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PARSHAS VAYEITZEIAnd Yaakov departed from Beer-Sheva. (28:10)
Rashi notes the Torah's emphasis on Yaakov Avinu's departure from Beer-Sheva, when it needed only to have written where he was going. A departure on its own merit is not notable; it is where one is going that should be indicated. He explains that the Torah teaches us that the departure of a righteous person makes an impression. His departure leaves a vacuum within the community in which he has resided, for, at the time that a righteous person is in a city, he is its magnificence; he is its splendor; he is its grandeur. Once he departs from that place, its magnificence fades away; its splendor goes away; its grandeur recedes. Is this really true? How often is it that a virtuous person, a Torah scholar of note, leaves a community, and one does not sense the loss; that the people just do not perceive the vacuum which should have been created by his departure or demise?
I found the answer in an anecdote which served as the rebuttal of the Malbim to the Maskillim, Enlightened heretics, of his community. Horav Meir Leibush Malbim, zl, was a brilliant Torah scholar without peer. Sadly, he suffered greatly from the Maskillim who went out of their way to vilify anyone who was observant, and especially the individual who, as a result of his scholarship and virtue, could hurt their cause. The Malbim was Rav in Bucharest, Romania, but, as a result of the egregious slander which spewed forth from the malignant mouths of these self-loathing Jews, he just had to leave. As he was bidding farewell to his friends and supporters, one of these heretics reared his ugly head, and, in an attempt to get in one last lick, said, "Rabbi, I am sure you are quite aware of Rashi's comment concerning Yaakov's departure from Beer-Sheva." The man remarked rhetorically, "Considering what Rashi says concerning the departure of a saintly person, I wonder why the city of Bucharest does not seem to have experienced this change in its splendor, magnificence or grandeur with your departure." With this jab, the man sat back and smugly waited for the Malbim to reply.
The Malbim looked the man in the eye and responded, "Your point is well-taken, but, as usual, you are missing the depth of Rashi's commentary. Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak Avinu both left their respective communities to move elsewhere. Yet, concerning neither of them does the Torah write, Vayeitzei, 'And he departed.' Was their departure any less worthy of note? Were they lesser tzaddikim than Yaakov?"
The answer is that when Yaakov departed Beer-Sheva, he left present other tzaddikim, such as Yitzchak and Rivkah Imeinu, who would recognize the impact a righteous person had made on an environment. Only someone who values the tzaddik's presence could appreciate his loss. When Avraham and Yitzchak left, their communities became bereft of whatever positive spirituality had existed there. Wicked people do not value virtue, and, hence, sustain no loss when it is vacated. Thus, when a tzaddik departs a city filled with wicked people, one cannot expect a sustained reaction to his departure.
The Malbim made his point. Individuals who are not themselves of impeccable character do not value one who is. Today, more than ever, this goes without saying. We are confronting a new phenomenon. I am referring to the community whose members think that they have outgrown their original leadership. When it involves oneself, people suddenly have very short memories, refusing to look back two decades to a time in which they were different and their community was different. People forget how their mode of dress evolved into what it is today; how their hashkafos, outlook on life in general and Yiddishkeit in particular, has been altered. They conveniently forget the individual or individuals who catalyzed this change. One who values the spiritual transformation which he experienced will, in turn, appreciate the individual who motivates this metamorphosis. To one, however, to whom the alteration is external, more consistent with the wave of the times, rather than intrinsic change from within, the appreciation will not be present because one cannot appreciate what he himself does not possess.
As an aside, according to the Malbim, the departure of a tzaddik from an environment which is spiritually defective will not leave an impression. This does not seem consistent with Rashi's proof from Rus 1:7, which states Va'teitzei min ha'makom, "And she departed from the place," which is a reference to the departure of Naomi and Rus from Moav. Surely, Naomi and Rus did not leave other righteous people behind in Moav.
