Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XVIII, No. 07
11 Kislev 5764
December 6, 2003
Mr. and Mrs. Moshe Cohen
in memory of his mother Malka Rivka bat Avraham Chaim a”h
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Menachot 61
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Yevamot 24
The story of Yaakov and Lavan alludes to the dual causes of anti-semitism, writes R’ Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin z”l (19th century). First, Lavan and his sons, like our own opponents, were jealous of Yaakov’s material success and were convinced that Yaakov had obtained his wealth by cheating them (Lavan and his sons) out of their own property. [See Bereishit 31:1]
In addition, Lavan resented the religious truth that Yaakov represented. Lavan said to Yaakov (31:29), “It is in my power to do you (plural) harm, and the G-d of your fathers addressed me last night . . .” To whom was Lavan referring when he used the plural pronoun? Certainly not to Yaakov’s family – Lavan’s own daughters and grandchildren! Rather, hidden in Lavan’s statement was his agenda: “To do you harm and the G-d of your fathers.” This is what the Sages meant when they wrote in the Pesach Haggadah, “Lavan sought to uproot everything.” “Everything,” and not just Yaakov’s material wealth!
The Torah states (Devarim 26:5), “An Aramean tried to destroy my father. He descended to Egypt . . .” What do the acts of the Aramean (Lavan) have to do with our father Yaakov’s going down to Egypt? We may learn the answer from the gemara which states, “The Jews should have been exiled [after the destruction of the First Temple] to Aram, but because the Arameans are too cruel, G- d exiled the Jews to Bavel.” Throughout the period before the Destruction, the Jews’ primary nemesis was not Bavel, but Aram (as described in the Book of Melachim). When it came time to exile the Jews, however, Hashem chose to send them to Bavel; had the exile been to Aram, not one Jew would have survived.
Yaakov was exiled to Aram, and the Aramean (Lavan) tried to destroy him. That is why Yaakov descended to Egypt to complete his exile.
(She’er Yisrael, ch. 1, printed at the end of Chumash Ha’emek Davar, Vol III)
“He took from the stones of the place which he arranged around his head, and lay down in that place.” (28:11)
R’ Avraham Mordechai Alter z”l (the Gerrer Rebbe, known as the “Imrei Emes”; died 1948) once visited the town of Kielce, Poland, where he had several relatives. When he heard that his relatives were vying amongst themselves for the honor of hosting him, he said: Chazal teach that the stones were fighting for the honor of being Yaakov’s pillow, so a miracle occurred and all the stones fused together and became one. How did this solve the problem? the rebbe asked. The stones could still fight over which part of the larger stone Yaakov would rest his head on.
The answer, he said, is that when there is unity, Jews do not compete for the chance to do an act of chessed / kindness. No one cares who performs the chessed, only that it gets done so that the person in need is cared for.
(Quoted in Otzrot Tzaddikei U’geonei Ha’dorot)
“He dreamt, and behold! A ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward; and behold! angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it.” (28:12)
What did this dream symbolize?
R’ Moshe ben Maimon z”l (Rambam / Maimonides; 1194-1270) writes: “Angels” is a reference to “prophets, In order to effectively teach the nation, a prophet must first “climb the ladder” to “certain known levels.” [See below.] There, the prophet obtains G-d’s teachings. Then he must come down to the people’s level, bringing G-d’s message and teachings with him.
(Moreh Nevochim Part I, Chapter 15)
What are the “certain known levels” to which Rambam refers? R’ Shem Tov ben Yosef Ibn Palquera z”l (Spain; 13th century) explains: A would-be leader needs a certain understanding of how G-d runs the world. This is why Moshe Rabbeinu requested (Shmot 33:13): “Make Your way known to me!” However, not everything that a prophet learns while climbing the “ladder” has practical value for a leader. This is why Rambam writes that a prophet must climb the ladder to “certain known levels.”
A would-be leader also must be willing to come down from the ladder. Dealing with the common man is a “descent” for a great person, but it is a sacrifice that a leader must make.
(Commentary on Moreh Nevochim)
Rabbeinu Nissim ben Reuven z”l (Barcelona, Spain; 14th century) offers a different interpretation for Yaakov’s dream: Man has two drives within him – the spiritual drive which has the potential to raise him upward, and the physical drive which has the potential to drag him downward. Of course, any thinking person wants to use his spiritual potential to its fullest and climb ever higher. One must know, however, that it is impossible to climb all the time. Inevitably, one will sometimes go up and sometimes go down. Knowing this, a person can take precautions to ensure that his “descents” will be as short as possible.
(Derashot Ha’Ran #5)
“Behold, I am with you; I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this soil; for I will not forsake you until I will have done what I have spoken to you.” (28:15)
A chassid once came to R’ Yisrael Friedman z”l (the Rizhiner Rebbe; died 1850) for advice. As he waiting his turn to see the rebbe, the rebbe’s young son, Dovid Moshe (the future Chortkover Rebbe), approached him and asked him what he wanted. “I need a yeshuah / salvation,” the chassid said.
Young Dovid Moshe replied, “I’ll wait here for you. I’d like to know what my father tells you.”
A few minutes later, the man emerged and reported, “The rebbe assured me that Hashem will help.”
“And what will be until He helps?” the boy asked.
“I really don’t know,” the man replied helplessly.
“Go back and ask my father,” instructed little Dovid Moshe. The man reentered and repeated the boy’s question. Said, the rebbe, “Hashem will also help until He helps. There is proof of this in the Torah. Hashem promised Yaakov that He would not abandon him “until I will have done what I have spoken to you.” Does this mean that Hashem will abandon Yaakov after He has fulfilled His promises? Obviously not! Rather, it means that Hashem will not refrain from caring for Yaakov even before He is ready to keep His promises to the patriarch.
(The House of Rizhin p. 403)
“And it was, when Yaakov saw Rachel, daughter of Lavan his mother’s brother, and the flock of Lavan his mother’s brother, Yaakov came forward and rolled the stone off the mouth of the well and watered the sheep of Lavan his mother’s brother.” (29:10)
Why does the Torah reiterate so many times that Lavan was the brother of Yaakov’s mother? Rabbeinu Bachya z”l (Spain; 14th century) offers several explanations:
The Torah is informing us that everything Yaakov did for the evil Lavan, he did in honor of his own mother.
Alternatively: One might have thought that Yaakov obtained the strength to lift the stone off the well because of a desire to impress Rachel, whom he was seeing for the first time. Therefore the Torah tells us that Yaakov’s actions were motivated entirely by his desire to fulfill his mother’s command that he travel to Lavan’s home.
(Commentary on the Torah)
A related halachah: If one needs a favor from another and he knows that the favor will be done for him if he mentions his own father’s name – even if he could also obtain the favor in his own merit, he should say, “Please do this for my father,” for this gives honor to his father.
(Shulchan Aruch, Y.D. 240:6)
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 Yisrael.
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 told this to a gathering of rabbis in Warsaw – to which I could not travel 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.]