Volume 6, Issue 7
INSIGHTS from the SEDRA
Insights from the Sedra is a project of the Scholar’s Kollel of Great Neck. It aims to provide several questions and answers about the Sedra, culled from various commentaries, including the following: Baal Haturim, Darash Moshe, Vedebarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky, Torah Treasures by Dov Furer, Wellsprings of Torah by Alexander Friedman, and Kol Dodi by Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Great Torah Lights by Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Goodman, Something To Say by Dov Wasserman, The Vilna Gaon, and Growth Through Torah by Zelig Pliskin.
ויקח מאבני המקום וישם מראשתיו
“He took from the stones of the place and he placed them around (under) his head.” (28:11)
QUESTION: Rashi says that he wanted to protect himself from wild animals. Why did he only protect his head and not the rest of his body?
ANSWER: From Yaakov’s actions, a very important lesson can be learned. Yaakov spent all his years studying Torah in the home of Yitzchak and in the Beit Midrash of Shem and Eiver. Now he had to give up some of his Torah study and engage in worldly matters. Yaakov knew that in the world at large there are many forces that are alien to Torah and mitzvoth and hostile to the religious Jew. They endeavor to influence the mind of the Jew and persuade him to leave the path of Torah. Therefore, Yaakov made a great effort to protect his “head”, to prevent negative influences from interfering with his yiddishkeit. (Likutei Sichot)
QUESTION: Why did Yaakov rest his head on a stone?
ANSWER: The Gemara (Bava Kamma 30a) says: “He who wants to be a chasid should observe the laws of nezikin – damages” (being careful not to hurt anyone or damage property). Rava says that he should follow the teachings of Avot (Book of Ethics), and others say that he should be observant in the laws of berachot (recognizing the supremacy of Hashem and thanking Him for everything). The word “even” (אבן) – “stone” – is an acronym for “avot, berachot, nezikin” (אבות, ברכות, נזיקין).
As Yaakov was preparing to enter the “outside world,” his first resolution was to be a chasid, and he therefore placed these three stones as the guidepost for his “head” – his thoughts would always be directed towards how to excel in these three matters. The three stones united to emphasize that each approach is equally important and that through these three things one can make the world a “beit Elokim” – a “house of G-d.”
It may also be said that “berachot” – recognizing the supremacy of Hashem and thanking Him for everything – is an allusion to the relationship between man and Hashem – בין אדם למקום. Being careful not to hurt or injure a fellow man, “nezikin,” represents inter-human relationships – בין אדם לחבירו. To be exemplary, one must conduct himself within these two realms, in accordance with the guidelines and teachings conveyed by “avot” – our ancestors. (Pardes Yosef)
ויחלם והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה והנה מלאכי אלקים עלים וירדים בו
“And he dreamed and behold, a ladder set up on the earth and its top reached up to Heaven, and behold the angels of Hashem were ascending and descending on it.” (28:12)
Yaakov’s dream contains profound implications which express the Torah’s perspective on life. The ladder serves an important purpose. The angels either ascend to heaven or descend to earth. Harav Mordechai Ilan z.l., suggests that this is the nature of Am Yisrael. The Talmud in Megillah 16a states, “This nation (Jewish people) is compared to dust and also to stars. When they descend (spiritually), they descend to the dust, and when they ascend, they can reach the stars.” Moreover, the Midrash states concerning this ladder, “Hashem showed Yaakov the meaning of “a ladder set up on the earth” as referring to Korach who was swallowed up by the earth, while “its top reached up to Heaven” refers to Moshe who ascended to Hashem to receive the Torah.”
Hashem showed Yaakov two extremes, the apex of spiritual distinction and the nadir of depravity. There is no “standing still” on the ladder of spirituality. One either goes up, or he goes down. Furthermore, one who stands still is viewed as slipping. Our purpose in life is to grow spiritually from day to day, reaching heights not attained the previous day.
Yaakov’s dream carries with it a timeless message. Even one who has sunk to the “earth” should not yield to depression. He should not think, “I can never make it.” Rather. He should look up to the top of the ladder, for it is attainable, but only if he works at it. Likewise, one who is at the top should not feel he has “made it” and relax complacently in his spiritual well-being. He should look down and reflect that man can always fall, if he does not continually work to maintain his spiritual achievement. (Peninim on the Torah)
וכל אשר תתן לי עשר אעשרנו לך
“Whatever you will give me, I shall repeatedly tithe to you.” (28:22)
This sounds illogical. Would anyone say to his neighbor, “Give me a thousand dollars, and I will give you a hundred in return?” When people give to G-d (charity), they do so loudly and boastfully, trying to publicize their deed as much as they can. When G-d provides for a man’s livelihood, he does so discreetly, in so natural a way that it is easy to think that we have done it all ourselves. Even those who believe that G-d is responsible for all success are sorely tempted to keep their wealth for their own children, rather than giving it to others, saying, “Charity begins at home.” Therefore, whoever says to G-d with complete faith, “Whatever You give me, I shall tithe,” has demonstrated righteousness on two counts: his acknowledgment of the wealth’s true source, and his willingness to be truly charitable. Yaakov did something that few possess the wisdom to emulate. (Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin)
תנה את נשי ואת ילדי אשר עבדתי אתך בהן ואלכה
“Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you and I will go.” (30:26)
Yaakov did what few people ever do. He literally slaved for fourteen years to acquire his wives and, ultimately, his children. He never broke down in desperation or depression. He kept on going, resolutely warding off the temptations of his environment. He never deferred to deep-seated anger at his father-in-law for cheating him. He raised a decent family and infused in them a nobility of spirit and pride in being the sons of Yaakov, the future progenitors of Am Yisrael. The interesting point to note is that when it was all over and Yaakov was preparing to leave, with what was he left? What had he acquired during all the years of hard labor? What did he have to show form his “tenure” in the house of Lavan? He had his family! He had the love and respect of his wives and children. He had the knowledge that he had imparted a Torah legacy to children who would carry on his work. This is indeed a remarkable acquisition.
The narrative of Yaakov in the house of Lavan is the story of life. We enter this world with nothing, and we leave with nothing. Our material acquisitions are for naught. Only our spiritual assets have value. Our families whom we cherish, whom we have reared in the Torah way, remain ours. These are our only real achievements and possessions. If we have transmitted a legacy of Torah to our children, then we are eternally attached to them. They become our link to the future. It is imperative for us to make every effort to see to it that our children receive the proper and correct spiritual upbringing, so that they remain ours! (Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin)
מחנה אלקים זה ויקרא שם המקום ההוא מחנים
“This is a Godly camp, and he called the name of the place Machanayim (two camps).” (32:3)
Rashi explains that these two camps were the angels of Eretz Yisrael, who had come to accompany Yaakov back home, and those of galus, who were now leaving him. R’ Avraham Sochtachover, author of Avnei Nezer, states similarly that when the Shabbos angels arrive, the weekday angels depart. Therefore, we welcome the arrivals with “Shalom Aleichem” and bid farewell to the others by singing “Tzeischem leshalom”. (Iturei Torah)
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