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PARSHAS VAYEITZEIAnd (he) lay down in that place. (28:11)
Rashi notes that ba'makom ha'hu, in that place, is an expression of exclusion, implying that it was only in that place that he lay down. During the fourteen years that he spent in the yeshivah of Eiver, however, he did not lay down at night, because he was occupied with the study of Torah. Previously, in Parashas Toldos, Rashi explained that when Yaakov Avinu left Be'er Sheva, he did not immediately go to Charan. He took a fourteen-year hiatus in the yeshiva of Eiver to study Torah. The Oztrovtzer, zl, wonders why Yaakov Avinu, who was sixty-three-years old when he left home and had certainly spent his entire life studying Torah in the ohel ha'Torah, the yeshivah of Shem and Eiver, felt it necessary once again to return to the yeshivah.
The Oztrovtzer explains that, prior to leaving his father's home, Yaakov Avinu had learned from Shem and Eiver how a Jew living among Jews maintains himself as a ben Torah, committed, devoted, vibrant in his belief and observance. Now, he was leaving this utopian environment to deal with the "elements" - a negative spiritual environment, steeped in immorality and unethical behavior. It was an entirely new enterprise. Living among Lavan and his ilk could prove to be an overwhelming challenge for the yeshivah man who had never been exposed to such a prurient environment.
In the Sefer Alufei Yehudah, the author cites the Ostrovtzer, who applies this idea to the opening pasuk in Parashas Vayeishev, "These are the offspring of Yaakov: Yosef, at the age of seventeen years, was a shepherd with his brothers by the flock" (Bereishis 37:2). Why does the Torah emphasize Yosef's age? The Ostrovtzer explains that Yaakov saw through Ruach Ha'Kodesh, Divine Inspiration that Yosef would one day leave home and be compelled to live among pagan degenerates. How was he to cope with the constant spiritual challenges he would be forced to confront? His father decided that he would transmit to him the Torah that he had studied in the Yeshivah of Eiver for fourteen years. Since the commencement of Torah study occurs at age three, we have only to do the math - three plus fourteen equals seventeen. Hence, the Torah underscores Yosef's age at the time of his forced departure from home.
Horav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zl, supplements the above, explaining that Shem and Eiver were most suitable to teach Yaakov the necessities for survival in an adverse spiritual climate. Shem survived the generation of the Flood. He not only was spared physically, but he also emerged spiritually strong and unaffected by the pervasive influence of the members of that generation. Eiver was born during the dor Haflagah, generation of the Dispersal, whose members built the Tower of Bavel with the explicit purpose of rebelling against Hashem. He also emerged physically unscathed. These two Roshei Yeshivah were ideally suited to impart the lessons they had learned in coping with spiritual adversity.
The Rosh Yeshivah applies this thought to explain Chazal's statement in the Talmud Megillah 16b: "The study of Torah is greater than the mitzvah of honoring one's parents." The entire fourteen years that Yaakov spent away from home, engrossed in Torah study, was not considered a blemish on his respect for his parents. For fourteen years, Yaakov did not actively honor his parents; yet, he was not punished. Why? Torah study takes precedence. We still must rationalize why Yaakov absconded on his mitzvah of Kibud av v'eim, exchanging it for fourteen years of Torah study.
The Rosh Yeshivah explains that Yaakov's fourteen years of Torah study was actually an inextricable, inseparable component of the honor he gave his parents. Clearly, Yitzchak and Rivkah had no great desire to send their son to the wicked Lavan, unless he was strong enough to survive in that challenging environment. If Yaakov could not proclaim, Im Lavan garti v'taryag mitzvos shomarti, "I lived with Lavan, but I still remained committed to the 613 mitzvos, I did not learn from his ways"; going there would pose a serious spiritual threat. In order to do this, Yaakov needed his fourteen years of preparation.
