Volume 31, No. 7
10 Kislev 5777
December 10, 2016
This issue of Hamaayan is dedicated in memory of Moreinu Ha’rav Gedaliah Anemer zt”l and in honor of Rebbetzin Anemer
This week’s Parashah is devoted to the twenty years that Yaakov Avinu spent tending Lavan’s sheep. Yaakov himself describes those years (Bereishit 31:40), “This is how I was: by day scorching heat consumed me, and frost by night; my sleep drifted from my eyes.”
What did Yaakov do with all of that time? Midrash Rabbah records that he recited the fifteen chapters of Tehilim that begin “Shir Ha’ma’alot,” which include verses such as (124:1-3 & 130:1), “Let Yisrael declare it now! [Had not Hashem been with us when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive. . . From the depths I called to You].” “Yisrael,” says the Midrash, refers to “Yisrael Saba” [“grandfather” or “elder”], another name for Yaakov Avinu. Another sage in the Midrash says that Yaakov recited all of Tehilim, citing the verses (24:4-7), “V’Atah Kadosh / You are the Holy One enthroned upon the praises of Yisrael! [In You our fathers trusted . . . To You they cried out . . . But I am a worm and not a man].” Again, “Yisrael” refers to “Yisrael Saba.” [“Praises” refers to all of Tehilim.]
R’ Avraham Yoffen z”l (1887-1970; Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Bet Yosef-Novardok) observes that each of the selections cited by the Midrash includes an expression of deep humility: “From the depths I called to You” and “I am a worm and not a man.” How, he asks, can such a great man, one who trustingly recites Tehilim under the worst conditions for twenty years because he knows that he is furthering a great mission–building the Jewish People, achieve such humility?
R’ Yoffen explains: Here we find the secret to being a servant of G-d. Man is “a ladder planted on the ground and its top reaching heavenward” (paraphrasing Yaakov’s dream at the beginning of our Parashah). Just as a ladder is not complete, and not even useful, if it is missing its lower rungs, so a person, no matter what heights he reaches, must not lose sight of the basics. A person who thinks that his spiritual accomplishments make him “above” working on the “little things” is sorely mistaken.
The first chapter of the classic work of Mussar, Mesilat Yesharim, begins with the words, “The foundation of Chassidut / piety and the root of complete Divine service lies in clarifying and verifying what man’s duty is in this world.” “Chassidut” / “Piety,” R’ Yoffen notes, is one of the highest levels man can achieve. On the other hand, “knowing one’s duty in this world” seems so basic. But that is the point: If one is so busy striving for lofty levels that he forgets the basics, he is like a ladder that is missing its lower rungs.
This, concludes R’ Yoffen, explains Yaakov’s attitude and behavior. Precisely because Yaakov was busy with the lofty task of building the Jewish People under the most adverse conditions, he did not lose sight of his basic obligations, his personal insignificance, or his total dependence on Hashem. Indeed, just as Yaakov Avinu recited Tehilim with this attitude, so all prayer should be with the feeling that we are reaching for a lofty and deep connection with Hashem at the same time that we recognize our own unworthiness and dependence on Him. (Ha’mussar Ve’ha’da’at)
“He dreamt, and behold! A ladder planted on the ground and its top reaching heavenward; and behold! angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it.” (28:12)
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 91a-b) relates that the Roman Emperor Antoninus commented to Rabbi Yehuda Ha’nassi (known simply as “Rebbe”), “The soul and the body can exempt themselves from punishment for man’s sins. The body can say, ‘It is the soul that sinned, for ever since it left me, I have not moved.’ The soul can say, ‘It is the body that sinned, for ever since I left it, I float in the air like a bird [and do not sin]’.”
Rebbe replied: “I will answer with a parable. A king had a beautiful orchard and he placed two guards there, one lame and one blind. The lame one said to the blind one, ‘I see beautiful fruits. Place me on your shoulders and I will pick them for us.’ And so they did. Eventually, the owner returned and saw that his fruits were missing. ‘Where are my fruits?’ he asked. The blind man replied, ‘Could I have seen them?’ The lame man replied, ‘Could I have gone to get them?’ What did the king do? He placed the lame man on the blind man’s shoulders and punished them together. Similarly,” Rebbe concluded, “Hashem will return the soul to the body and punish them together.” [Until here from the Gemara]
R’ Zalman Yaakov Friederman z”l (1850’s-1935; rabbi in Boston beginning in 1893) writes: This parable is perplexing. Among other questions, why would a king appoint a lame man and a blind man as watchmen? Couldn’t a king find someone better?
