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by Daneal Weiner
Hello everybody. I'm in a good mood tonight. Donít ask me why. Perhaps because this Sunday will be my third (and final) attempt to get back to Israel, bíezras Hashem, kein yehe ratsone! Perhaps because I just heard a great talk by Rabbi Berel Wein which already made me feel like I was back in Israel. Perhaps because Iím due for a good mood this year and it is December. Needless to say, anticipate great Torah and hokey humor. [The Torah isnít mine, just the humor.] Sorry I couldnít open this weeks Orchards with something deep but I was afraid of someone falling in. [how am I doing?]
How about some Rav Moshe Wolfson short vorts.
Hidden between the closing words of last weeks parsha and the opening words of this weeks
is the fact that Yaakov hid from Eisavís for 14 years, the entire time engaged in the study of Torah. So engaged in Torah was he that it wasnít until now, on the road to Charan, that he laid down to sleep! The first time in 14 years!!!
It just so happens... now donít get me wrong when I say this... I donít want to even begin to compare myself to our wholly holy ancestor... it just so happens that almost every Wednesday night, for as long as I have been writing the Orchards, I would be up the entire night engaged in Torah. Thatís Wednesday A.M. straight thru to Thursday P.M. without seeing my bed! Needless to say, Thursday Iíd fall asleep during prayers, during Gemorah study... Basically as soon as Iíd tilt my head down to read Iíd be out in minutes. Didnít I tell you not to get me wrong and that there was no comparison?
Yaakov Aveinu stays up 14 years straight and when he finally does lay down to sleep he wakes up regretting it! He dreams about the ladder, jumps up from his sleep and says, "G-d is in this place and I did not know it!" Rashi explains he "did not know" because if he did he never would have slept! What is the connection between the dream and the regret?
The Nefesh Hachayim writes that Yaakovís ladder, with its foothold in the ground and its head in the heavens, is symbolic of the soul of man. Its message is that no matter what it is we do down here- any action, even the smallest- it affects spiritual worlds all the way up to the very heavens.
Not only this, Yaakov also says, "This is the gateway into heaven." Rashi helps us understand that the place where Yaakov is is the Temple Mount. The sight of the future Temples. Yaakov recognizes that since he has entered the Temple grounds on earth an aspect of his soul has entered the Temple grounds on High. Of the million things Yaakov could have done, 613 things anyway, for the greater good of himself and all Israel, he slept! The Midrash Pirkei díRebbe Eliezer says Yaakov already knew this place was the Temple mount but until he was shown the ladder which reached the heavens he did not know that every physical action below directly affects a spiritual response on high. Obviously, Hashem withheld this information from him and wanted to him to sleep there. G-d willing one day we will learn why. What we do know now is to stay awake.
This is an interesting lesson. Are we concerned that since every Jew is commanded to come to Jerusalem, to the Temple, three times a year, that no one should arrive with their sheep in tow, pull out a sleeping bag and cop a snooze in the Temple courtyard? I think not.
To lie down Yaakov had gathered rocks to protect his head. In the morning he woke up to one rock. Tradition tells us it was 12 rocks that fused into 1. The 12 rocks symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel that will descend from Yaakov. The single Nation of Israel is the one rock he woke up to. More than this, to create a unit of space one would need 12 lines balanced equidistantly about a central point. Again, the 12 rocks around Yaakovís head represent the 12 lines descending from the central figure. One Avraham had one Yitschak who had one Yaakov. Yaakov will now get the Jewish Nation rolling!
Our tradition also tells us that this one rock was the evehn shisia. The evehn shisia was like the single cell Hashem first created, out from which came the entire universe. [You may ask how was the evehn shisia like the single cell from which G-d created the world when it just melded together now? Thatís why I have the word Ďlikeí in there. Truthfully, Iíve been in the states a while now and Hashem hasnít spoken to me for some time so I couldnít tell you.-(stolen from Rabbi Wein.)] Our point, however, is that due to the evehn shisia resting on the Temple Mount, the Mount itself has come to represents all of space, all of space having began there. Paralleling the realm of space is the realm of time and there is a time that represents all of time!