Exactly what was the content of the lessons that Yaakov received in Eiver's yeshivah? The message would have to endure throughout our nation's exile, because we have yet to reach that utopian spiritual environment which encourages and empowers spiritual growth. Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, cites a yesod, principle, stated by Horav Yehoshua, zl, m'Belz, which can be applied and viewed as the primary lesson Yaakov imbibed in the yeshivah.
How does a Jew live as a Torah Jew in a non-Jewish, morally depraved environment? The opening pasuk to Sefer Shemos reads: V'eilah shemos Bnei Yisrael ha'baim Mitzraymah. "And these are the names of the Bnei Yisrael who came to Egypt." A similar pasuk is to be found in Parashas Vayigash (Bereishis 46:8). There, Rashi comments, "Because of the moment, ie, in terms of the present in the narrative, the Torah call them ha'baim, 'coming.' Thus, no one should wonder why it did not write asher ba'u, 'who came.'" Be'er Yitzchak explains that it is quite common to narrate stories of the past as if they are unfolding in the present. With this commentary in mind, we question why the pasuk in Sefer Shemos also uses the word ha'baim, coming, when they were already there. Their coming had occurred many years earlier.
The Belzer explains that the Torah is not teaching us a history lesson concerning the Jews' arrival in Egypt; rather, the Torah teaches us what it was that had saved the Jews from total assimilation. What was it that protected them from Egypt's harsh spiritual environment? It was the fact that they viewed themselves as ha'baim, just now coming to the land. They were not Egyptians. They had a homeland for which they yearned. They had a way of life and culture that was antithetical to Egyptian culture. They aspired for their return. Now, they were just visiting.
Rav Friedman supplements this idea with the Midrash which attributes Klal Yisrael's redemption from Egypt to four reasons: they did not adopt Egyptian names; they did not accept the Egyptian language; they did not speak lashon hora, slander against one another; they maintained a high moral standard as befits a Jew. These protective safeguards against assimilation were the result of the fact that they had never accepted Egypt as their home. They were just "coming" to the land. They were not residents.
This, explains Rav Friedman, is the idea behind Yaakov's eschewing sleep for the fourteen years that he studied in Eiver's yeshivah. Sleep is a necessity, but sleep does not come easily to one who is tense, who is concerned about his well-being. Yaakov taught his descendants that we do not sleep while in galus, exile. Sleep equals complacency, and in exile we dare not become passive victims to the contemporary society's morally corrupt and ethically lacking culture.
Yaakov spent fourteen years studying with Yosef. Yet, we find that when Yosef was in Potifar's house, he began to care about his physical appearance by curling his hair. It was soon after this that Potifar's wife attempted to seduce him. In his Divrei Yechezkel, the Shiniever Rav, zl, asks how a tzaddik such as Yosef could have acted so inappropriately. How could someone on an elevated spiritual plane care so much about his physical appearance? He explains that wherever a tzaddik finds himself, the first question that he asks is: What can I do to repair, to embellish, to elevate the spiritual plane of this place? Thus, when Yosef found himself thrust into the licentiousness of the Egyptian lifestyle, he wondered how he could change things. The first step was to change his appearance. There was no way that anyone would give him the time of day if he stood out like a Jew with a beard and payos. His goals were on target, but he forgot his father's lesson concerning the distinctiveness of a Jew. He had to distinguish himself from the environment in which he found himself. He was protected only as long as he realized that he was different, that he was only visiting; he was not a resident.
Yosef almost gave in to the pressure and allure of Potifar's wife. He was saved because he saw d'mus d'yukno shel aviv, an image of his father. How did this save him? Horav Yitzchak, zl, m'Vorka explains that when he saw his father's image he once again realized how a Jew should appear to the world. He saw the "old fashioned" regal appearance of a Jew who took pride in his individuality and independence. He quickly understood the evil of assimilation, and he rejected it.
