Who else then, if not Ya’akov?
… And Ya’akov went out … (Bereishis 28:10)
As Rashi points out, our memory isn’t so short that we can forget who did the leaving at the end of last week’s parsha that it has to be repeated again at the beginning of this week’s parsha. Obviously it was Ya’akov who left. Why then did the possuk emphasize the fact that Ya’akov did the leaving? Answers Rashi: to indicate that when a tzaddik leaves a town, everyone knows it, because an “impression” is left behind.
What does this mean? Does everyone in a city love the righteous person, and monitor his every move, that they know his comings and his goings? Furthermore, as we learned from the fleeing Lot (Parashas VaYairah), not everyone cherishes the presence of a tzaddik; on the contrary, some people even relish the idea that he might leave! If so, then what is Rashi alluding to?
The Talmud says of Rebi Chanina ben Dosa:
Tzaddikim, it seems, do more than just good deeds and learn a lot of Torah. In truth, much of what they accomplish is invisible to the naked eye, not because they do it secretly, but because the impact of their actions, words, and thoughts literally rectify creation. Indeed, not only do tzaddikim “fix” the world, but they act as spiritual “conduits” to draw down G-d’s light, which is the life-sustaining force of the whole world. This is why the Talmud states that in every generation there are thirty-six tzaddikim who maintain creation (Sukkos 45b)! Hence, all success in the world is rooted in the supernatural light such people draw down into creation.
The whole world is nourished because of Chanina, and for Chanina, one kav of carob is enough from erev Shabbos to erev Shabbos. (Brochos 17b)
This is why a tzaddik’s departure is felt by all, even those who are reluctant to admit it. With the tzaddik goes his influence, and a spiritual void is left which reduces the amount of brocha, and in the end, the level of success one might have been used to enjoying. This is why those who appreciate this sensitive point constantly pray for the welfare of the tzaddikim of their generation, especially when those tzaddikim ail-even if they never met them personally. After all, who knows what void will be left after they depart for their eternal reward!
This doesn’t just apply to tzaddikim of Ya’akov Avinu’s stature either; every tzaddik in his own right deserves our brocha, and our appreciation. It is in the merit of such appreciation that G-d leaves them within our “care,” so that they can continue to bring the world closer to Moshiach, and the rest of us closer to G-d.
Ya’akov’s ladder has captured the imagination of many throughout the millennia. Why did he dream about it? What does the ladder represent? What were the angels doing?
The midrash seems to indicate that the ladder symbolized Jewish history. Four angels moved on the ladder, and each one ascended and descended a specific amount of rungs, to symbolize the length of each of the four exiles Ya’akov’s children were to persevere in the future. For example, the angel representing the Babylonian Exile ascended 52 rungs before descending, indicating the 52 year Babylonian Exile; the “Median Angel” ascended 18 rungs, indicating the 18 years of exile until the Median king, and so on.
Perhaps G-d revealed this to Ya’akov at that time since he himself was entering into a personal exile. Ma’ase avos siman l’banim (the actions of the Fathers are signs for the Children) … maybe our ability to survive exile was made dependent on Ya’akov’s survival of his own exile.
As one would suspect, kabballistically, the ladder represents a very deep concept. In Ya’akov’s dream and the midrash’s interpretation of that dream, the ladder began in Be’er Sheva, reached its half-way point over the Temple Mount (Jerusalem), and entered the heavens over Beit El. However, according to the Zohar
This deserves an introduction. I have borrowed the following from what I wrote in Parashas Tetzaveh:
“And he breathed into his nostrils a living soul …” and it says, “He dreamed, and behold, a ladder … ” (Bereishis 28:2). The ladder was the Living Soul … (Rayah Mehemna, Naso 123b)
… The soul itself is no mystery to the Jewish mystic, or Kabballist, who understands not just its implicit existence, but even its make-up and how it functions. In the classic philosophical work by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (“Ramchal”), The Way of G-d, five parts of the soul are identified (see page 181). They are, Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chia, and Yechida. However, for all intents and purposes, the last two are so spiritual that we just about ignore them for now, and deal only with the first three, which in short are referred to by their acrostic, NeRuN.
The idea is, the holier and more spiritual the level of soul, the more essential it is (i.e., the closer to G-d it is, and therefore more “internal”). If you imagine your soul to be a like an onion, which consists of layer upon layer of onion, then, your Neshama would be more toward the center, and the Nefesh would be the most external part. In fact, the Neshama is called the neshama of the neshama, or, the “soul of the soul.” In a sense, the nefesh is the “clothing” for the more inner levels of soul.
… According to the rabbis, the Neshama is considered the “breath of G-d,” which is sent to us via the level called Ruach, into our bodies in order to create the reality of Nefesh. It is analogous to a glassblower who blows down a tube to fill the molten glass at the end with air to become a container. The Neshama is the “breath” of G-d, the Ruach is the “tube” through which the air is funneled, and the molten glass is our body in which the Nefesh will reside. This is what it said in Bereishis: “And he breathed into his nostrils a living soul …”
What Ya’akov dreamed of was his own soul, the base of which was the Nefesh, the top of which was his Neshama, and the ladder itself, the level called Ruach. What was the point of the dream? To show Ya’akov and the rest of us that, though, man walks the face of the earth, his soul reaches up into the heavens; though man possesses a mortal and limited body, he also houses an eternal soul that reaches far beyond that body.
Not only this, but the angels ascending and descending were to make the point that they are subordinate to our will, in a sense. They respond to our actions, words and thoughts, to build worlds and draw down G-d’s holy light based upon our actions, or the opposite, G-d forbid, when we act immorally. This is what Dovid HaMelech (King David) meant when he wrote:
G-d is your protector, G-d is your shadow at your right side … (Tehillim 121:5)
Shadow? What a strange way to refer to the Master of the Universe, to whom everything must give an accounting! However, says the Nefesh HaChaim, this idea alludes to the fact that G-d puts us in the driver’s seat, so-to-speak, and let’s us do the driving down the road of history-up until we come close to driving off the cliff. Like a shadow responds to the person’s every move, G-d responds to our every nuance.
