Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XV, No. 7
12 Kislev 5761
December 9, 2000
Orach Chaim 340:11-13
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Nazir 53
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Bava Batra 18
We read in this week's parashah that Yaakov left home to marry
and start a family. Along the way, he slept, and he dreamed of a
ladder reaching to the heavens with angels ascending and
descending on it. Upon awakening, Yaakov exclaimed, "This is
none other than the abode of G-d, and I did not know." R' Elie
Munk z"l (1900-1978; rabbi in Berlin and Paris) writes:
"Yaakov leaves his parents' house to found a Jewish home, and
brings with him nothing more than his personality. [See Bereishit
32:11 - 'With nothing but my stick, I crossed the Jordan.'] This
is what this section proclaims from the outset [i.e., that a
successful Jewish home is not measured by its possessions], and
all that follows revolves around founding this home. He was the
one who conceived the idea of the 'House of G-d' [i.e., Yaakov
was the first person to use the expression 'Bet Elokim'], meaning
that the most important and closest place of Divine manifestation
is the place where human souls blossom and flourish, where man
contributes what he himself is, in order to build his life and
forge his activity out of it.
"G-d is not only the Creator of nature and [the] G-d of
history; He is G-d within the home which men build in order to
carry out His will. The vision of the ladder means that the
family home must raise itself to ideal spheres and so constitute
the 'chariot,' the support for the Divine Majesty on earth
('merkavah la'shechinah'). And just as the ladder reaching into
the heavens was inclined so that its middle rung was above the
location of the future Sanctuary, so must the home be built as a
mikdash me'at / a miniature sanctuary and elevate itself up to
the heights where the King of kings sits enthroned . . .
"Yaakov's first reaction to his dream was spontaneous: 'It is
right here, not in the celestial heights, that G-d is to be
found. . .' [It also says, 'Va'yira' / 'He experienced fear.'] He
realized the extent and gravity of the task awaiting whoever
prepares to build a home where 'G-d is to dwell,' a home which is
to become a 'gate to heaven,' by bringing the earthly and
heavenly spheres ever closer together." (Call of the Torah
"Behold! Angels of G-d were ascending and descending bo."
The word "bo" can mean "on it" - its literal meaning here - or,
says the midrash, it can mean "through him," i.e., through
Yaakov. R' Yehoshua Trunk z"l (died 1893; see page 4) explains:
We read in Tehilim (68:35), "Give might to Elokim." This means
that Hashem decreed that His own ability to benefit us will be
dependent on our deeds. When we perform good deeds, we, so-to-
speak, give "might" to Elokim (because that is how He designed
Thus, the angels of G-d ascend and descend bo - through the
tzaddik. It is the deeds of those who serve Hashem that
determine whether the angels will ascend or descend.
(Quoted in Iturei Torah)
"He looked, and behold -- a well in the field! And behold,
three flocks of sheep lay there beside it, for from that
well they would water the flocks . . ." (29:2)
Ramban quotes a midrash: This was a hint to Yaakov regarding
his future. The well represents the Bet Hamikdash, and the three
flocks represent the three pilgrimage festivals. It was during
those three festivals that Yaakov's descendants would draw
spiritual sustenance from the Bet Hamikdash. After the flocks
were watered, i.e., after each of the three festivals, "they
would put back the stone over the mouth of the well in its place"
(verse 3), i.e., the source of divine inspiration would be sealed
until the next festival.
R' Gedalyah Schorr z"l (1911-1979; Rosh Yeshivah of Torah
Voda'ath) suggests that this midrash provides the source for the
festive gathering called a "Ne'ilat Ha'chag" / "Sealing of the
Holiday," which some people hold on the last evening of a
festival. Before the stone is put back on the well until the
next festival, we attempt to draw some final bits of Divine
inspiration from the holiday.
R' Schorr adds: The above midrash is alluded to in the yom tov
shemoneh esrei, "Bestow upon us, Hashem our G-d, the blessing of
Your appointed festivals . . ." Each festival leaves us with a
blessing, and one is obligated to ensure that the blessing and
inspiration from each festival lasts after the festival. This is
also the meaning of the verse (Kohelet 7:14), "Be pleased on good
days, and on bad days, reflect." The good days are the
festivals. On the "bad days," the days between the festivals,
one must reflect on the inspiration that he obtained during these
(Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Arzei Ha'levanon II p. 400)
"Ha'atufim / The late-bearing ones went to Lavan . . ."
The word "ha'atufim" appears one other time in Tanach, but with
a different meaning. Specifically, Eichah 2:19 says, "Your young
children, ha'atufim / who swoon from hunger at every street
R' Yehuda He'chassid z"l (Germany; 1160-1217; author of Sefer
Chassidim) writes: Because Yaakov acted towards Lavan in a way
that appeared to constitute trickery - even though Yaakov's
behavior was legally justified - the Bet Hamkidash was destroyed,
and the Jewish people were exiled. All three sections of Tanach
(the Torah, the Nevi'im / Prophets and the Ketuvim / Writings)
teach that one must act in a way that is not only legal, but that
appears to all observers to be straightforward. In the Torah it
says (Bemidbar 32:22), "You shall be vindicated before Hashem and
Israel." In the Ketuvim it says (Mishlei 3:4), "And you will
find favor . . . in the eyes of G-d and man." In the Nevi'im we
read (Yehoshua 22:22), "Almighty Elokim, Hashem, He knows and
Israel shall know . . ."