Leah's eyes were tender. (29:17)
Rashi comments that Leah Imeinu's eyes were tender due to her incessant weeping. She thought that,as she was the older sister; it would be her lot to fall into the hands of Eisav for the purpose of marriage. This was clearly a reason to cry. Tears play a significant role in our relationship with the Almighty, especially in the area of prayer; indeed, weeping is considered a form of supplication. In one of the most moving elegies of the Selichos prayers, we ask Hashem: Yehi ratzon, "May it be Your will, You who hear the sound of weeping, that You place our tears in Your flask permanently, and that You rescue us from all cruel decrees, for on You alone our eyes are fixed."
The Almighty listens and discerns between the various tears that a person emits. He Who delves into the hearts of men knows which tears are from a pure source, to which ones He will listen and place in a special "container" for posterity. Our sages teach that with the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, the Shaarei Tefillah, Gates of Prayer, were closed. Prayer does not access the Heavenly Gates as it once did, but, Shaarei Demaos, the Gates of Tears, remain open, allowing for the result of genuine emotion, pure tears, to enter and achieve efficacy. Why are tears different than prayer? What gives tears greater capability than genuine prayer?
Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that tears are multi-faceted. They are a form of prayer; they are an entreaty; and they are a hirhur teshuvah, expression of thoughts of repentance. While they are all these, tears go deeper than prayer. They are an expression of greater profundity than even genuine prayer. Tears are the expression of a stormy heart, a broken heart, a prayer that became emotional, that achieved such purity that it expressed itself through pure emotion. Tears contain the key to access the Gates of Heaven, because they are the ultimate expression of the heart.
There is a problem, however - even with the purest of tears. Rav Zaitchik gives this a practical application. Reuven insults Shimon. Shimon has been hurt, humiliated and brought to tears. He expresses his pain in the most common manner. Reuven has by now realized the hurt he caused, and, as a result, seeks forgiveness and repentance. He cries out to Hashem, begging forgiveness for the pain that he brought to Shimon. His tears are sincere - but, so are those of Shimon. The tears of Reuven, the offender, the baal teshuvah, ascend to Heaven and confront another set of tears - those of Shimon. Whose tears will prevail? Heaven determines whose tears will achieve greater efficacy: those of the offender who now seeks forgiveness, or those of the one whose life was made unbearable, who cries out in pain and misery?
"And he (Eisav) cried out an exceedingly great and bitter cry" (Bereishis 27:34). Eisav returned from the field to discover that Yaakov had received the blessings. Can we imagine Eisav's pain as he cried out? This pain was inadvertently catalyzed by Yaakov. Chazal teach that Eisav's hurt was "compensated" years later in Persia, when Yaakov's descendant, Mordechai HaYehudi tore his clothes and wept bitterly concerning the evil decree passed against the Jews by Achashveirosh. Agag, king of Amalek groaned while in prison. This catalyzed Haman's birth. When we realize the effect the tears of even a rasha, wicked person, we begin to imagine how far-reaching are the tears of those whom we humiliate, oppress, or even whose feelings we inadvertently hurt. Tears are powerful.
Rav Zaitchik quotes a Midrash that is frightening in its implications. Chazal teach that Rachel Imeinu died prior to her sister Leah, because she spoke before her, thereby indicating a hint of lack of respect. Let us take into account that Rachel gave everything up for Leah. She not only gave her the signs that Yaakov had given her, but she also hid in her room and spoke instead of Leah, so that her sister would not become embarrassed. She gave up her opportunity to marry Yaakov first, just to prevent Leah's humiliation. Yet, because she spoke before her, she preceded Leah in death! Is this not mind-boggling?
Leah, however, was used to weeping. Leah's emotions were unusually raw. Therefore, in response to a minor slight to her character, her emotions were immediately revealed. The Rambam in Hilchos Avadim 1:7 writes that one must be unusually careful not to cause emotional pain to a slave, because his self-esteem is very low and his negative reaction will thus be quickly forth coming.
