Nearly all of this week's parashah is devoted to describing
Yaakov's encounter with, and experiences in the house of, his uncle
Lavan. This encounter is mentioned in one other place in the Torah,
specifically in Parashat Ki Tavo. There we read that a person who
brings bikkurim / first fruits recites a brief history of the Jewish
People, including the verse (Devarim 26:5), "An Aramean tried to
destroy my forefather."
How are Yaakov's experiences with Lavan related to the bringing
of bikkurim, and what lesson are we meant to learn from this
connection? R' Chaim Friedlander z"l (menahel ruchani of the Ponovezh
Yeshiva in Bnei Brak; died 1986) explains:
One striking aspect of Yaakov's sojourn with Lavan was that
Yaakov would have been completely at his uncle's mercy but for
Hashem's protection. Yaakov did absolutely nothing to protect
himself. Similarly, when a person brings bikkurim, he acknowledges
(Devarim 26:10), "And now, behold! I have brought the first fruit of
the ground that You have given me, Hashem!"-i.e, only because You
gave me the land and caused it to produce fruits do I have anything.
R' Friedlander notes further: A significant part of the Pesach
Haggadah consists of expounding the verses from Devarim quoted above.
Notably, the Haggadah makes little mention of the verses in Sefer
Shmot in which the slavery in, and Exodus from, Egypt are discussed in
detail. Why? One reason is that, in Shmot, Moshe Rabbeinu appears in
nearly every verse, whereas our purpose at the Pesach Seder is to
recognize G-d's role in the Exodus and our duties to Him. In
contrast, the verses in Devarim, which allude to Yaakov's helplessness
in Lavan's house and the helplessness of a farmer in his field, serve
that function quite well. (Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Ponovezh
"Behold! Hashem was standing over him, and He said, `I am
Hashem, G-d of Avraham your father and G-d of Yitzchak'."
Rashi z"l comments: In general, we do not find in Tanach that G-d
associates His Name with that of the righteous while they are still
alive through the use of the phrase, "The G-d of so and so." The
reason for this is because it is said (Iyov 15:15) "Behold He puts no
trust even in His holy ones" [because man has free choice to sin until
the day he dies]. Here, however, He associated his Name with that of
Yitzchak because Yitzchak's eyes had become dim and he was confined to
the house, so that he might be regarded as dead because the evil
inclination had already departed from him and he was unlikely to sin
The above statement by Rashi forms part of the basis for the
R' Eliyahu Capsali z"l (Crete; 1600s), among others, writes that
all mitzvot can be divided into three categories. He calls them: (1)
Mitzvot Mekubalot / "Received Commandments," i.e., commandments that
we understand but we never would have thought of if we had not
received them, e.g., Shabbat, Tefilin and Tzitzit; (2) Chukim /
"Decrees," i.e., commandments that appear to be irrational, e.g., the
laws of kashrut; and (3) Mitzvot Muskalot / "Rational Commandments,"
e.g., the prohibitions on stealing on murder.
Why are there specifically three groups? R' Capsali writes that
it is because every accomplishment that our nation will ever attain is
in the merit of the three Patriarchs--Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.
Therefore it is fitting that there should be three categories of
mitzvot paralleling the attributes of these three forefathers.
The Mitzvot Mekubalot / "Received Commandments" parallel Avraham.
All of these mitzvot serve the purpose of teaching and reminding us
about the existence and dominion of Hashem. Avraham's mission in life
was likewise to teach people about Hashem's existence and power.
The Chukim / "Decrees" parallel Yitzchak. Our Sages note that
the yetzer hara makes especially strong arguments against observing
the chukim, specifically, that they seem to make no sense. Out task
is to ignore and eliminate our evil inclinations, just as Yitzchak did
(as described above).
Finally, the Mitzvot Muskalot / "Rational Commandments" parallel
Yaakov. These are the mitzvot that call upon man's intelligence,
i.e., man can understand them intuitively. Similarly, Yaakov, more
than any of the other Patriarchs, is portrayed in the Torah as using
his intelligence to succeed in difficult situations (for example, to
get the blessings from his father) and to save himself from Lavan and
Esav. [Ed. note: Compare this to the characterization of Yaakov on the
(Meah Shearim Ch.2)
"He will give me bread to eat . . ." (28:20)
R' Meir Chadash z"l (1898-1989; mashgiach ruchani of the Chevron
Yeshiva in Yerushalayim) related that he learned as a refuge during
World War I how to look at events with the right attitude. One day,
he was trudging along a road with four friends during a torrential
downpour. As they slowly made their way, the young men complained
aloud about the deep mud that impeded their progress.
