. Although he certainly was following in his father's footsteps, he needed to differentiate between his own conviction and his imitation of his father's approach. In order to make this distinction, he had to delve into the innermost recesses of his psyche. To enable this introspection, he went away from the activity of the city to a quiet field where he could concentrate on an intimate prayer between himself and his Creator. Yitzchak's tefillah represented the "kol demamah dakoh", a still, thin sound, through which only the soul of a person is able to understand his true intention.

Yaakov's tefillah was an encounter with Hashem. This was in contrast to the tefillah of his grandfather, Avraham, who sacrificed himself to bring others close to Hashem, who devoted his life to performing acts of chesed. He also was different from his father, Yitzchak, who set the standard for mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. Yaakov stood between an Eisav, who sought to destroy him physically, and a Lavan - whose goal it was to prevent his spiritual development. He was not like Avraham or Yitzchak. What could he do? How could his prayer make a difference? What could he add to the concept of tefillah which his father and grandfather had developed? He was so absorbed in his predicament that he "fell" asleep. Hashem showed him a ladder that reached from earth to Heaven. Yaakov woke up and declared, "This is the House of G-d and the gateway to Heaven." He now understood that it was not necessary to offer sacrifices, especially since he could not offer anything that his ancestors had not already offered. Yaakov perceived that he, through his demeanor and service to Hashem, could concretize this ladder that traversed from earth to Heaven. He was to consecrate his physical dimension through Torah study and avodas Hashem. He could pray wherever he was. His prayer was not introducing something new. Rather, it was an encounter with the past. It demonstrated to the world that wherever we are, in whatever area of endeavor we are involved, we can reach out and encounter Hashem through prayer, through Torah, through mitzvos. Our purpose is to sanctify our lives - wherever we are, under whatever conditions we find ourselves.

Yaakov Avinu instituted Tefillas Arvis, the prayer recited after dark, the prayer that coincides with the darkness of galus, exile. Our mission throughout the long galus is to encounter Hashem and be that ladder/bridge that reaches between Heaven and earth.

He took from the stones of the place, which he arranged around his head. (28:11)

In the Midrash, Chazal render this pasuk to mean that Yaakov Avinu took several stones, which began "quarrelling," each one vying for the tzaddik to rest his head on it. "Alai yaniach tzaddik es rosho," "Upon me shall this tzaddik rest his head." Noticing this arguement, Hashem combined them all into one stone upon which Yaakov would rest. Horav Zaidel Epstein, Shlita, derives a profound lesson from here. Jewish tradition disapproves of machlokes, conflict, regardless of its goal, even if the dispute is about upon which stone the tzaddik should rest his head. As long as the "alai", "me", is the initial focus, if the goal is that it should be "me" and not the other person, it is wrong. Whenever a disagreement divides two people - regardless of the reason - Hashem will not condone it.

What did Hashem do? He transformed all of the stones into one stone. Once they became one equal unit, there was no longer any room for the "alai," me. Even though Yaakov would rest his head on one specific part of the stone, all had an equal share throughout the one unified stone. The only way one can protect himself from the tragic effect of machlokes is through harmony, in which the individual feels that he and his friend are one. He must share with him in life's happy and sad moments, celebrating his joy and lamenting his sorrow, as if they were his own. Unity is the only antidote for discord.

And he lay down in that place. (28:11)

Rashi cites the Midrash that emphasizes that Yaakov Avinu lay down now - for the first time in fourteen years. His Torah study was so diligent that he had not laid down at night since he had left his parents' home fourteen years earlier. Let us examine this statement. Certainly, Yaakov studied at the yeshivah of Shem and Eivar prior to his untimely departure from home. The Torah does not mention his lack of sleep there. What was so unique about these fourteen years that he never laid his head down?

Horav Yechiel M'Ostrovtze, zl, explains that these were two distinct forms of Torah study, with different purposes in mind. When Yaakov originally studied Torah at home, he was in an environment that was conducive to Jewish living. He resided among Jews, in a family that represented the benchmark of Torah for that generation. His focus of Torah study was to learn how a Jew lives among Jews. Converesly, as he was about to leave this utopian environment to go into exile in the atmosphere of Lavan ha'rasha, he prepared himself for life among pagans. Learning how to live as a devout Jew in an environment that is hostile to Torah is a distinct lesson in itself.