First, it should be noted, having entered the realm of time, that Yaakov "going out from" the land of Israel, as the parsha begins, symbolizes the Jewish people "going out from" Israel. In other word- Exile! This parsha talks to us Jews in exile. Yaakov is on his way to uncle Lavan, the Armanean. We read every Passover in the hagadah, "Arami oveid avi."- An Armanean [sought to] destroy my father. So weíre not talking to the Temple bound Jew but to the Temple-less Jew.
There is a time that represents all of time. That time is Rosh Hashanah. Like on Shabbos, on Rosh Hashanah we have a long prayer service and afterwards we go home to a big festive meal. But whereas on Shabbos our Rabbis tell us itís ok to enjoy an afternoon snooze, on Rosh Hashanah they warn, "Stay Awake!" Yaakov did not know the message of the ladder and so on the Temple Mount he slept, but if he knew he wouldnít have. We now know, no sleep on Rosh Hashanah! And it should come as no surprise that Yaakov said, "How awesome is this place" and we call Rosh Hashanah the beginning of the "Days of Awe'!
Yaakov is by a well speaking with a few shepherds from Charan, asking if they know a man named Lavan. There is a huge stone blocking the opening of the well and the shepherds wait for enough of them to gather round to lift the stone from the well. They answer Yaakov saying, ďWe know Lavan. Here comes his daughter, Rachel, now.Ē Yaakov removes the stone from the well by himself!
Certainly Rachel was not going to be interested in Yaakovís physical strength. If Yaakov was showing off to the locals, as a warning to them, he did not need to wait for Rachel to get there. Furthermore, the Torah seems to draw our attention to an unusual place since it goes out of its way to say Yaakov saw Rachel AND the sheep of Lavan and he approached the well, removed the rock and watered Lavanís sheep. Lavans sheep helped trigger this amazing feat of strength?
This is the first dvar Torah I ever heard from Rav Wolfson and what a vort it is! Yaakov saw in the sheep of Lavan the sanctity of the entire Jewish people! Lavan, the Armanean, was the #1 enemy of Israel (until the development of Eisav). The enemy of sanctity is impurity. Lavan had metaphysically amassed all the worldís sanctity under his impure dominion and Yaakov would spend the next 20 years extracting every last bit of it!
My personal take on this (could be Torah, could be more humor) is that the Jewish people have the task of bringing the world to perfection. Going back to the beginning of Bereishis, this 'world order' is the third attempt. First Hashem gave Adam and Chava and their descendants the job of perfecting the world. When they failed Hashem started over with Noach and his descendants. When they failed the job was given to Avraham and his descendants.
Our tradition does teach us, regarding reincarnation, that a soul can sin so severely that gehenom canít cleanse it! And if such a soul was returned to earth it could only continue its sinful path. This soul may then be sent down to earth, imprisoned in an animate or evening an inanimate object. The pain of this trapped and confined existence refines the soul to the point where it can be let into gehenom or it may come back down, as a person, now with the ability to choose his/her path.
Perhaps Jewish souls aren't entirely new but had walked the earth before Avraham and had failed, miserably, more than once, in their attempt to fulfill their purpose. Before walking the earth as Jews these souls came back imprisoned in the sheep of Lavan.
Getting back to Rav Wolfson, a verse in Yechezkel warns (4:13), "And Hashem says, 'Thusly will you, Israel, eat your impure bread amongst the nations to which I dispersed you.'" The commentaries there say the verse refers to more than just the impure state of the food in exile. The Zohar says it means exactly that, but deeper. When the sustenance of the Jewish people is dependent on the nations of the world then that sustenance greatly lacks a sanctity we would otherwise merit. The Zohar is not talking about receiving handouts. Itís talking about 10 billion dollar loans. About importing and exporting consumables. When our economy is dependant upon international trade, we are missing out! Not only are we in exile amongst the nations, today we are in exile even in the land of Israel.