Leah's eyes were tender. (29:17)
Leah Imeinu had good reason for her excessive weeping. She feared that she would be relegated to marry the wicked Eisav. After all, it made sense. Rivkah had two sons; her brother Lavan had two daughters. It was only "right" that the older daughter Leah would marry the older son, Eisav. For this reason, she cried. When we think about it, especially through the spectacles of contemporary society, what really was so bad about marrying Eisav? As an ish sadeh, man of the field, he was out there making money. Eisav would not settle for a mediocre paycheck. He certainly did well for himself. The woman that would marry Eisav would have it "good." Her material needs would be taken care of. She would life a life of comfort, surrounded with luxury, never having to worry from where the next check will come. Marrying Yaakov, however, meant a life of struggle, hardship and material need. Was that what she really wanted for herself and her future children?
I have painted the picture which those who are foreign to the world of Torah like to present. They view a life of materialism as the epitome of living; in contrast, they saw its counterpart, a life of Torah, which by its very nature eschews many material pursuits, as a life of settling for less, even one of misery. How wrong they are! The Matriarch Leah shows us the way. Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, observes that, despite Leah's exposure to the pervasive, evil influence of her environment, her home and especially to her brother, she still wanted to share her life with Yaakov Avinu. Not only was this her wish; it became her obsession. She wept incessantly at the mere thought of marrying Eisav. She cried so much that her facial features, especially her eyes, were negatively altered.
Due to Leah's incredible devotion to the Torah way of life, she was rewarded with becoming the progenitress of the three crowns with which Klal Yisrael is crowned: Kesser Torah, the Crown of Torah, through her son Yissachar; Kesser Kehunah, the Crown of Priesthood, through her son Levi; and Kesser Malchus, the Crown of Monarchy, through her son Yehudah. This is a significant achievement for Lavan's daughter, who grew up in an environment which renounced all of these attributes. When a person demonstrates their undying devotion to Torah; when he displays his overwhelming desire and love for Torah, he succeeds in its procurement.
There is a well-known story of Reb Beinish Dennis a wealthy Russian businessman, who was privileged to be the father-in-law of two gedolei Yisrael, Torah luminaries, of the previous generation: Horav Avraham Yitzchak Bloch, zl, Rosh Yeshivas Telshe, Lithuania; and his brother, Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl, Rosh Yeshivas Telshe, America. After the Bolshevik Revolution, which devalued the Russian currency, his money became worthless. He was now a poor man. One would have expected him to be broken-hearted. He comforted himself, saying that he still had left in his possession two precious diamonds, his two sons-in-law. These were jewels which no one could take from him.
Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, Rosh Yeshivas Baranovitz, related that he was once on a fundraising trip on behalf of his yeshivah. He journeyed to Russia to meet with this noted philanthropist, hoping to obtain a large donation on behalf of his yeshivah. It was a cold, wintry day; a heavy snow had just fallen, and the unpaved streets were slushy with snow and mud. The Rosh Yeshivah's shoes were filthy; there was no way that he could enter the palatial home of Reb Beinish with the grime on his shoes. He went to the back door which opened up to the kitchen, figuring that it would be much more appropriate to enter this way, rather than soil the fancy carpeting in the foyer. Reb Beinish's daughters came to the door, and, after greeting their distinguished guest, they immediately went to inform their father that the Rosh Yeshivah of Baranovitz was in the kitchen. Rav Elchanan refused to walk any further into the house with his soiled shoes. When Reb Beinish came to the kitchen he asked the Rosh Yeshivah why he had come through the back door. Rav Elchanan explained that his shoes were filthy, and he had no desire to soil the rugs.
Reb Beinish became visibly upset and said, "Rebbe, you are impugning the education that I have given my daughters. I have taught them that Torah takes precedence over everything. Nothing is greater than Torah. You, however, are showing them that carpeting takes precedence over Torah. I do not want to cause you any trouble, but can you please exit the kitchen and enter once again through the front door? I want my daughters to see the carpet becoming soiled. Let them learn the importance of honoring a Torah giant!"
