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
(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."
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
(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
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.]
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