Yaakov departed from Beer-Sheva and went toward Charan. (28:10)
In the previous parsha, we read that Yaakov Avinu incurred the implacable wrath of his brother, Eisav, because he appropriated the blessings. Eisav was quite upset, and he swore to kill Yaakov in the proper place and time. This parsha begins with Yaakov leaving home on his way to seek a wife at his Uncle Lavan's house. Between the time that Yaakov received instructions from his parents concerning leaving home for Charan, and the actual commencement of his journey, the Torah interrupts the story by informing us that, when Eisav saw that his father disapproved of Canaanite women, he decided to go to Yishmael to take a wife. The Torah spends four pesukim telling us about Eisav, then it reverts back to the story of Yaakov.
According to Rashi, the connection between Eisav taking a wife from Yishmael and Yaakov leaving home is a digression of Yaakov's departure. When Eisav heard that his father did not want Yaakov to marry a girl from Canaan, he figured that he would do the same. Other than this, no other connection seems to exist. Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, suggests a different approach, one which develops a connection between Eisav taking a wife from Yishmael and Yaakov leaving Charan. Indeed, the Torah is telling us what motivated Yaakov's quick departure from Charan.
Eisav hated Yaakov. It was as simple as that; cut and dried; no embellishment - plain, simple hate. So, why did Yaakov remain in Charan? He should have escaped at his earliest opportunity. Apparently, Yaakov felt it was not necessary to pick himself up and leave. He could live with an Eisav who hates him. As long as Eisav was acting like "Eisav," harboring a burning resentment for Yaakov, the danger was not that great. It was overt danger which, if one is careful and maintains his guard, can be circumvented. All Yaakov had to do was not be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Now, however, since Eisav was becoming a changed man, a baal teshuvah, penitent, of sorts, Yaakov had to be extremely careful. When Eisav listened to his father by not taking a Canaanite wife, he became dangerous. He presented himself as a changed man, a man of peace. A "peaceful" Eisav was dangerous, since it was all a sham. Yaakov might have missed the signs and inadvertently become lulled into complacency. Thus, Yaakov packed his bags and left for Charan. He could not live in the proximity of a "peaceful" Eisav.
We live in such a world today. Nary a day goes by that a Jew-hating Eisav does not rear his ugly head seeking to impress the world with his changed, born-again nature. This peaceful Eisav only masks the "real thing." The hatred is still present. The perpetrators just do a better job of concealing it.
He dreamt, and behold! A ladder set up toward earth, and the top of it reached to Heaven, and behold! Angels of G-d ascending and descending against it. And behold! G-d stood beside him. (28:12,13)
Yaakov Avinu set the tone and established the standards for our nation. The principles by which we live as a people were set forth by the Patriarch as he journeyed from Beer-Sheva to Charan. Yaakov gives us our name and destiny, as we are called Bnei Yisrael. Avraham Avinu was instructed to "go for yourself," lech lecha, uproot yourself and your family, and leave for a destination unknown. He did so as a successful baal ha'bayis, householder, with a wife and retinue of servants and wealth. Yaakov did not leave because he was so commanded by Hashem; rather, the Almighty "arranged" for his quick departure, as he was forced to run away from Eisav without much of his own to take with him.
Avraham had a home; Yaakov was about to start a home with nothing more than himself, the qualities inherent in his personality. Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, very aptly explains our Patriarch's approach towards establishing the foundation of the Jewish home and, by extension, the Jewish culture and way of life. This is his primary concern, and so it should be ours. The home unit is the focus of Jewish life. Everything else emanates from the stability of the Jewish home. Yaakov was the first to declare that Hashem must be sought, above all, within the home. He was the first to articulate the concept of Bais Hashem, House of G-d, which Rav Hirsch explains as the place within which the soul of man grows and flourishes and to which, in turn, he brings all that he has achieved, transforming it into life-building activity. This is the greatest and nearest place which Hashem may be found - the home.
In his vision, Yaakov saw three sets of ideas. He saw the Heavenly Ladder that was set up by a Higher Power, with its "power base" in Heaven and steps running down to earth. This taught him that a communication link existed between earth and Heaven. This was the first lesson. The destiny of all life on earth is not to be sought below, but Above. In other words, if Yaakov was compelled to travel from Beer-Sheva to Charan, it was designed by Heaven for a noble purpose. He should look toward Heaven to help him to understand this purpose.
