Parshas Vayeitzei 5757 - 1996
Outline # 11
Chodshei Hashanah Following the Weekly Parsha
After Yaakov has usurped the coveted blessings, he begins a life of trial and tribulations. Fleeing the wrath of his angry brother, he finds himself outside of the secure household he has always known. The Rabbis say that he sojourned to the ancient Academy of Shem V'eiver, and studied the traditional teachings of the early prophets. Why was it necessary for the studious Yaakov to learn under other teachers, when he had already had achieved so much in his studies under the Patriarchs Avraham and Yitzchak? Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky explained that the Academy of Shem V'eiver taught Yaakov the fundamentals of life in the "real world" -- the new life that Yaakov was about to enter (see Emes L'yaakov).
Dr. Zecharia Dor-shav told me that when his Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Hutner, made him a principal, he said, "I'm going to introduce you to my ba'alei batim (congregants) -- don't be a Tam (simple person)!" To succeed in the "real world" as an honest, hard-working and law-abiding citizen, you have to be clever. This was the Torah of the ancient Academy of Shem V'eiver: what is permitted and what is illegal in the business world, what must be done and what cannot be condoned; what efforts must be made and how not to encroach on another's property; how to avoid being taken advantage of, and yet accept one's lot and not take advantage of another.
Peaceful serenity eludes Yaakov for most of his days, as the medrash in parsha Vayeishev says: "Yaakov wanted to sit in peace -- the aggravation of Yoseif leaped upon him... 'the Holy One says -- it is not enough for the righteous that they will have the world to come, but they also want this world?' " After having suffered at the hand of his father-in-law (who cheated him for many years), witnessed the death of his wives, escaped calamity at the hands of his brother, seeing his daughter molested, Yaakov thought he could retire in peace in the Holy Land. Little did he imagine that he would still have to see Yoseif kidnapped (thought to be dead), Yehuda's two sons die, Shimon incarcerated, Binyomin taken to an unknown fate. The elderly Yaakov, severely weakened, suddenly has a flash of brief inspiration: he foresees the Temple twice destroyed, and the lengthy exile of the modern era. (Medrash Rabah, see Ramban to Genesis 43:14). With supreme faith, he sends his sons to Egypt. This is the character of Yisroel (Israel), which emerges fully as the Patriarch himself goes to Egypt with his entire lineage (see Ramban at 46:1). On the way he offers "whole-offerings" -- for this is the "wholesome" character of the Jewish People -- to accept the challenges and vicissitudes of life with wholeheartedness and courage (see Ramban ibid).
One of the great disappointments of the Patriarch's story was the mysterious incident of Reuven's disturbing his parents' family life. (See Gen. 35:22 -- the commentaries explain that it is not taken literally.) Reuven was eventually punished by losing the rights of the eldest son. The matter pained Yaakov till the end, see his final words to Reuven at 49:3-4. It once occurred to us that Reuven's attempt to disturb family life may be due to his own disturbed beginning -- his parents were married through the deception of Lavan (Yaakov's father-in-law), and Reuven was the first product of the marriage. Indeed, we found the commentary Ohr Hachayim relate the two incidents. The deception of Lavan caused a "Pizur Hakedusha" -- a fracturing of sanctity, which would result in the right of the first-born being lost from Reuven (the eldest son).
If this sounds mysterious, it is only because of the confusion of modern society in its conception of family life. Principles of love, respect and dedication of offspring are so distorted by hedonism and self-gratification, that a causal relationship between conduct of mother and father and conduct of children sounds preposterous. Sanctity is so badly fractured, that simple cause and effect no longer seems logical.
See further in Hagos B'parshios (commonly known as "Nachshoni") that Lavan excused his atrocious behavior by pinning the blame on Yaakov: Because Yaakov had deceitfully taken the right of the first-born from his brother, he deserved to marry the eldest daughter, who had been set aside for the elder son... If there is truth in this claim (see Hagos B'parshios, ibid.), then the lesson is that our actions come back to us...
The challenge of Yaakov is to root out the confusion and the fractured sanctity which is at the heart of mankind from its inception, as is indicated in the story of the forbidden fruit.
Torah says that the nations will see the wisdom of the Jewish People through the process of sanctifying the calendar. When the famous astronomer Tycho saw the calculation for the calendar, he proclaimed: "Now I know that the Jewish G-d is G-d."
Long before Einstein, the Torah regarded time as a dimension. The holy place is Jerusalem (the place of the binding of Yitzchak and Yaakov's dream), and the holy time is the seventh day. (The Shabbos is, in fact, the first mention of sanctity in the entire Torah). Rambam already explained time as a created entity, relative to the movement of physical bodies (Guide for the Perplexed). This "theory of relativity" is explicit in the early sections of the Torah, where G-d states that the sun and the moon shall be for seasons, days and years (Gen 1:14). Therefore, since our concept of time is entirely relative to the movement of sun and moon, "time" before the existence of sun and moon is only a theoretical discussion, because there could not be a similar manner to measure time.
The year as described by the Torah is essentially a lunar year, but it must be balanced by the solar year as well, so that the holidays come at the same seasons. The beginning of our discussion must start with the molad -- the complete disappearance of the moon before it begins a new cycle. Six hours later, the moon can be seen by the naked eye.
The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 25a) states that Rabban Gamliel had a tradition from his grandfather that the new moon comes at 29 days, 12 hours and 793/1080 parts of an hour after the previous new moon. That equals 29.53059 days. Rambam states that this is an average, not exact, estimation (so it is clearly indicated in the Talmud, ibid.). The Arachim (Discovery) sefer Nesivos el Hatorah, compares NASA's calculation today: 29.530588 days. The difference between our ancient Rabbis' calculation, without the advantage of instruments or computers, and NASA's, is several millionths of a day! The similarly is so striking, that the discrepancy would only amount to one day in 14,000 years...
To be continued...
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
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Text Copyright © 1997 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.
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Last Revision: January 27, 1997