Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 24   No. 7

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
R' Eliyahu Zev ben R' Yerachmiel Moshe Hoyt z"l
by his family in honour of his 28th Yohrzeit on the 14th Kislev
t.n.tz.v.h.

Parshas Vayeitzei

Kibud Av va'Eim

Ya'akov Avinu lived with Lavan for twenty years and spent two years on the journey home. That is why, Chazal tell us, he lost Yosef for 22 years - measure for measure - if he could take leave of his parents for twenty-two years, then he would suffer the pain of losing his son for twenty-two years. It is interesting to note that the fourteen years that Ya'akov spent in the Yeshiva of Shem and Eiver, before even going to Choron, were in no way held against him, as Torah-study overrides kibbud av va'eim in this regard.

It is hard to understand exactly what Chazal mean, considering that it was his parents who sent him to Choron in the first place. Indeed, for most of that period, he had little choice but to remain with Lavan in order to accomplish his objective. Certainly, the first fourteen years of his stay were essential for that purpose, in order for him to marry Rachel, which, Ya'akov understood was necessary for the birth of K'lal Yisrael. In the process of course, it was G-d whose decision it was that Le'ah and then Bilhah and Zilpah should also be a part of the Divine plan for that purpose.

If anything, it was the last six years of his stay with Lavan, a period which he himself initiated for reasons not anticipated by his parents when they sent him, for which he was to blame and was therefore punishable. In fact, it was at the termination of the fourteen years, prior to those final six years, that his mother, Rivkah, sent her elderly nursemaid, Devorah, to fetch him (as she had promised to do when she felt the time was ripe for his return). This may well be partly responsible for his initial decision to return home at that stage, and would serve to heighten his guilt for reversing that decision. Added to that are the two years that he dallied (mainly in Succos) on his return journey. So we would have understood had Ya'akov been separated from Yosef for eight years, but why twenty-two?

*

The answer lies in the Chofetz Chayim's explanation of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (4:10), where the Tana writes that someone who is idle from Torah has many idle moments held against him. Why, asks the Chofetz Chayim, should many idle moments be held against him when he has only been idle from Torah once? He explains this with a G'ro who poses a question on another Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (4:22). Against your will, the Mishnah says, you will have to give din ve'cheshbon to your Creator on all your deeds.

But why, asks the G'ro? Does not the same Mishnah teach us that a person is born against his will? He does not really want to come into this world in the first place, so is it fair to punish him for his misdeeds?

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The G'ro answers this with a Mishnah in Bava Basra (4b). Someone whose field is surrounded on four sides by someone else's fields, is not obliged to pay towards the costs, should the latter decide to build walls on three sides to divide their property. This is because he can always maintain that three walls are useless to him and that he has no need of them. The moment however, he himself builds the fourth wall, he has acknowledged that he does indeed benefit from the first three walls and he can no longer claim that he has no need of them. Therefore he must now pay retroactively for half the costs.

It is the same, says the G'ro, with giving din ve'cheshbon for one's misdeeds. It may well be that we come into this world against our will. But what happens when our time comes to take leave? That we are quite reluctant to do, thereby acknowledging that, when all's said and done, we have had a change of heart since birth, and in fact, we are perfectly happy, in retrospect, to have been born. Therefore, the G'ro concludes, we must pay for all our sins.

*

And it is the same, the Chofetz Chayim continues, when it comes to the grave sin of 'bittul Torah'. We are basically exempt from Torah-study whilst in pursuit of our livelihood, and so we will not be taken to task for the many hours we spend at work. But what happens to a man who comes home from work and fails to study Torah because he must read the newspaper or play on his computer? Can he really claim that he did not study Torah on the grounds that he was at work and therefore is exempt? See how little he cared for this great mitzvah even when he had time. Therefore, explains the Chofetz Chayim, he will be punished retroactively, even for the hours spent at work, since clearly it was not because he was working that he failed to study Torah, but because he did not really care much for Torah-study.

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And we can apply the same idea to Ya'akov Avinu. Had Ya'akov remained fourteen years with Lavan and returned immediately to his parents in Chevron (incidentally, he would have then seen his mother again - something that he did not merit on account of his procrastination), there would have been no reason to punish him for his lack of 'kibud av va'eim'. However, now that he willingly delayed his homeward journey by eight years, he revealed a certain laxness regarding that mitzvah. In that case, it was clear that, even during the first fourteen years, his absence from his parents was due in part to a lack of 'kibbud av va'eim' - for which he was duly punished.

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Connecting Toldos and Vayeitzei

They both went, Ya'akov and Eisav. Ya'akov, in the opening pasuk of Vayeitzei, went to Choron and Eisav, at the end of Toldos, went to his uncle Yishma'el, to ask his daughter's hand in marriage. Yet what a contrast between the 'goings' of the two brothers!

Ya'akov went to execute the instructions of his father and mother, who had ordered him, independently of each other, to go to Choron. He obeyed these instructions to the letter, leaving his parental home in Eretz Cana'an for an unknown destination in Chutz la'Aretz at a moment's notice. In stark contrast, the Torah tells us how Eisav married Yishma'el's daughter, on the one hand, having taken note of his father's command to his brother Ya'akov not to marry a Cana'anite woman. But on the other, it was nothing really more than an empty gesture, as the last Rashi in the Parshah points out. For, had he really been concerned about conforming with his father's required standards, he would have divorced his other wives, who were all from Cana'an. And this, he did not do! Clearly, his women meant more to him than the Torah of his father.

*

The Ba'al ha'Turim comments that the first pasuk in Vayeitzei relates as to how Ya'akov left Be'er Sheva to go to Choron, whereas Toldos ends with the word "for a wife". What a wonderful hint he observes, that Ya'akov's main objective was to find a wife.

*

Rashi explains that the Torah is really picking up where it left off towards the end of Toldos. It stated there that Ya'akov obeyed his parents and went to Choron, as instructed. It should then have continued with the second pasuk in Vayeitzei "And he arrived at the place" etc. However, the Torah saw fit to interrupt and tell us about Eisav's reaction, as we related above. Having finished with that, it repeats the statement that Ya'akov went to Choron, in the vein of 'Let's get back to the point'.

What is interesting is that the Torah adds here the fact that he left from Be'er Sheva, which it did not mention the first time (in pasuk 7).

The simple p'shat would appear to be that in pasuk 7, the point the Torah is making is that Ya'akov obeyed his parents and went to Choron. That he departed from Be'er Sheva is irrelevant to the message, therefore it is ignored.

When, on the other hand, the Torah goes back to the point and repeats that he went to Choron, that information is indeed vital to the following pesukim, which describe what happened along the way to Choron, but there seems to be no point in repeating the fact that he obeyed his parents. The Torah considers it far more relevant to the issue of Ya'akov's journey to tell us that he left from Be'er Sheva. Why is this?

R. Bachye explains that at that time, Ya'akov was living with his parents in Chevron, which is where Ya'akov received the b'rachos and that he only went to Be'er Sheva in order to obtain permission from the Shechinah to leave Eretz Yisrael to go to Choron. (This explanation is also quoted by the Ramban from the Medrash.) This is quite different from Rashi's reason for mentioning Ya'akov's departure at this juncture - Rashi is evidently of the opinion that they actually lived in Be'er Sheva at the time.

In any event, Ya'akov's journey to Be'er Sheva took place prior to his journey to Choron. It belongs here as part of the Chain of events that took place from the moment he left his parents' home.

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