Ya'akov left Be'er Sheva in the direction of Charan. (Bereishis 28:10)
See Ya'akov run. See Ya'akov run fast and far. See Ya'akov set precedent for
all of his descendants for thousands of years to come. See Ya'akov's
descendants run from place to place for millennia, fleeing for their lives
and often with only the shirts on their backs, and sometimes not even with
that. What a way to start Jewish history. What a way to finish it.
Throughout Jewish history, Jews have, ostensibly, done two things: wonder
and wander, and they are not as different from each other as they may at
first seem. Indeed, they are actually interrelated and interdependent, which
may explain why both of them have been so necessary, in spite of the fact
that we long and love to settle down.
Exiles has a bad name because they are associated with the times that the
Jewish people have lost their sovereignty, and often their religious freedom
as well. National exile is never self-imposed, but imposed from above, and
therefore it always appears to be punishment for non-Torah behavior. That is
certainly the way the Torah describes it.
But, it was not uncommon for many righteous people to self-impose personal
exile on themselves. The Vilna Gaon was known to do so on a somewhat regular
basis, leaving behind his wife and family and going to places where they
might not know him, leaving him instead to fend for his survival. This is
the way he worked on his humility and his appreciation for even the most
basic things God gave to him.
In fact, all that happened in last week's parshah that is resulting in
Ya'akov's leaving home and Eretz Yisroel in this week's parshah, was for
this very reason. God runs the world and controls people and events, so if
He had wanted Ya'akov to remain at home, He could have arranged events
differently. One can assume that, if taking the blessing forced Ya'akov to
flee for his life, that is what God intended for him.
To appreciate the role of exile, we need to understand the basis of the
Hebrew word itself, which is spelled: Gimmel-Lamed-Vav-Tav, the root of
which is only the Gimmel-Lamed. This is interesting, because that part of
the word is also the root of the Hebrew for "reveal." Indeed, all we have to
do to create the Hebrew word for "to reveal" is add a Lamed to the four
letters of "golut"- Lamed-Gimmel-Lamed-Vav-Tav-making it l'galot.
In other words, the point of exile is to reveal. The question is, reveal
what? It is to reveal many things, but most of all, it is to reveal God,
both to the person in exile and to the people amongst whom the person has
Around that time, Avimelech and Phichol, the general of his army, said to
Avraham, "God is with you in all that you do." (Bereishis 21:22)
Avimelech went out to him from Gerar with a company of his friends and
Phichol, the general of his army. Yitzchak said to them, "Why have you come
here when you hate me, and have sent me away from you?" They answered, "We
saw that God is with you." (Bereishis 26:26-28)
God was with Yosef and he became a successful man. He [lived] in the house
of his Egyptian master. His master saw that God was with him, and that God
made him successful in all that he did. (Bereishis 37:2-3)
Hence, the name of Dovid HaMelech's famous Philistine opponent was Golios,
or Goliath in English. This is because he inadvertently became the source of
a great Kiddush Hashem and revelation of God by being such a formidable foe,
and then falling prey to Dovid HaMelech's miraculous slingshot throw.
Apparently, Dovid HaMelech picked up on this, because he used the battle
opportunity in such a way:
"You come to me with spear and javelin, and I come to you with the Name
of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel which you have
taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I shall kill
you, and take off your head, and I will give the carcasses of the camp of
the Philistines this day, to the fowl of the air and to the beasts of the
earth, and the earth will know that Israel has a God! And all this gathering
will know that not with sword and javelin does the Lord save, for the battle
is the Lord's, and He will deliver you into our hand." (I Shmuel
Talk about trust in God! Talk about a Jewish battle cry! Talk abut a
revelation of God, both to those through whom it happened, and to those who
witnessed it as well. Somehow, being settled and feeling at home can
interfere with both, as the Torah warned:
After God, your God brings you into the land about which He swore to your
fathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov, to give you great and wonderful
cities, which you did not have to build, houses full of good things, which
you did not have to put there, and wells that you did not have to dig, and
vineyards and olive trees which you did not have to plant, you will eat and
be satisfied. Be careful not to forget God, who brought you out of the land
of Egypt . (Devarim 6:10-12)
There is something about routine that desensitizes us to the ongoing Divine
Providence of God. It doesn't mean that we stop saying "Boruch Hashem," or
"Thank God," after mentioning the good things we enjoy in life. But, it does
mean that we stop thinking about what those words actually mean, or should
mean to us.
For example, imagine being a waiter in a restaurant when someone orders a
cheese quiche. You take the order, and promptly pass it on to the kitchen
which promptly tells you to go back and tell the patron that the cheese
quiche is not available at the moment, since, due to an oversight, the
cheese ran out. After having told the patron about how good the quiche is,
you are now embarrassed to go back and tell him that there is no cheese for
"How about I go to the local store down the street and quickly buy some more
cheese," you tell your boss.
