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Shabbat Parashat Vayeitzei 5777

Parashat Hashavua: Learning and Dreaming

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, p. 95-97

Yaakov had two preparations for his life with Lavan – 14 years of study in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, and the dream of the ladder. These helped him survive the period successfully.

Although Yaakov already obtained the berachot that ensured his ultimate success, including financially, he was not satisfied. After all, fortune can cause its owner’s downfall (Kohelet 5:12). For a meaningful life of activity, he needed to be a talmid chacham, who could study in his free time in a significant way. He entered a life of intensive study in the ancient yeshiva. The beracha Yaakov received from his father was literally, “from the dew of the heaven and the fats of the land, and a multitude of grain and wine.” However, he understood it like the midrash – referring, respectively, to Tanach, Mishna, Talmud, and aggada (Bereishit Rabba 66:3). When Yaakov put in long hours on Lavan’s flock (see Bereishit 31:40), he contemplated Torah ideas while at work.

Even this was not enough to deal with such a long stay in a struggle with deception that his father-in-law forced him to enter (see Rashi, Bereishit 29:12). Although everything Yaakov did was after determining it was morally proper, thinking in terms of “outsmarting the rival” can corrupt. That is why Yaakov prayed that he would “return in peace – free of sin” (ibid. 28:21). Should he turn into a conniver, all the Torah he learned could be wasted and even turned into a source of chillul Hashem.

To help in this regard, Hashem sent him a special dream – a ladder upon which angels travelled to and from the heaven. Yaakov saw himself as one who was kav’yachol to support the Divine Presence (Bereishit Rabba 69:3). Yaakov realized the greatness of his role in the world, to coronate Hashem through his actions. This helped him succeed in keeping 613 mitzvot while in Lavan’s home (Rashi, Bereishit 32:5). His involvement with Lavan and his tricks turned into a side point that did not overly impact him. Yaakov knew his purpose and saw the light that guided him, as the material world is just a guise that allows Hashem’s blessing to take hold.

Our patriarch Yaakov set the example for his descendants. We, like him, went through three stages in our history. This started with a yeshiva-learning stage before exile, with the development of Talmud Bavli, which stays with us wherever our nation travels.

Yaakov was in an open isolated place, exposed to wild animals, just as our nation has been exposed to dangerous nations. While possessing just a stick, he went to sleep protected by some stones, and merited his dream. Instead of focusing on dangers, he focused on the beauty of the spiritual world, and the dream gave him long-lasting strength.

Then he came to Lavan, who was so warm, but also demanded that Yaakov enter his world. We have found such treatment in our exiles as well. And we have to remember that the most rewarding approach is that of truth. We had to draw strength from the years of yeshiva learning and the dream that shows us that the world is a stage upon which the spiritual ministers of the world go up and down. We have always awaited the great day “when Hashem returns the returners to Zion” (Tehillim 126:1) We remain, due to the power of the dream, and because we prepared ourselves in the “the study halls of Shem and Ever.”
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