He explains: Man is made up of a soul that comes from a lofty source in Heaven and a body that is made up of earthly materials. Considering its source, the soul might naturally be haughty, so the body’s function is to humble it. The body, on the other hand, might naturally be too self-deprecating, given its source; therefore, the soul’s function is to uplift the body.
This, R’ Friederman continues, is the message of our verse. Man is a ladder. One end (the body) is on the ground and the other (the soul) is high up. The interesting thing about a basic ladder is that it works just as well whether it is placed right-side-up or upside-down. Sometimes, man needs to turn himself upside down, lowering what is high or raising what is low.
This what the lame man and the blind man in the parable represent. Of course the king did not place them in the orchard to guard the fruit. They were not capable of that, and he did not need guards like them for that purpose. Rather, he placed them in the orchard to help and to guard each other. So, too, G-d created the body and the soul and brought them together to help and guard each other. If they succeed, they are rewarded together, and if they fail, they are punished together. (Minchat Yaakov)
“Yaakov loved Rachel, so he said, ‘I will work for you seven years, for Rachel your younger daughter’.” (29:18)
Why seven years? asks the Zohar. Why not ten months or a year? The Zohar answers: Yaakov behaved wisely, so that no one should interpret his attraction to Rachel as a physical one.
R’ Chaim Zaitchik z”l (1906-1989; Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Bet Yosef-Novardok in Buczacz, Ukraine; later in Israel) comments: A seven-year-long engagement is something that only a person who is like an angel could withstand. This tells us who Yaakov Avinu was. Similarly, we see who Yaakov was from the comment that Rashi z”l makes on the verse (29:11), “Yaakov kissed Rachel; and he raised his voice and wept.” Rashi explains: “He wept because he foresaw with Ruach Ha’kodesh that she would not be buried with him in the Me’arat Ha’machpelah.” Only a person whose focus is on eternity thinks such thoughts when he meets his future wife for the first time, notes R’ Zaitchik. (Ma’ayanei Ha’chaim)
A Torah Tour of the Holy Land
R’ Menachem Hakohen Risikoff z”l (1866–1960; rabbi in Russia and, beginning in 1906, in New York) writes: In Halachah, the Bet Ha’mikdash / Temple is considered holier than the Mishkan / Tabernacle that Bnei Yisrael used during their travels in the desert. Why is that so? After all, the Mishkan was built by Moshe Rabbeinu; the Bet Hamikdash was not! The Mishkan was anointed with Shemen Ha’mishchah / Anointing Oil; the Bet Hamikdash was not! Moshe Rabbeinu himself served as Kohen Gadol in the Mishkan during its seven days of dedication, and then he was succeeeded by his brother Aharon; neither of them served in the Bet Ha’mikdash!
The reason for the greater holiness of the Bet Ha’mikdash compared to the Mishkan, R’ Risikoff explains, is that the latter was built because Moshe asked for it, while the former was part of Hashem’s plan even before He created the world. Specifically, Moshe asked that Hashem dwell among Bnei Yisrael as a sign that He had forgiven them for the sin of the golden calf, and the command to build the Mishkan was Hashem’s response. In contrast, the command to build the Bet Ha’mikdash followed directly from the reason why Hashem created the world: because He wants to reveal Himself to His creations; to, so-to-speak, dwell in the lower realms.
In addition, R’ Risikoff writes, our Sages teach that the Bet Ha’mikdash stands at the place where the creation of the earth began, and from there the earth expanded until it reached its present form. (Torat Ha’kohanim Va’avodat Bet Ha’mikdash Ve’ha’korbanot ch.1)
From the same work:
Our Sages say that, after Bnei Yisrael settled Eretz Yisrael, the Mishkan that Moshe built stood in the city of Shiloh for “370 years, less one year.” R’ Mordechai Ostrovsky z”l (1884-1966; rabbi of the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Yerushalayim) observes that this is alluded to in the verse (Tehilim 78:60), “He abandoned the Tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent where ‘shikain’ / He dwelled among men.” The Gematria of ‘shikain’ (shin-kaf-nun) is 370.