"Don't bother," he tells you. "It's a waste of time and manpower. Just tell
the gentleman that we are unable to provide him with the quiche he ordered,
and I am sure he will understand," your boss says, moving on to more
But, you are still unable to return and face the person, so you suggest to
your boss, "How about if I don't charge you for my time?" You assume, or
rather hope, your tip will make up for the loss of salary.
Your boss looks at you funny-like. "Gee, you're really set on getting the
guest his quiche, aren't you?"
You smile sheepishly, and try to pick up some browny points along the way by
adding, "A fine restaurant such as ours should not have to admit to
under-ordering something as basic as cheese. It won't look very good."
It works. Your boss's pride has been touched, and clearing his throat, he
tells you, "Alright. I'll give you 15 minutes to get there and back," he
says, sounding generous. "But after that, it's your time."
"Great!" you say, as you remove your waitering attire, and grab your jacket,
and race out the door.
However, unfortunately, the local store is also out of the cheese you need,
forcing you to go even further to guarantee that your patron will get his
quiche. Should you go further? Is it worth it? Maybe your boss was right
after all. Besides, how much longer can you take before the patron decides
he has waited long enough for his quiche, not even knowing what you are
going through to get it for him!
"Just one more store ." you mutter to yourself, as you chase off in search
of some cheese, getting wet, as rain begins to fall. "Great!" you say
sarcastically to yourself. "Why doesn't a tornado just come ." you start to
say, finishing off by reprimanding yourself, "Don't even mention it. It
might just happen!"
Twenty minutes later, five minutes on your own time, you are on the way back
to the restaurant with your prize cheese, somewhat drenched, tired, and even
a little disillusioned. "No tip is worth this!" you complain to yourself.
"They certainly do not pay me enough to warrant my running around like this
to protect their reputation."
Back at the restaurant, both your boss and the guest are getting impatient.
"Good, you're back," your boss says. "Next time, just tell him that we have
no cheese please," he says with a sarcastic tone in his voice, which you
choose to ignore. Instead, you give the chef the cheese, and smiling, he
takes it from you and tells you that they ran out of dough for the crust.
"Just kidding!" he adds.
"Haha ." you say, mockingly.
An hour, and four more guests later, you return to pick up the signed credit
card receipt, and notice the tip. Your eyes widen, seeing that it is barely
10 percent of the actual bill. Disappointed and frustrated, you notice the
guest reaching for his coat, and then the door. Unable to control
yourParashas self, you follow him to his car, at which point he turns around
and sees you. Surprised, he says, "Did I forget something?"
"Yes," you tell him, "You forgot to tip me for my effort!"
"No," the man politely corrects you. "I put the tip on my credit card. Just
ask your manager and he'll show you."
"No, I saw that tip ." you tell him. "I'm talking about the one for what I
had to go through to get you your quiche ." you tell, going into all the
details of what you did and why.
Ten minutes later, the man tells you, "Wow. I had no idea that you went
through all of that just so I could have my cheese quiche. If you had told
me that you were unable to make it for me, I would have understood. However,
after having heard your story, you are definitely right: you deserve a
bigger tip," he says, pulling out an additional $10.00. "In fact, you
deserve a raise as well!"
"Thank you very much," you say taking the money.
You see, this is the problem with a stable material life. We get up in the
morning, go to shul, pray, come home, have breakfast, kiss the kids goodbye,
go to work, earn a living, come home at the end of the day, pray some more,
have supper, do some learning or something recreational, go to bed, and
start the whole cycle again the next day, more or less.
Some days we are energized, most days we are tired. We work hard, or at
least try to. Eventually, we equate our tiredness with our activities, and
develop a sense of entitlement. "This is my money, my house, my luxuries," a
little voice inside of us says. "True it all comes from God, but in a sense,
I bought it from Him with my efforts," as the Torah warned we would:
You may think to yourself, "It was my efforts and abilities that made me
successful." (Devarim 8:17)
And, if we don't remember that it is all a gift from God? If we choose to
bury the hand of God at the bottom of all that we do and accomplish? Then
it's golut, to reveal to us that:
Remember: God, your God is the One who makes you successful ...
Nothing reveals that more that exile. In exile, there is no sense of
entitlement. In exile, everything seems like a gift, from people who are
courteous to you, to the food you eat. Even basic things that we take for
granted, like personal hygiene, seem like a gift when you can take care of
yourself, as you like to, even away from home, even in strange environments
that you have no control over.
Once a person told me that when he says "Asher Yatzar" away from home, the
blessing that one says after going to the bathroom, he has in mind not just
the ability to do so, but also to be able to do so in a dignified manner.
Exile brings such levels of sensitivity out in a person, until even the most
common elements of life seem like a gift from God, which they are,
especially for a Jew.
More than likely, Ya'akov Avinu already appreciated this reality. However,
he was about to become the father of the 12 Tribes, the source of all Jews
to come. And, to make sure that they shared in his realization, they were
born in exile, while he had to live in it. This inculcated within the Jewish
people an ability not only to survive in exile, but to learn from it what it
has to teach, so that maybe, just maybe, we can eventually do away with them