(Ta'amei Mesoret Ha'mikra)
"The dudaim-flowers emitted a fragrance, and at our doors
are precious fruits . . ." (Shir Hashirim 7:14)
The midrash says, "The dudaim-flowers emitted a fragrance" --
this refers to Reuven [who brought dudaim-flowers to his mother
in our parashah]. "And at our doors are precious fruits" -- this
refers to the Chanukah candles.
What is the connection between Reuven and Chanukah? Also, why
is the Chanukah menorah placed at the door? R' Avraham Yoffen
z"l (Novardok Rosh Yeshiva; died 1970) answers:
The Torah says (Bereishit 4:7), "Sin crouches at the door."
All spiritual downfalls begin when one opens the door to the
yetzer hara. This was the unique nature of the Greek oppression
of the Jews. The Greeks did not try to force our ancestors to
convert to a different religion; rather, the Greeks tried to
entice the Jews to enter the halls of Greek wisdom. In this way,
the Greeks hoped that their own beliefs would infiltrate into the
Jewish belief system.
How did the Chashmonaim defeat the Greeks? They placed a
candle - "For a mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light"
(Mishlei 6:23) - at the door as a guard. They refused to allow
even a small amount of Greek influence to affect their lifestyle.
The Torah tells us (Bereishit 35:22) that Reuven sinned, but
Chazal explain (Shabbat 55b) that Reuven's sin was extremely
subtle. Nevertheless, Reuven repented, for he recognized that if
the door to sin is opened even a little, if a Jews lets his
spiritual guard down at all, his downfall inevitably follows.
(Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Arzei Ha'levanon II p. 401)
R' Chaim Elazar Wachs z"l
(The "Nefesh Chayah")
R' Wachs was one of the most outstanding Torah scholars and
halachic authorities among the chassidim of Poland. He was born
in 1822 in Tarnograd, Lublin Province to R' Avraham Yehuda
Leibush and Chaya Wachs, and was a descendant of the famous
martyr, R' Yechiel Michel of Nemirov.
At the age of 18, R' Wachs married Bluma, daughter of R' Moshe
Halberstam, eldest brother of R' Chaim, the "Sanzer Rav."
(Throughout his life, R' Wachs considered R' Chaim Halberstam to
be his foremost spiritual and halachic mentor.) In that same
year, R' Wachs was appointed rabbi of his hometown, Tarnograd,
one of the most distinguished rabbinical positions in all of
Poland. During all of his 22 years as rabbi of Tarnograd, R'
Wachs refused to accept a salary; to the contrary, he supported a
yeshiva of several hundred students from his own pocket.
R' Wachs never hesitated to rebuke his congregants, but always
in the most gentle way possible. When a congregant once sought
his blessing for a business deal that promised a huge profit but
would require twisting the truth a little bit, R' Wachs answered:
"The Sages say that the luchot / tablets were engraved on both
sides. This means that no matter which way you twisted them,
they still said, 'You shall not steal'." To congregants who
carried on Shabbat (without an eruv) he said. "You will be
called to account for why you did not blow the shofar when Rosh
Hashanah fell on Shabbat and why you did not take a lulav on the
Shabbat of Sukkot." [The only reason we do not observe these
mitzvot on Shabbat is the fear that people may carry a shofar or
lulav outside of an eruv.]
In 1862, R' Wachs became the rabbi of Kalisz, near the German
border, a community into which the Reform movement had made
significant inroads. R' Wachs earned the respect of all factions
in the community and reversed the trend towards reform because he
always stood-up for the Torah's honor without attacking any
person individually. Thus, while many Reform members of the
community left Kalisz, a significant number of others returned to
R' Wachs served as president of the charity, "Kollel Polin
Kuppat Rabbi Meir Ba'al Ha'nes," and was very active in
supporting the growing settlement in Eretz Yisrael. (He once
sold his share in Olam Haba to a wealthy Jew in exchange for two
boatloads of provisions for Yerushalayim's hungry.) He did more
than oversee the collection of funds; he encouraged the charity's
directors to think creatively of ways to make the poor of Eretz
Yisrael more self-sufficient. In particular, he promoted the use
of etrogim from Eretz Yisrael and he arranged the planting of new
R' Wachs' best known work, Nefesh Chayah, was named after his
mother at her request. R' Wachs' second wife was Shifra Mirel,
daughter of R' Yehoshuale Trunk, author of Yeshuot Yaakov. R'
Wachs died in 1889. (Sources: Marbitzei Torah Me'olam
Ha'chassidut, Vol. I, p. 232)
Copyright © 2000 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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