Yaakov saw Angels of G-d ascending the ladder. V'hinei, "And behold! Angels of G-d were ascending and descending against him." The Torah introduces the second set of ideas. The messengers of G-d ascend the ladder to Heaven to obtain an image of what, ideally, man should look like. They then return to earth and set the ideal image to contrast the man as he is in reality, so that they can "stand over against him," either as friend or foe, depending on how his actual character compares to the Divinely-set ideal.
V'hinei, Hashem nitzav alav, "And behold! Hashem stood beside him." Herein is introduced the third set of ideas. Yaakov is not alone. Hashem stands before him. True, the character of earthly man does not, at first, conform to his Divinely mandated image. Hashem knows this, and, therefore, stands beside man to demonstrate His love. This love is revealed primarily through the skills for betterment derived in the education of man. This love is unique in the sense that it does not look only at the past and present, but delves deeply into the future, into man's enormous potential. It sees each man in terms of what he will be in the future, and, if it observes within him a spark of purity, it will seek to preserve and develop it.
Yaakov Avinu learned an important lesson that day: one need not go to Heaven in search of G-d. Hashem is everywhere! The Glory of G-d seeks its dwelling place among mortal men. He taught the world this lesson by building a home/family based upon the principle of, Hashem nitzav alav, "G-d stood beside him." We live as a family and as a nation, upheld solely by the grace of G-d and in accordance with His will. If only the world would listen to the lesson and accept its blueprint for life, the promise of V'nivrechu becha kol mishpechos ha'adamah u'bezaracha, "And through you will all the families on earth be blessed, and through your seed."
Then Yaakov took a vow, saying if G-d will be with me… Then this stone which I set as a pillar shall become a house of G-d, and whatever You will give me, I shall surely tithe it to You. (28:20,22)
In Hilchos Arachin (6:32,33), the Rambam writes: "It appears to me that whereas one cannot consecrate something which has not yet appeared in the world (is not yet in existence); if he were, however, to state, 'I take it upon myself to consecrate this object' (which is not yet in existence), he must carry out his vow and consecrate the object when it appears in the world. For instance, if one were to say, 'I will give the fruits of this field (which are not yet here) to poor people, he must give those fruits to the poor when they are available. We derive this halachah from Yaakov Avinu, who made a vow to tithe whatever Hashem would one day give him. The Torah considers this a neder, vow. The Ravaad concurs with the proof.
Why did Yaakov make a vow concerning what he would give when it materialized? Why did he not simply wait until that moment that it would be here, and then consecrate it? The idea of taking a vow to do something if and when it will be possible seems unusual.
Horav Arye Leib Bakst, zl, cites the Talmud Chullin 71b, where Chazal quote the pasuk at the beginning of our parsha, "And Yaakov departed from Beer-Sheva and went to Charan. He encountered the place" (ibid 28:10,11). The two pesukim seem to contradict one another. First, the Torah writes that Yaakov went all the way to Charan, which is quite beyond the borders of Eretz Yisrael. Then the Torah writes that "he encountered the place." This is the place in which the Patriarch had his visions of the Angels ascending and descending the ladder. This place was subsequently named Bais Keil (Beth-El). If Yaakov had already reached Charan, how could he be back in Beth-El? Chazal explain that Yaakov did actually reach Charan, but, once he had arrived, he said to himself, "How could I have passed the place where my fathers prayed and not have prayed there myself?" He set his mind to return, and, as soon as he set his mind to return, the ground between Charan and Beth-El miraculously contracted, and lo and behold - va'yifga ba'makom, "he encountered the place."
Chazal's words were: Kad yahiv daatei l'mihadar, "When he set his mind to return." When he personally, on his own, was aroused to return, he merited the miracle of kefitzas ha'derech, the earth contracting beneath him. This idea is ratified by Rashi, who wonders why, when Yaakov had originally passed Beth-El, Hashem did not halt him there. The answer is: Ihu lo yahiv libei, "If he did not set his heart to pray, should they halt him from Heaven?" What a powerful lesson the Torah is teaching us here. We must make the move - then Hashem will do the rest. If we do not have the inspiration on our own, however, if we are not self-motivated, Hashem will not motivate us. It must commence "down here," and it will be completed from "up there."
