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Shabbat Parashat Vayeitzei | 5771

Parashat Hashavuah: Two for the Road

(based on Siach Shaul, Harav Shaul Yisraeli, 1944)

Yaakov had two introductions to life before arriving at Lavan’s home: 14 years studying in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever and the dream of the ladder. These two “foods for the road” enabled him to eventually return home in peace and prosperity.

Although Yaakov was already promised the blessings of material success, he did not want to rely on his preparedness for the task. There is such a thing as “riches reserved for a person for his detriment” (Kohelet 5:12). He was dedicated to the idea that he would receive all of the blessings when he was on the level of a talmid chacham. In between his necessary physical pursuits, he would make sure that he would be able to “pick up a sefer” and appreciate that which he was learning. If he was just on the level to “sit idly in shul,” for what did he need all the work and blessings?

Yaakov wanted more than what was minimally acceptable. He enrolled in a yeshiva and engulfed himself in the intricacies of “Abayei and Rava.” While he was blessed with the blessings of “the dew of the heavens and the fats of the land and a plentitude of grain and grapes” (Bereishit 27:28), he interpreted it like the midrash (Bereishit Rabba 66:3): “Dew of the heavens” refers to Scripture, “the fats of the land” refers to Mishna, “grain” refers to Talmud, and “grapes” refers to homiletic statements. Indeed one requires literal dew, but only as a way to provide a basis for one to be able to immerse himself in study.

When Yaakov arrived in Charan and began working for Lavan, he was able to say he was consumed with heat and cold and was not deterred (Bereishit 31:40). This is because he was busy in thought reviewing his study and did not feel the elements. This is the power of Torah and of sitting in yeshiva for 14 years.

However, this did not suffice for the extended stay with Lavan, where Yaakov was forced to stand up to his deceptive uncle. His many years in yeshiva had to last for his many years of bad influence. He was rightfully concerned that this could impact him negatively, which is why he beseeched Hashem to return him in peace (free from sin- Rashi, Bereishit 28:21) to his father’s home. If he would not be able to stay pure in his ethics, then even the Torah he learned would just end up being a poison (see Taanit 7a).

This is where the dream played a pivotal role. It took him from the regular world to a world of lofty aspirations and visions. Angels sang; Hashem stood above him, as if he were serving as a vehicle for Hashem’s Presence (Bereishit 82:6). Yaakov felt the mission of sanctifying Hashem’s Name in Lavan’s home in full force. Whatever practical things he had to do in Lavan’s home were secondary, as he remained focused on the Divine Light. Whatever he needed to do was just to give a natural outlet for the blessings to take hold.

[In poetic terms and with complicated illusions, Rav Yisraeli, speaking in the midst of World War II, compared Yaakov’s experiences to the preparations Bnei Yisrael undertook to sustain themselves during difficult times of exile.]

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