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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vayeitzei

Behold, I am with you; I will guard you wherever you go…For I will not forsake you. (28:15)

The Midrash comments, "On everything (that Yaakov asked for) Hashem replied in the affirmative, except for his request concerning parnasah, a livelihood, for which He did not reply." Hashem said that He would protect Yaakov Avinu from adversity and from those who would challenge him. Yet, regarding his request that Hashem grant him "bread to eat and clothes to wear," we find no indication of a reply. The Midrash concludes that Hashem did indeed issue His reply when He said, "Ki lo e'esvacha," "I will not forsake you," which is a reference to parnasah, as David haMelelech says in Tehillim, "V'lo ra'isi tzaddik ne'ezav," "but I have not seen a righteous man forsaken."

The Dubno Maggid explains this Midrash in his inimitable manner with a mashal, analogy, that is profound and insightful. A young boy was about to set out on a long journey. His mother, concerned that he have enough necessities with him, personally oversaw the packing process. She made sure that he had sufficient clothing for all types of situations and food and treats to satisfy his needs. His father prepared a bag with enough money to cover the various expenses that would arise during the course of the trip. As he was preparing to leave, word got back to the father that along the route there were a number of warring factions that might endanger his son. The father decided that he had no recourse but to accompany his son on his journey, to protect him. While on the road, the son noticed that he did not have a penny to his name. Looking at his father with worried eyes he said, "Father, I have no money for the trip."

His father returned his gaze and said, "Why do you worry? I am with you to protect you and take care of your every need. You do not have to worry about money as long as I am with you."

This is what Chazal are telling us. When Hashem told Yaakov that He would not forsake him, it was tantamount to implying, "I am here to take care of all your worries." What is there to worry about if Hashem is taking care of everything?

(If Hashem) will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear…and Hashem will be a G-d to me. (28:20,21)

At the wedding of Horav Mordechai zl m'Chernobyl's son with Horav Dov Ber m'Lubavitch's daughter, the Chernobler was handing out l'chayim's, shot glasses with whiskey, to his chasidim. As he gave them a l'chaim, he would bless them, saying "You should be blessed with everything good both in ruchniyus, spirituality, and in gashmiyus, material needs." The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, rendered his blessing to his chasidim in the Nusach Chabad, vernacular consistent with Chabad chasidus, of b'gashmiyus, u'b'ruchniyus, emphasizing material blessing in precedence to spiritual blessing. The Chernobler was taken aback that the Rebbe was placing greater emphasis on the material and he posed this question to Rav Dov Ber.

"But did not Yaakov Avinu do the same thing when he first asked for bread and clothes prior to asking Hashem to be his G-d?" asked Rav Dov Ber.

To this the Chernobler replied, "Do you think that Yaakov's gashmiyus was materialistic?" In other words, Yaakov's request for food and clothing was not materialistic in nature. It was only for the bare necessities so that he could have the strength and ability to apply himself totally to developing his spiritual dimension.

And I will return in peace to my father's home and Hashem will be a G-d to me. (28:21)

As Yaakov Avinu is about to enter Lavan's world, he asks Hashem to protect him, that his spiritual plateau will not falter during the encounter. The commentators wonder why, when Avraham went to Egypt and when Yitzchak went to Plishtim, they did not render a similar prayer for Hashem to protect them? The Agra D'Kalla explains that the yetzer hora, evil inclination, has a duel approach for ensnaring a person to sin. He is either straightforward, not shying away from the fact that the person is about to blatantly commit a sin. A little encouragement coupled with subtle disdain goes a long way towards breaking down the barriers against sin. The second approach takes some guile on the part of the yetzer hora. He explains to the person that the sin is really a mitzvah and compels him to perform the "mitzvah." In such a circumstance the person may not be convinced that it is a mitzvah, but his sensitivity towards the sin has been neutralized. He no longer views the action as being absolutely of a negative nature.

Yaakov is about to confront Lavan, the consummate swindler, a man who has the ability to paint the most evil deed as an act of great virtue. This type of yetzer hora was something to which Yaakov was not accustomed. He could handle evil incarnate. After all, living with Eisav, he had been subject to seeing a man who embraced evil and was notorious for flaunting his baneful activities. Yes, Yaakov could handle Eisav. But Lavan was a different type of evil. It was evil concealed under a cloak of piety. An evil of such a chameleon nature was a new hurdle over which Yaakov had to triumph. He turned to Hashem and asked for His protection.

I think we can gather a meaningful lesson from Yaakov's supplication. We are not infallible. Everybody makes mistakes and needs Divine assistance to succeed in our never-ending, all-consuming war with the yetzer hora. The sooner we turn to Hashem for assistance in staying the course of positive service to Hashem, the sooner we will triumph over evil within and without.