Interestingly, we note that Yaakov seemed to have been able to lay down previously. When he was studying how to live among the "Lavans," he could not risk laying down. This serves as a lesson for us that, when we are exposed to an atmosphere that is not conducive to the Torah way of life, we cannot relax our guard.

Then Yaakov took a vow, saying, "If Hashem will be with me, will guard me on this way that I am going; will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear. (28:20)

The Midrash Tanchuma notes that Hashem responded to all of Yaakov's requests, with the exception of his request for parnassah, livelihood. Hashem said that He would be with him, protect him from his enemies, and guarantee his safe return home. He did not acquiesce to Yaakov's simple request for bread and clothes, explaining, "If I guarantee his food, what will he pray for?" In other words, Hashem "held back" His assurance regarding Yaakov's livelihood, to ensure that Yaakov would continue to supplicate Him for it.

This is an incredible statement when you consider that Yaakov Avinu was not requesting luxuries. He simply desired basic sustenance so that he could devote himself completely to spiritual pursuits. Hashem, however, desires that His servants constantly trust in Him to provide for subsistence. Once one is assured of his daily bread, he will not readily turn to Hashem. Necessity motivates prayer. This idea applies to the b'chir ha'Avos, select of the Patriarchs, as well. Mussar HaTorah infers a valuable lesson from Chazal. When we are lacking something, it is because Hashem desires that we pray for it. One should never say, "I have enough; I need no more." Hashem waits for our prayers. By turning to Him, we circumvent those times when we need to be reminded of the Source of our good fortune.

And will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear... and Hashem will be a G-d to me. (28:20, 21)

The Baal HaTanya and the Kedushas Levi, Horav Levi Yitzchak M'berditchev, were mechutanim, relatives by marriage, through the marriage of their grandchildren. At the wedding, which these two tzaddikim graced by their presence, the Baal HaTanya offered a "l'chayim" to his mechutan: "L'Chayim, mechutan! Hashem Yisborach should help us with gashmius and ruchnius, material and spiritual needs," said the Baal HaTanya. The Berditchever quickly asked, "How is it that you ask for material needs prior to spiritual needs?" "Is it any different than Yaakov Avinu, who first asked for bread and then asked that Hashem be a G-d to him?" responded the Baal HaTanya. The Berditchever asked, "How can you compare Yaakov Avinu's gashmius to ours. Certainly his material needs were not of the same nature as ours." "You may be right," said the Baal HaTanya, "but how do you compare our ruchnius to his?"

While this story may be anecdotal, why did Yaakov Avinu really prioritize his material needs over his spiritual ones? In truth, Yaakov's material request was spiritual in nature, since his material needs were entirely sublimated towards serving Hashem. Whatever he had, and whatever he needed, were oriented towards one goal - to serve Hashem. Having bread to eat and clothes to wear facilitated Yaakov's spiritual growth.

And Yaakov kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept. (29:11)

Rashi cites various reasons which Chazal mention for Yaakov's weeping upon meeting Rachel. One reason is that Yaakov lamented the fact that when Eliezer came to Rivkah, at Avraham Avinu's behest to seek a wife for Yitzchak, he came with jewelry and precious stones. In contrast he was coming with nothing. Rashi explains that Yaakov gave all of his possessions to Elifaz, Eisav's son, who at his father's command had chased after him to kill him. At the last minute, however, Elifaz just could not do it. He was overcome with doubt, confused by a life of error and misconception. On the one hand, his father had commanded him to slay his uncle. On the other hand, he did not feel he could kill Yaakov, as he had been raised under Yitzchak's supervision, visiting and spending time with his sainted grandfather. Sensing his confusion, Yaakov advised him to take away his possessions. This caused him to become poor. We are taught that "ani chashuv k'meis," a poor man is like dead man. Hence, Yaakov could be declared dead, absolving Elifaz from his father's directive.