Therefore Ya’akov’s dream and his ladder represented a challenge to Ya’akov and his descendants: Take hold of your own destiny if you dare, and responsibility for the whole world if you will-all of which will respond to your will. In the end, history will bear out just how well we have rose to meet this challenge in our own personal lives, and as a nation as whole.
As of the writing of this parsha sheet, we have entered the month of Kislev-the month of Chanukah. Coincidentally (Hey! Don’t we believe that there is not such thing as a coincidence?), there happens to be a very interesting hint to Chanukah in the parsha. From next week’s parsha we have the following possuk:
The verse refers to Ya’akov’s return to Canaan in advance of next week’s confrontation with Eisav. On his way back from Padan Aram and all his years with his uncle Lavan, he had to cross the Yavok river. Person by person, piece by piece, Ya’akov moved each from one side of the river to the other. However, nightfall caught him on the “wrong” side of the river, where he fought with the “stranger” whom the midrash identifies as Eisav’s angel. What had caused him to be there at that time? The Talmud tells us:
… Ya’akov took them and crossed them over the river and all that was with him. Ya’akov remained alone … (Bereishis 32:24)
He remained for small jars (Chullin 91a).
The midrash tells us his reward for going back for those “small jars”:
God said to Ya’akov, “For endangering yourself for a small container, I Myself will repay your children with a small container to the Chashmonaim [at the time of Chanukah].” (Midrash Tzeidah LaDerech)
What made Ya’akov so conscientious that, after a full day of traveling and moving, he went back for those little containers. The truth is, the container Ya’akov returned for was no ordinary container, nor was it empty, as the following midrash makes clear:
From where did Ya’akov get this jar? When he picked up the stones from under his head (this week’s parsha) and returned them in the morning, he found a stone that had a jar of oil in it, and he used it to pour on the top stone (of the monument he built). When it refilled itself, Ya’akov knew it was set aside for G-d. He said, “It’s not right to leave this here …” (Yalkut Reuveni, VaYishlach)
(This happened at the beginning of an exile that would last thirty-six years, the number of candles we light over the eight days of Chanukah.)
Hmmmm. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Oil that replenishes itself. In fact, the above midrash continues, this same oil lasted throughout the generations, and was even used to anoint the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in Moshe’s day … hundreds of years later, and it never lost a drop (12 log of oil, one for each of the twelve rocks he slept on)! Not only that, but the same oil pops up in a few miraculous stories in the Prophets’ time as well, and who knows where it went next?! All we know is that, during the time of the Chashmonaim, oil that should have lasted for only one day, lasted for eight days in the end!
We’ll talk more about the connection between the upcoming parshios and Chanukah in the upcoming weeks … Just remember the number thirty-six, and the Chanukah candles. (See note below.)
One of the most troubling accounts in the Chumash is Ya’akov’s initial encounter with his cousin and future wife, Rachel:
Ya’akov kissed Rachel and raised his voice and cried … (Bereishis 29:11)
What makes this so difficult to understand is that if the Forefathers kept all the mitzvos, how could Ya’akov break such an important halacha (law) as avoiding intimacy with a stranger? And how could he do so in full view of everyone else at the well?
Some say that Ya’akov, at most, gave Rachel a kiss on the head, as one relative would to another (at the time, Ya’akov was 77 years old and Rachel was 14 years old). Some say that Ya’akov, a man whom the midrash says never sinned, did not kiss her as an act of intimacy, but rather, had his mind on a far deeper, far more spiritual connection.
The truth is, if you look into the midrashim on this section, you will find that the well that Ya’akov uncovered to water Lavan’s flocks represented Torah (this is why the Fathers always met their spouses by a well, since water symbolizes Torah). Not only this, but in the previous possuk when Ya’akov “watered” Rachel’s flock, the word “vayashk” (watered) is used, which happens to be made up of the same letters as the word used for “kissed” (vayishuk); only the vowels are different. And as if that wasn’t enough to make the connection, the word “rachel” means a sheep!
Perhaps then, given this information, the possuk is telling us that Ya’akov didn’t just kiss Rachel, he “watered” her, so-to-speak, by “pouring” Torah into her. After all, he had just spent fourteen very intense years in the yeshiva of Shem and Eiver, where he had learned day and night. And Ya’akov is known in the midrashim as one who never spoke a wasted word … only words of Torah.
Furthermore, if the word “neshika” can refer to a Divine kiss (see Rashi on Devarim 34:5 and BaMidbar 20:29), that is, the infusion of G-dly “knowledge” so intense that the soul is literally “sucked” out of the body, then maybe Ya’akov, who is called “El” (one of the names used for G-d; Megillah 18a) was capable of giving such a holy kiss! Perhaps this was the kind of kiss that Ya’akov gave to Rachel that fateful day!
This would make sense given that Ya’akov was considered to have personally rectified the sin of Adam HaRishon, who, before the chet, had no innate desire or pride, at which time he did everything for the sake of Heaven. This is why the rabbis teach that it was Ya’akov’s face that appeared on the holy throne of G-d, and why it says Ya’akov never died, but went right to Gan Aiden!
No matter what you make of it, this episode represents an important turning point in Jewish history, indeed, in world history. For, it was stage one in the building of the Jewish people, and the fulfillment of a Divine plan that began before creation, approached fulfillment through Avraham and Yitzchak, and reached a climax in Ya’akov, and the birth of the Twelve Tribes.
Have a great Shabbos.
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org