Look, the day is still long; it is not yet time to bring the livestock in. (29:7)

Time seemed to have little effect on the shepherds. If they could take advantage of a little extra time, they would. This is not a Torah-oriented outlook. Time is valuable. Time is life. Time is an eternity. Every person is created with a limited amount of time set aside by Hashem for him. This amount of time is called a lifespan. Every person is allotted a different lifespan. How we use the time given to us determines the quality of our lives. For instance, a person who was allotted a long lifespan, but does not use it properly, wasting the precious moments that he has been granted, does not really make the most of his gift. On the other hand, one who unfortunately was not granted longevity, but nevertheless does not waste a minute, making sure to use every moment wisely and judiciously, elevates the quality of his life.

We must understand that everything Hashem gives us is for a purpose. All material gifts are granted to us so that we are able to serve Hashem better. Hashem's material gifts are there to enable us to earn eternal reward in the World To Come. Thus, we consecrate and elevate the material and mundane by using them in the service of Hashem. When Yaakov Avinu asked Hashem for "bread to eat and clothes to wear," (ibid. 28:22) he was implying that he only wanted clothes for the purpose of clothing himself and food to sustain himself. He did not seek luxuries or food with which to gorge himself. He wanted enough sustenance so that he could serve Hashem. The same idea applies to the gift of time. We are given a gift which many of us waste needlessly. We take precious time that could be used to earn merit in the Eternal World and use it for frivolity and foolishness. When we waste time, we are party to one of the greatest tragedies of life, because we are exchanging the eternal for the temporal. Horav Yaakov Weinberg, zl, cited by Rabbi Boruch Leff in "Forever His Students," explains that one of the greatest punishments Hashem can mete out to the righteous is to deprive them of the ability to earn rewards in the World To Come. By causing us pain and suffering during our lifespan on this world, He takes away from us the chance to perform mitzvos and study Torah. When we are incapacitated from pain or suffering, we are relegated to wasting precious moments - moments that could have been used for earning nitzchiyus, eternity. Thus, our earthly pain is more than corporeal pain, it causes eternal damage in our quest for a greater portion in Olam Habah.

Time is life - eternal life. When we waste our time we are wasting life. Furthermore, when we waste someone else's time, we are doing him far greater damage than we think. We are killing his opportunity for eternity! This is a form of iniquity that can hardly be rectified.

The Gerrer Rebbe, zl, the Imrei Emes, never went anywhere without his trusted timepiece. He was so meticulous about every moment, that he once gave his watch to repair because it was off by a few minutes. He was wont to say, "Why is there a custom to give a gold watch to a chassan? It implies to him that, as he begins a new life, he should learn to value every minute even more than gold." A young man about to get married came to him requesting advice on what mussar sefer, ethical work, he should study. The Rebbe pointed to his watch and said, "This is the greatest mussar sefer. Every minute that is wasted is lost forever, and it never returns."

Regrettably, we use the phrase "wasting time" too casually, not realizing the true and irreplaceable value of the commodity we call time.

Lavan had two daughters. The name of the older one was Leah and the name of the younger one was Rachel. Leah's eyes were tender, while Rachel was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance. (29:16,17)

From reading the text, one would almost seem to envy Rachel; being that she seemed to sort of "have it made." When we read the parsha and note their diverging life stories, we note, however, that this was not so. In fact, both Rachel and Leah, each in their own way, were compelled to deal throughout their lives with adversity and challenge. Rachel's life, despite her physical appearance, seems to be confronted with challenge after challenge. It is a long chain of pain and suffering which culminates in her tragic death in childbirth, followed by her burial "on the road," instead of in the Me'oras Ha'Machpeilah as her sister, Leah. Let us peruse her life story as related by the Torah. In the beginning, the sun seems to shine upon her. She is physically attractive and held in great esteem. Yaakov Avinu meets her and immediately asks for her hand in marriage. Lavan , her father, agrees to the match and what seems to be a fairy-tale ending is about to occur.

But, as we all are aware, Lavan, the swindler, exchanged his daughters and Rachel, because of her incredible concern for her sister Leah's feelings, agreed to the ruse and did not reveal the switch to Yaakov. Instead, she helped it along so that Leah would not be humiliated. Finally, the day arrives, and she marries Yaakov, only to be barren. She is relegated to watching how her sister, who was originally shunned, is now the proud mother playing with her children. The yearning for a child, and even the envy, got to her. Yaakov's devotion to her was wonderful and meaningful, but it did not grant her motherhood. When she complained to Yaakov, he responded in a manner that inspired her to pray more ferverently, until she was finally answered with a child. When we note the names that Rachel gave to her maidservant Bilhah's children, Dan and Naftali, we see that the pain had taken its toll. "G-d has judged me, He has also heard my voice. So, therefore, she called his name Dan." This was followed by, "Sacred schemes have I maneuvered to equal my sister, and she called him Naftali." (ibid.30:6,8). When she finally gave birth to Yosef she reiterated her pain, as she said, "G-d has taken away my disgrace. And she called his name Yosef." (ibid.30:23,24) Her second son, Binyamin, was her expression of ben tzaari, son of my anguish. Rachel gave her life to be a Matriarch and when she died in childbirth, she still was not buried in the matriarchal plot, the Me'oras HaMachpeilah. Leah, her sister who had originally been ignored, was buried with Yaakov and the other matriarchs. So it seems that Rachel, who appeared to be destined to have a life of joy - did not.