It was during this famous "encounter" that Yaakov had the awesome vision during which Hashem promised him that his descendants would multiply and be blessed. Indeed, the entire future of Klal Yisrael was spelled out to him at that point. Had the Patriarch not gone back to pray, had he not "set his mind" to endanger himself again on a return journey, he would have lost the opportunity for all of the blessings which he received.
Veritably, there is no mitzvah to pray where one's ancestors have prayed. Yet, Yaakov felt it incumbent to do so - even at the risk of endangering his life on a return trip. Why did he do so? Rav Bakst suggests that it was due to the Patriarch's principled emotions. What is proper and suitable, what is equitable, is enough of a requisite for one to assume upon himself a goal that might even be fraught with danger. If it is the "right" thing to do - one does it. One should not wait to be told to take honorable action. He should set his mind to do so independently, of his own volition.
This was the idea behind Yaakov's neder, vow, which would be his motivation and serve as the blueprint for his spiritual development. It was the prototype for establishing the Jewish nation. This vow would continue to inspire his upward spiritual growth and maintain his spiritual stamina until the vision in his dream was realized.
The Rosh Yeshivah suggests that this is a powerful lesson for us all. We must set goals and objectives and stick to them tenaciously - even if it requires hardship and adversity. One should never give up seeking the realization of his present goals. Indeed, the "goal" is often what pulls us along. The joy in crossing that "finish line" more than compensates for the vicissitudes that we have encountered along the way.
And he raised his voice and wept. (29:11)
Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, relates that he once visited the Steipler Gaon, Horav Yaakov Kanievsky, zl, and the Gaon's countenance was illuminated. The Steipler was the essence of Torah, and, undoubtedly, this was Torah related - which it was. "Sit down; I want to share a chiddush, original thought, with you. When Avraham Avinu sent Eliezer to seek a wife for Yitzchak, he did not send him empty handed. The Torah details the wealth of gifts that Eliezer brought with him to 'seal the deal.' Clearly, Yitzchak Avinu sent his son with no less. Yet Yaakov Avinu bemoaned the fact that he came with nothing more than his makeil, walking stick. How are we to understand this? Rashi explains that Eisav had dispatched his son, Elifaz, in pursuit of Yaakov, with one mission: 'kill my brother.' When Elifaz caught up with Yaakov, he was faced with a quandary. On the one hand, he had his father's mission to carry out. On the other hand, having been raised b'cheiko shel Yitzchak, in Yitzchak's lap, he could not execute the deed. 'What should I do concerning my father's command?' he asked Yaakov. 'Take all my possessions. Since a poor man is considered like a dead man, you will have carried out your mission.' Thus, Yaakov was left in abject poverty.
"Let us view this scenario in perspective. Elifaz was far from being a saint. He was morally profligate, having had relations with Timna, his father's wife. After taking her as a pilegesh, concubine, their union produced Amalek, the archenemy of our people. Clearly his DNA was deficient. Yet, Yitzchak found reason to reach out to him, to the point that Rashi writes, godal b'cheiko shel Yitzchak.
"This is actually how Yitzchak saved Yaakov's life, and, by extension, the entire Klal Yisrael. He raised Elifaz, and this early childhood influence made the difference!
"I have young, dejected students who come to me. They have been rejected by the system, having been dismissed from their yeshivah. Why? They acted inappropriately. How? They wasted time and did not occupy themselves with Torah study. They acted foolishly. Is this a reason to throw them into the street? Are we prepared to drown them in the river, to throw them in front of a speeding train? As long as they are not hurting anyone else, they should be allowed to remain in the yeshivah! Yitzchak raised Elifaz, and the benefit was that, instead of becoming a murderer, he became a thief!
"The Chazon Ish was wont to say that a yeshivah that dismisses a student who is not up to par with the school's spiritual and academic standards is tantamount to a hospital that prematurely sends home a seriously ill patient. Rather he should die at home than at the hospital. It might hurt the hospital's 'numbers'. There is no concern for the patient - only for the hospital's mortality record."
