By Rabbi Label Lam
And he met “the place” and he slept there because the sun (suddenly) set,
and he took from the stones of “the place” and he arranged them around his
head, and he lay down to sleep in that place. (Breishis 28:11)
He arranged them around his head: In a circular shape because he was afraid
of wild animals… (Rashi)
And he said to them, “The day is yet great, it’s not time to gather in the
flock, give them water to drink and go shepherd.” (Breishis 29:7)
It would sure be amazing to meet someone like Yaakov Avinu! That would
undoubtedly be the experience of a lifetime. What could be more
exhilarating?! That’s not a rhetorical question! He we have in Chumash
chosen snippets, windows- into the actions and words that define the essence
of Yaakov and the other Patriarchs as well. These words, these selective
accounts are authored by none other than The Almighty. What an opportunity
we have to gain a crystal clear composite picture of the greatest people
that have ever walked on the planet.
Here we have just two incidents of many. One describes simply how Yaakov
went to sleep for the first time in many-many years. The other narrates a
confrontational episode with the citizens of the place that would become his
new home. Both accounts are inviting us to take a closer look.
As incredible as it may sound, our sages tell us that Yaakov did not sleep
for the fourteen years while he was busy studying Torah at the Yeshiva of
Shem and Ever. After that time he left to follow through on the instructions
of his parents to continue to Charan, and find a wife.
Not having slept for so many years can make a man pretty tired. Yaakov’s
head should have hit the proverbial pillow like a led balloon but we are
treated to a few details that indicate that he had a competing concern. He
first arranged a protective circle of stones to guard his head first. (Don’t
ask me how this works) If he was merely fearful of wild beasts, then why did
he set them up around only around his head?
I believe the answer is that Yaakov’s effort was to guard his mind and even
while he slept. King Solomon had told us similarly, “From all the things you
watch, protect your mind, because from it founts life”. How much more so
should someone guard his intellect, his thoughts with ultra-caution
especially when awake!
Then we find Yaakov engaging the shepherds, he presumes, are taking a siesta
at midday. He feels compelled to rebuke and remind them that the day is yet
long and there is plenty of work to be done. The Mishne in Pirke Avos
however states, “The day is short and the work is much…” How can Yaakov
portray, “the day is yet great”?
I once heard the following brief explanation on that Mishne, “When is the
day short? When the work is much!” When, then, is the day long, boring, and
painfully protracted? When do we tend to push the clock in our minds? When
one perceives that the work is little or already done. Alternately, given
his work ethic, Yaakov may be speaking of the actual weightiness of the day.
“The day is yet great!” In any case, he must have been pained by what he saw
on display, to approach total strangers and tell them off in such a bold manner.
Yaakov Avinu couldn’t stand to see time being wasted. Imagine people
shoveling perfectly good food or hundred dollar bills into a furnace. It
would be hard for us to witness this and sit still. The famous poem of the
Ibn Ezra reads nicer in Hebrew rhyme but still makes perfect sense in
translation: A man worries about the loss of his money (momav) but he
doesn’t worry about waste of his days (yomav). His money ultimately doesn’t
help (ozrim) and his days are not returning (chozrim)!”
It’s hard to make a whole garment out of these few threads of info about
Yaakov our Father but we see an important pattern emerging. If he were alive
today and visiting our lives, would he feel entirely comfortable with the
time we spend on our computers or would he be repulsed by the enormous waste
of time and alarmed about the profound moral dangers that are lurking there
every nana second!?
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.