The lessons to be inferred from Chazal are captivating. Horav Zaidel Epstein, Shlita, notes the yetzer hora's incredible capacity for confusing and misguiding a person. Elifaz was prepared to kill Yaakov, to murder his rebbe, in order to fulfill his father's command. He refrained from taking action only because he had grown up in Yitzchak's home. Yet, the mitzvah of Kibbud Av V'eim, honoring one's parents, had a compelling effect upon him, leaving him no recourse. Certainly, he was not driven by fear of Eisav. Had this been the case, he would not have accepted Yaakov's halachic alternative. Eisav did not want alternatives; he wanted Yaakov completely out of the picture!

Thus, we must conclude that because Elifaz had been raised in Eisav's home, where he was taught by Eisav's example to appreciate the mitzvah of Kibud Av, he was acutely sensitive to this mitzvah. At the same time, he also saw, and was influenced by, a father whose life revolved around murder. Human life had no value to Eisav. He lived by the sword. Is it any wonder that Elifaz was confused? He had no concept of murder and its evil! He also spent time with his grandfather, which left an impression to the point that he did not know what to do. The evil of murder, which was not as clearly defined for him as a result of his exposure to Eisav, coupled with his sensitivity to Kibud Av left him with a strong argument for carrying out his father's command. The impression that was imprinted upon him as a child of his grandfather have prevented him from committing murder.

The lessons are compelling. First, we see that impressions leave an indelible imprint upon a child's psyche. Growing up in an environment hostile to Torah leaves an indelible impression. On the other hand, those moments with Yitzchak saved Elifaz. Thus, we never know the powerful impact that a visit with a tzaddik can have on a young person. It may take years to surface - but, it is there! We also see how the evil inclination can color a sin as heinous as murder and present it as a mitzvah. Elifaz viewed killing Yaakov as the fulfillment of the mitzvah of Kibud Av! Do we need to say more?

And Lavan came up with Yaakov. And Yaakov pitched his tent on the mountain and Lavan with his brethren pitched in the mountain of Gilaad. (31:25)

Lavan was intent on destroying Yaakov. What prevented him from executing his diabolical plan? Chazal tell us that Lavan feared two things: First, Hashem told Lavan to stay away from Yaakov. Second, Lavan was aware that Eisav was coming toward Yaakov with an army of four hundred men. If Lavan had killed Yaakov, his brother Eisav would have sought revenge. Lavan was not prepared to risk his life to kill Yaakov. What an incredible statement! The four hundred men who were apparently viewed as the enemy were, ironically, actually his savior in disguise. Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, takes this lesson a bit farther. We are plagued with pain, affliction, and illness, periods of anguish that to the human eye are nothing more than what they seem. We do not understand the ways of Hashem. We cry, moan and hope that the suffering will soon go away.

Do we ever think that perhaps that suffering might be helping us? If we could view this painful occurence through Heavenly vision, we would see an entirely different picture. We would see good, not bad; happiness, not sorrow; joy, not pain. Who would ever imagine that an army of four hundred armed soldiers, prepared for war, could be a source of deliverance? While the human eye sees trouble, the Heavenly perspective presents a picture of salvation. Lavan realized this. Perhaps we should also open our eyes.


1. In Yaakov's dream, what was the function of the angels that he saw going up and down the ladder?

2. What prompted Lavan to run to greet Yaakov?

3. Why were Leah's eyes soft?

4. Which of Yaakov's son's name is not pronounced the way it is spelled?

5. How many times did Lavan switch Yaakov's wages?

6. What connection did Bilhah and Zilpah have to Lavan?


1. The angels that were going up accompanied Yaakov in Eretz Yisrael. The descending angels accompanied him in chutz l'Aretz.

2. He thought Yaakov had money with him.

3. She was constantly crying, because she thought that she was destined to marry Eisav.

4. Yissacher- is spelled with two "sins". Only one is pronounced.

5. One hundred times.

6. He was their father.

in loving memory of
Rabbi Samuel Stone
By his children and grandchildren
Birdie and Lenny Frank & Family
and Family


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