Now we can understand why seeing Rachel AND the sheep of Lavan stirred Yaakov into action. Since he was going to extract the souls of Israel from the clutches of Lavan he wanted to begin injectinging those souls with sanctity at the first possible moment. Rather then letting the other shepherds take any part in giving sustenance to Lavanís sheep, Yaakov went to move the stone from the well on his own. Hashem was with him and gave him the strength to move it and he alone watered the sheep.
Forgive the comparison. I think itís allowed. If Yaakov saw the sanctity buried within the sheep of Lavan, how much more so did he recognize the open, glowing G-dliness of Rachel. Like any man who takes out his tefillin in the morning or who sees the Torah Scroll removed from the ark, is moved by its holiness and kisses it, so was Yaakov moved to kiss Rachel.
Yaakov goes to Lavan and asks for Rachelís hand in marriage. Lavan says, "Itís better I give her to you than to give her to another man." "Arami oveid avi!" Lavan has not just gone from arch-enemy #1 to father-in-law #1. Evil is a wise investor!
We say in the evening service [the service which Yaakov initiated!], "Lay us down to sleep, Hashem, in peace, [did someone mention sleep?] raise us...remove from us our foe... and remove the satan from before us and from behind us..." To ask to remove the satan, our evil inclination, from before us makes perfect sense. Is it not he/it which holds us back from fulfilling our potential!? But to remove the satan "from behind us", what does that mean? That means that the satan is willing to allow spiritual gain, short term, if he can get you in the long run.
The Gemorah says doing a mitzvah and regretting it is worse than not having done it at all! If you donít do a mitsva the time may and probably will come when you will choose to do it. But once youíve done it and regretted it... forget it!
When Avraham was on his way to the binding of Yitschak our Rabbis say the satan was to Avraham like a river reaching up to his nose. Thatís how much it stood in front of him to stop him. Yet Avraham overcame the satan and bound Yitschak. So the satan got 'behind' him. Avraham subsequently found out that Sarah died from hearing about the binding. The satan wanted Avraham to regret it. We learn at the beginning of Chayai Sarah that Avraham controlled his weeping over Sarah that G-d forbid it shouldnít enter anyoneís mind that he regretted the actions which lead to Sarahís death.
Another way the satan gets 'behind' us. A young man or women comes to yeshiva/seminary to learn about their heritage and is inspired! Baruch Hashem. The satan canít overcome their enthusiasm. Canít get their parents to get them to come home! He hasnít given up yet. Letís turn up the enthusiasm. Why sleep 8 hours when you can learn more and sleep 4? Why take on 1 mitsva at a time? How about 5? Wow! So much learning! So much advancing! Gee, whatís that glossy look in their eye? Do most new students become so despondent after 5 months? Crash and burn!!! Sure they satan gave them 5 months of Torah and mitsvos. But it will never be 5 months and a day!
Yaakov asks Lavan for Rachelís hand in marriage. Lavan thinks, "I tried killing Eliezer when he came for my sister Rivka. That didnít work. Opportunity knocks again! Sure, if Rachel married someone else sheíd be spiritually ruined. But then Iíd have to deal with Yaakov. Heís coming right to me! Granted, theyíll marry, start raising kids and get the Nation-of-Israel ball rolling. But, Iím not in a hurry. In my land, in my home, in my clutches Iíll get them in the end!" Yaakov, "Itís better I give her to you than to give her to another man."
Please, G-d, remove the satan from before us and from behind us!
This is why this parsha comes out in Kislev, the month in which Chanukah falls. Itís a parsha about Yaakov in exile. About all Israel in exile. And although the Chanukah story occurred during the exile of the Greeks, Chanukah, like this parsha really symbolizes all 4 exiles. The 4 sided dreidle and the different stanzas of the Maoz tsur, for example, tell the story of all Jewish history. A history which we see, from our parsha and from Chanukah, has a happy ending.
This was also the point Rabbi Wein had made in his talk about the situation in Israel. Whatever youíre angle is, the sum of the angles is a happy ending. Donít dispair. Donít let the satan get in front of you or behind you. The Jewish people are destined for great things. Here comes one now!
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