This is a powerful lesson, especially in light of the numbers of young men and women who do not "fit" into the system. Every school wants to be the "mainstream A+" yeshivah or Bais Yaakov. To chas v'sholom keep a student that is not "perfect" would be bad for business. The school has standards; the parent body expects that these standards be upheld - until it happens to their own child. Then all the rules are suspended. Should not every Jewish child be considered like our own child?
This time I will give thanks. (29:35)
Rashi explains that Leah Imeinu's present expression of gratitude coincided with the birth of her fourth son, Yehudah, because she now realized that she had received more than her equal share. Since Yaakov Avinu had four wives and was destined to have twelve sons, each wife would be expected to have three sons. With the fourth son, Leah had taken more than her share. In the Talmud Berachos 7b, Chazal make what seems to be an enigmatic statement. "From the time that Hashem created the world, no one had come forth and thanked Hashem until Leah came along and offered her gratitude." Does this imply that Avraham Avinu, Yitzchak Avinu and the matriarchs did not offer gratitude? How are we to understand this?
Obviously, the commentators explain this, each in his own manner, thereby teaching a lesson concerning the significance of hakoras hatov, gratitude. The Ksav Sofer offers a practical understanding of Leah's gratitude. The Avos and Imahos, Patriarchs and Matriarchs, certainly expressed their gratitude to Hashem for the many nissim, miracles, which they had experienced. Leah went one step further: She thanked Hashem for what is a natural experience.
Childbirth, albeit dangerous, is considered natural. There is pain involved; unquestionably, things can go wrong, but this could occur anytime, anywhere. One must praise Hashem al kol neshimah u'neshimah, "For each and every breath," because each breath, although accepted as natural, is a miracle. One lives only through the will of G-d. Leah taught us the critical importance of recognizing G-d in teva, nature. Do not wait for the miracle to occur before you say thanks. Life is a miracle and we must learn to appreciate and savor it - not simply take it for granted.
Perhaps we might take this further, along the same lines. A young couple marries and is shortly thereafter blessed with a child. This is cause for great celebration, as both parents are "treated" to something new, something transformative. They are no longer a couple; they are a family. They are now parents. What a wonderful blessing for which they are thankful.
Shortly thereafter, number two is born. The joy is definitely great, but less of a novelty than number one. When number three arrives with no complications, the excitement is beginning to be taken for granted. Leah taught us that everything is a gift from Hashem - regardless how often and with what ease. We thank Hashem for number four in the same manner as we expressed our gratitude for number one. When Hashem's blessings arrive with comparative ease, we begin to take them for granted. How different things would be if the "ease" was not there, if the blessing had involved some sort of adversity. We must never take our blessings for granted. Every gift that we receive from the Almighty is accounted for on a Heavenly computer. There is a reason behind everything that occurs. Nothing should be taken for granted. Everything should be appreciated.
V'shinantam l'vanecha v'dibarta bam.
V'hayu ha'devarim ha'eilah, "And these words shall be" - "These words" are a reference to the pesukim of Shema and V'ahavta. The mandate of Shema is to be part of our life, "when you lie down and when you arise" - from the minute we wake up, throughout the entire day, until we retire to bed, the implications of Shema are to be engraved in our heart and mind. Moreover, we should teach it well to our children, so that they are proficient in its message. This is best achieved if we speak about it always. Children learn from the standards set for them by their parents.
The message of Shema includes the imperative that one give up his freedom of choice, his life, and all of his material possessions in the pursuit of loving G-d. We must promote Kiddush Shem Shomayim, Sanctification of Hashem's Name in the world; it should be our primary task and focus in life. It is not enough to believe it and even live it, if we are not able to transmit these verities to our children. We must talk about this to them and imbue them with the notion that living for Hashem is the only way to live and it is the only meaning of life. Life is defined by our connection. The closer we get, the more committed, the greater we enhance our lives.
Harabbonit Esther Bluma bas Harav Shraga Moshe a"h
niftara 4 Kislev 5773
In loving memory of
Rebbetzin Bluma Davis, A"H
"From the very inception of the Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, she was a pillar of support and an active member of their respective communities.
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