by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"Jacob went out of Be'er Sheva, and went towards Charan." [28:10]
Why must the Torah tell us that Jacob left Be'er Sheva? Let it just say
that he went to Charan, and we will know that (obviously) he left Be'er
Sheva, where he had been living with his parents until then.
Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) explains that the departure of a holy person
has an effect on the city in which he or she lived, and this is what the
Torah is telling us. The presence of a holy scholar sets standards for a
city, and has a positive effect on those around him. Thus the city is
elevated while he is there, and then suffers as a whole when he leaves.
We have an effect on others. Our own moral conduct has an effect on our
neighbors - and having an outstanding model to emulate affects each one of
us. We cannot claim that we are completely impervious to the society around
us, nor can we claim that our own behavior has no impact on others. Those
of us who interact with others have no truly private realm, but must always
concern ourselves with how we affect those around us.
Rabbi Yissachar Frand (whose Divrei Torah appear on the RavFrand list
through Project Genesis) once asked the following question: Avraham was
also a Tzaddik, a holy person. He also moved from one city to another, most
notably when G-d told him to leave Charan and move to the land of Kena'an,
the land of Israel. Why does the Torah wait until Yaakov leaves Be'er
Sheva? Why not tell us this lesson in Parshas Lech-Lecha, when Avraham
Rav Frand answers that the fact of Avraham's impact on the people around
him was entirely obvious. Avraham was a pillar of his community. His
efforts at kindness to others, and his outreach, calling others to the
Service of G-d, were unsurpassed. No one, then, should be surprised that
the departure of this leading figure, he who went into the fiery furnace at
Ur Kasdim and emerged unscathed, would have an impact. He was always
involved with improving the moral conduct of others and spreading belief in
the one G-d, so obviously his absence was keenly felt when he departed.
Yaakov, on the other hand, represented the opposite extreme: he was a
"dweller in tents", involved primarily in his own Divine service. He sat
and studied, rather than involving himself in any sort of communal affairs.
Without question, were he living in Israel today, certain political figures
would label this father of the Jewish people a parasite and a hanger-on, a
drain on society. So this is why the Torah emphasizes that even a "Yaakov",
a person who spends his time on his own, is also helping to improve the
conduct of his neighbors. This is also considered serving the world. Not
only is he no drain on society -- he improves it, so much so that his
departure affects the entire city.
On a practical level, we need to strike a balance between worrying about
our own needs, and affecting others around us - but in either case, we
should hope to have a positive effect on our world!