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Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach| 5763

Go up to Beit El

Harav Yosef Carmel

One of the first commandments which Ya’akov received upon returning to Eretz Yisrael was: “Get up and go up to Beit El and dwell there and erect there an altar for the G-d who appeared to you, as you fled your brother, Eisav” (Bereishit 35:1). This journey to Beit El completed a personal, historical cycle. It was, after all, there that Hashem appeared to Ya’akov and promised him that he would return unharmed to the land that was promised to him and his offspring (see Bereishit 28:13-15). Rashi (35:1) sees this command as a sign of criticism of Ya’akov, saying: “get up- because you have delayed on the road, you were punished, and this is what transpired to your daughter (the rape of Dina).”

Examining the p’sukim in the light of the broader picture of Tanach uncovers just how significant the events of Beit El were. Ya’akov’s family was commanded, “purify yourselves and change your garments”(35:2). This is parallel to the command in preparation for the giving of the Torah: “You shall  sanctify yourselves today and tomorrow and launder your clothing” (Shemot 19:10). Another preparatory procedure which Ya’akov undertook upon entering the Land, at Shechem, is also parallel to a procedure that Bnei Yisrael would undergo hundreds of years later in the same place, as they entered the Land with Yehoshua. Ya’akov told his household to “remove the alien gods from their midst” (Bereishit 35:2). Yehoshua commanded Bnei Yisrael the same thing at Shechem (Yehoshua 24:23). Both times the idols were buried under an at Shechem (see Midrash, cited by Radak, ad loc.).

We now have a link between the two events at Shechem and the giving of the Torah. There are many rishonim who see the need to rush to Beit El as a response to the battle at Shechem, which is likely the source of these idols. We will suggest a different approach.

When Ya’akov and family entered Eretz Yisrael, there was a need to create a new covenant with Hashem, including acceptance of the obligation to serve Him on the level of Eretz Yisrael. We might call this, “the acceptance of the Torah of Eretz Yisrael” (see Ibn Ezra, Bereishit 35:2 & Devarim 31:16). This was also the idea behind Yehoshua’s ceremony in Shechem as Bnei Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael, to renew and update the covenant as they prepared to implement the “Torah of Eretz Yisrael.” Ya’akov’s acceptance of the covenant also brought along a reward, as the Torah concludes this episode with the following report. “They traveled, and the fear of Hashem was on the cities around them, and they did not chase after the sons of Ya’akov” (35:5). This pasuk is found here (not directly after the story of the battle at Shechem) in order to stress the reason for this miraculous protection. 

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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is
Dedicated to the memory of R’ Meir  ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.

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