Let us now look at Leah. Did she fare any better than her sister? Leah was Yaakov Avinu's first wife, his akeres habayis, mainstay of his home, mother of the greater part of his family. She had every reason to be on top of the world. But, was she? If we peruse the parsha, we see a different picture. Leah senses that she is secondary in the house, "the other wife", who is not favored by Yaakov as a result of the surreptitious nature of their marriage. She tries everything to win Yaakov over, to vindicate herself for not telling him the truth - that she was the "other" sister, she was not Rachel. It seems as if this feeling hung like a heavy stone over her head. Every name she gave her sons and those of her maidservant, Zilpah, declared her pain and anguish. Reuven, "because Hashem has discerned my humiliation," Shimon, "because Hashem has heard that I am unloved," Levi, "because this time my husband will become attached to me," Yehudah, "this time let me gratefully praise Hashem," Gad, "good luck has come," Asher, "in my good fortune." (ibid. 27: 32,33,34,35) Leah felt that despite her enviable position as Matriarch, she was still second-fiddle in a home where her sister was the object of greater fondness from Yaakov.

Despite the external fa?ade that the average person saw, both of these women had issues that made them unhappy. Yet, we never find any discord in the family. Regardless of their positions vis-?-vis Yaakov, love and harmony reigned between them. Rachel helped Leah get married. Leah, upon conceiving her seventh child, prayed that the child be a girl, so that Rachel not have less sons than the maidservants. Thus, Dinah was born. The most important lesson to be derived herein is that suffering, pain, vicissitudes are all a part of life. There is always another side to the coin. With good fortune there goes suffering as an accompaniment, and together with the anguish there goes joy. One must never give up, but wait - until the coin of life is turned to the other side.

I recently read a meaningful story cited by Rabbi Yechiel Spero in "Touched by a Story." My Rebbe, Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, co-founder and Rosh Hayeshiva of Telshe in America, was about to speak at his first son's bar mitzvah. It was an emotionally charged and epic moment. The Rosh Hayeshivah had tragically lost his first wife and ten children to the European Holocaust. He came to these shores with a commitment to rebuild the glory of Telz. Finally, he was seeing some personal nachas. He was escorting his son into the ol, yoke, of mitzvos. The assembly waited eagerly for Rav Mottel to speak. A brilliant, profound thinker and prolific speaker; they wondered what he would say at this most unique moment. He ascended the podium, gazed upon the crowd and began to speak.

"When the Shaagas Arye assumed the position of Rav in the large city of Metz, the leaders of the community brought him to his new house. While it might not have been the largest, most impressive home in Metz, to the Shaagas Arye it was a veritable mansion. Having been poverty stricken, living in small, uncomfortable hovels for many years, this was truly a significant change. He was led from room to room on a tour of the house. One of the townspeople who accompanied him noticed that he seemed to be mumbling something quietly.

"Rebbe, what are you saying?" the man asked the Shaagas Arye. The rav stopped his murmuring and said, "David haMelech says in Sefer Tehillim ((90:15), "Samcheinu k'yemos inisanu, shenos ra'inu raah," which I interpret to mean, "Please Hashem grant me happiness consistent with the anguish which I have sustained." I, too, am asking the Almighty to permit me to enjoy my new home, my new position, in accord with the pain and suffering that I have endured."

The Rosh Hayeshivah continued, with tears streaming down his face, "My friends, during the war I sustained great losses. My wife and ten children were torn from me. Now I ask the Ribono Shel Olam - Please, samcheinu k'yemos inisanu. Please grant me happiness and joy, nachas and simchah, through this child who is now bar mitzvah, proportionate with the suffering and sorrow which we have experienced."

I guess all of us should take this sage advice and hope that when it is our turn to be "reimbursed" for our pain, that our joy will be accordant with our suffering.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'Tigmeleinu chasadim tovim. - And bestow upon us beneficent kindness.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, observes that the word gomeil means, literally, to ripen, as we find in the Torah concerning Aharon HaKohen's mateh, staff, vayigmol shekeidim, and "almonds ripened." (Bamidbar, 17:23) Thus, gomeil really means the fullest development of a particular object. This idea is equally applicable to the concept of punishment, which is the direct consequence of crimes, as we find, u'gemulcha yashuv b'roshecha, "your requital shall return upon your head." (Ovadiah 1:15) With this prayer we ask Hashem to grant us the full measure of His kindness, which will also be tovim, good, leading to the benefit of others. A chesed tov is a step beyond a simple chesed, in that a "good chesed" is one that leads to the benefit of others. This is the true, full or ripened measure of chesed - one that also helps others.

We might add that gomeil is also a reference to the supplicant, since by his ability to help others, he himself becomes a complete person. One who lives only for himself is only half a man. Sheleimus, completion, is achieved only when we share ourselves with others.

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