Suddenly, a farmer passed them and heard their complaints.
Turning toward them, he rebuked them angrily saying, "This is not mud.
(Quoted in Ha'mashgiach Rabbi Meir p.68)
"Come and learn what Lavan the Aramean wanted to do to our
father Yaakov--for Pharaoh decreed only against the male
[newborns] while Lavan wanted to uproot everything."
(The Pesach Haggadah)
Why, on the Seder night, would we want to downplay the evil of
the Egyptian king? To the contrary, on the night which is set aside
for relating Hashem's miracles, we should emphasize how terrible
conditions in Egypt were!
R' Levi Yitzchak Horowitz shlita (the Boston-Har Nof Rebbe)
explains that the quoted phrase is meant to demonstrate the truth of
the preceding statement in the Haggadah: "In every generation they
rise up against us to destroy us." We don't necessarily see evidence
of this, and we might doubt that it is true. By the same token,
though, there is no clear statement in the Torah that Lavan wanted to
destroy the fledgling Jewish People. Yet, just as we accept our
Sages' assertion that Lavan really did want to uproot everything, so
we accept their teaching that our enemies rise up to destroy us in
every generation and Hashem saves us from them, sometimes without our
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Ezrat Avoteinu p.115)
Why doesn't the Haggadah mention that Esav also wanted to "uproot
everything"? R' Chaim Kanievski shlita answers that the statement
quoted above actually alludes to Esav.
How so? R' Kanievski explains: The Torah does not say anywhere
that Lavan wanted to destroy Yaakov and his family. If so, to what is
the Haggadah referring? It is referring to the Midrash Sefer Hayashar
which relates that Lavan sent a messenger to Esav saying, "Yaakov has
left my territory and is traveling toward you. Do with him as you
wish." In other words, how did Lavan try to uproot everything? By
(Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Shirat Ha'leviim p.57)
Letters from Our Sages
The following letter was written by R' Chaim Ozer Grodzenski
z"l, unofficial rabbi of Vilna, to R' Avraham Yeshayahu
Karelitz z"l, the "Chazon Ish," who was then living in Eretz
With G-d's help! Thursday, 27 Shevat 5696 [January 1937]
Continuing from my previous letter, I am now immersed in the
matter of shechitah. The wife of the Senate President proposed in the
Sejm [the Polish parliament] to outlaw shechitah in Poland. This is a
possibility that never occurred to our imaginations - that they might
outlaw something that affects three million of our people. The
situation is very serious and even dangerous. It is quite possible
that they will obtain a majority in the legislature, although it
appears that the cabinet will oppose the idea. It was my thought to
decree a fast day in Eretz Yisrael and the entire diaspora, and I
communicated this to a gathering of rabbis in Warsaw - although I
could not travel to it for various reasons. However, because of local
political considerations, they do not agree to allow the whole world
to raise a fuss...
This matter requires [G-d's] great mercy and tremendous effort
here and in all countries. I have written to many places regarding
this. Also in Eretz Yisrael it would be appropriate to rouse the
populace and to pray before the Kotel Hama'aravi, and maybe also to
decree a fast, and to do whatever else can be done. Let Poland know
about the fuss that is coming from abroad. Even if they do not want
to hear this, it will make a proper impression...
Several rabbis from Lithuania are there [presumably Warsaw] all
the time. This costs a great deal. I have already spent 1,000 gold
coins and I have no source from which to repay this debt... Your
brother Meir [i.e., R' Meir Karelitz z"l, later a leading rabbi in
Bnei Brak] is in Warsaw all the time, and also Rabbis x and y [the
names were deleted by the publisher] and other Lithuanian rabbis are
standing guard regarding this matter.
Today is a day of prayer here [in Vilna]. Attached is the prayer
text that I composed. May Hashem hurry to our salvation.
[Ed. postscript: The decree was eventually annulled.]
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