While this is clearly the proper attitude to manifest toward those who study and disseminate Torah, the flipside to this must be avoided. One must exert the greatest care to see to it that the respect given to the Torah one possesses does not go to his head. It is unfortunately quite easy to develop an elitist attitude that fosters an overactive ego. This leads to his becoming unapproachable and condescending. I recently came across a story related by Rabbi Yisrael Besser in his book: Warmed by Their Fire.
The story concerns the Pnei Menachem, the previous Gerrer Rebbe. A young girl, daughter of prominent Gerrer Chassidim, woke up one night and was frightened when she realized that she was alone in the house. Apparently, her parents had a medical emergency which had required immediate attention. They asked a neighbor to look in on their daughter until they returned. The child, however, was unaware of this. She just knew that she was all alone in the middle of the night. The panicked girl did the only thing that came to her mind. She went to her family's phonebook and looked up the Gerrer Rebbe's number and called him. The Pnei Menachem himself answered the phone. The young girl identified herself, and explained that her parents were not home and that she was scared.
This great man, who was mentor and spiritual guide to thousands, spoke softly to the child, reassuring her that her parents would be home soon. He asked her about school, her friends, and he even told her a story. All of this was done to calm down a frightened child.
The parents returned home shortly thereafter and were mortified upon hearing what their daughter had done. The next day, the father entered the Rebbe's study to apologize for his daughter's "insolence." The Rebbe smiled and said, Es is a gitte chinuch. "You have taught your child well. It is important for a child to know that when a problem occurs, one calls the Rebbe."
Children often teach us valuable lessons.
And he (Yaakov) encountered the place and he stayed there. (28:11)
Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, explains that the word vayifga has the special connotation of an unexpected encounter. Thus, we understand that Yaakov Avinu experienced something unexpected when he arrived at "that" place. He saw Heavenly Angels ascending and descending a ladder. This was a significant personal experience which conveyed a special message to the Patriarch.
Likewise, at the end of the parsha, as the Patriarch was leaving the house of his wicked father-in-law, Lavan, he encountered Angels. This time, however, it was the Angels who encountered him. They were "surprised" by Yaakov as he had been surprised by them twenty years earlier. What revelation did the Angels have that surprised them so?
This encounter with the Angels was an event, because Yaakov was the only one of the Avos, Patriarchs, who could claim that mitaso sheleimah, his marital bed was complete, all of his children were righteous and followers in their father's ways and beliefs. Even after having lived for twenty years in Lavan's home, Rachel and Leah and their children remained resolute and committed to Hashem. Neither the world nor the Angels had ever seen such upstanding, righteous individuals. The Angels were truly taken aback by this astonishing sight. Thus, Yaakov's surprise at seeing the Angels on his way to Lavan was matched by the Angels' surprise upon seeing the perfection of man as personified by Yaakov.
V'sein b'libeinu… lishmor, v'laasos, u'l'kayim… b'ahavah.
In his Be'er Shmuel, Horav Shmuel Rosenberg, zl, explains this tefillah from a practical perspective. The best relationship between two people must be strong enough to weather the most harsh challenges. Like any physical edifice, whereby the foundation must be firm and strong, a relationship between two people must be concretized in such a manner that the strongest winds, the most vile lashon hora, slander, will not adversely affect the underpinnings of the bond that exists between them. How does one guarantee this? What is the magic glue that holds it all together? What cements a foundation so well that it will not yield to destructive forces? Love! One who loves will not have his relationship weakened. Indeed, it will become stronger! Love has the power of creating a bond whereby two become one - the foundation and the edifice are one and the same. When one has ahavas Hashem, true love for the Almighty - nothing can extinguish the fiery passion of this relationship - not pogroms, not holocausts, not illness and financial ruin. With the love in his heart, the Jew is able to transcend the vicissitudes of life, girding himself to overcome all of the challenges to his faith. He loves Hashem.
in memory of
Rabbi Louis Engelberg z"l
niftar 8 Kislev 5758
Mrs. Hannah Engelberg z"l niftar 3 Teves 5742
Etzmon and Abigail Rozen
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