A Lesson In Exile & Redemption
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Ya'akov left from Be'er Sheva and went to Charan. (Bereishis 28:10)
YA'AKOV LEFT: The Torah only had to say, "Ya'akov went to Charan."
Why did it also mention his leaving? Because when a tzaddik leaves a
place, it leaves an impression. While he is in a city, he is its
splendor and glory, and when he leaves it, so too does its splendor
and glory leave. (Rashi)
If this is true when a tzaddik only leaves in a city, how much more
so is this the case when he or she leaves the world!
Just last week, the Jewish world (and the world in general) lost one
of its foremost Gedolei HaDor, Rabbi Elazar Menachem Mann Shach,
zt"l, of B'nei Brak. Even though Rabbi Shach was reported to have
reached the age of 107 years, nevertheless his death came as a shock
for the Jewish people because of what he represented, and because it
also came on the heels of the passing of another of the Gedolei
HaDor, Rabbi Avraham Pam, zt"l, of New York.
To lose two such great rabbis in succession is overwhelming for those
who can appreciate what they mean to the world. "Tzaddik yesod olam"
=E6 We learn that the righteous person is the foundation of the world"
(Mishlei 10:25). They represent the pillars upon which the entire
world stands, and even if mankind does not recognize and acknowledge
this, Heaven does, and it is Heaven that calls the shots in history.
Though it is true that tzaddikim act as a form of atonement for the
generation that survives them (Moed Katan 28a), nevertheless the loss
leaves a gaping hole in the spiritual fabric of society, thereby
endangering the world in general. Historically, something always
seems to go wrong in a big way after the passing of a great Torah
To be a gadol hador today, especially in Eretz Yisroel, is to be
controversial. In the struggle for the future of Eretz Yisroel, and
in the broader sense, of the entire Jewish people, Gedolei HaDor are
forced to render decisions that are bound to be wrongly evaluated by
those far less learned in Torah than they are, especially when many
of those people have little or no respect for Torah in the first
place. That was true in Avraham's, Yitzchak's, and Ya'akov's time as
Sure Gedolim can become political; it is hard not to enter politics
and become that way. Unlike many politicians who are in it to
achieve political ambitions, Gedolim are there to better achieve the
master plan of creation as set forth by G-d. How that is true is not
always clear to us bystanders, but their fear of G-d is what directs
them, and our "faith in the wise men" (Emunas Chachamim) is what is
supposed to bridge the gap between our understanding of the situation
L'havdil (elef havdolos), we see the same thing with respect to
secular governments. How many politicians carry through with
campaign promises that got them elected in the first place? Was it
just that they stopped caring once they got elected? That would be
political suicide, although many short-sighted politicians have been
guilty of just that.
Usually what happens is that, after gaining office and a better
understanding of ALL the issues of office, certain promises become
unfeasible. One can assume that leaders are privy to far more
information than the average person, and it is often this extra
information that rounds out the "big picture" and results in
decisions that the man on the street can't totally fathom, providing
the leaders are honest in the first place.
How much more so is this true of the Gedolim of any particular
generation whose grasp of Torah and its immutable truths is so vast
and complete, whose fear of G-d and consequences of sin is so much
deeper than the average Jew. They see things we cannot see, and they
see things that we also see, but in ways that we cannot see.
To be a Torah giant with fear of G-d, is to be privy to all kinds of
information and insights that can result in decisions that do not
make sense to people who do not share that information and level of
fear of G-d. Furthermore, to be on such a high spiritual level and
in such a position of responsibility, means to draw down extra
Heavenly help, as the Talmud states:
. . . secrets of G-d to those who fear Him. (Shabbos 77b)
Honor of Torah today is at an all-time historical low, and therefore
respect for her followers is extremely low as well. However, that
does not reduce the size of the gaping hole left behind by the Torah
scholars that are taken from within our midst; if anything at all, it
greatly increases it.
Ya'akov loved Rachel and said, "I will work for you for seven years
for Rachel, your younger daughter." (Bereishis 29:18)
Who doesn't know the story of how Ya'akov went to work for his future
father-in-law, Lavan, to earn the right to marry Lavan's younger
daughter, Rachel? Was there anything wrong with doing this?
Seemingly not! On the contrary, Ya'akov's willingness to work so
hard for his future wife only exemplified his love for her and his
sense of self-sacrifice. The Torah certainly doesn't make a big deal
about this decision to work for his wife.
Yet, according to the Arizal, the obvious is not so obvious, as the
following piece indicates:
Ya'akov Avinu did not trust in G-d enough, as it says, "Why do you
say, O' Ya'akov, and declare, O Israel -- My way is hidden from
Hashem . . ." (Yeshayahu 40:27), for he should have trusted in Him,
as it says, "for I will not forsake you" (Bereishis 28:15). He
spent all that time in the house of the evil Lavan watching his
sheep, humbling himself before him, just to marry his daughters.
Thus, he served Lavan for the sake of a wife, as it says, "Ya'akov
served for . . . Rachel" (Bereishis 29:20). Thus, he was punished,
because "for a wife he guarded" (Hoshea 12:13). (Sha'ar HaGilgulim,
In other words, if Ya'akov was meant to marry Rachel, G-d would have
arranged it somehow, without the need to spend so much time in the
house of Lavan. Though everything seems to have worked out in the
end for Ya'akov and his new family, in truth, a tikun was still
necessary for this lack of trust in G-d at this early point of the
Jewish people's history.
According to the Zohar, the Arizal explains, when a man marries a
woman, he gives to her a part of his soul (Ruach):
Ya'akov left one Ruach in Rachel and one in Leah. The Ruach which he
left in Rachel went to Binyomin her son. This is the sod of "As her
soul was departing -- for she died . . ." (Bereishis 35:18). For,
the Ruach that he gave to her was her Nefesh, as it is known, and it
left her in order to go into Binyomin her son; therefore, Binyomin
could not be born until the Nefesh of Rachel left. However, the
Ruach that he put into Leah reincarnated into Avigayil HaNaviah, the
wife of Naval HaCarmelli. In truth, she should have been a male, but
instead, was made a female because of the sin of serving Lavan for a
wife. Therefore, the Ruach that he gave to Leah, a spark from
Ya'akov became literally, "for a wife he guarded," that is, Avigayil.
(That is, a wife that was "guarded" so that eventually she could
marry Dovid HaMelech. Her status and life's circumstances were the
direct result of Ya'akov decision to work for his wives.)
This is the sod of what Avigayil told Dovid, 'that which your
maidservant has brought (haivie) to my master' (I Shmuel 25:27). The
word "brought" is in the masculine, as opposed to 'haiviah' in the
feminine, to allude to the fact that her root was masculine and not
(That is, from Ya'akov Avinu himself, a male.)
Therefore, in Nevi'im her name is once written without a yud, to
indicate that she came from Ya'akov Avinu, who made the monument
(gall) with Lavan; hence, "Avi-gal."
(At the end of this week's parshah.)
As we have discussed, Lavan reincarnated into Naval HaCarmelli.
Since Ya'akov served Lavan, his Ruach reincarnated into Avigayil, who
was married to Naval to serve him as a wife.
In other words, the father (Lavan) became the husband (Naval) of the
woman (Avigayil) who came from the son-in-law's (Ya'akov) Ruach via
the daughter (Leah). Simple enough, no? Wait - it gets better:
After Lavan reincarnated into Naval, he still possessed an aspect of
the Original Snake. Therefore, he (Dovid) had to work hard for so
many years to guard the sheep of Lavan HaArami, until he could take
that aspect which was the Ruach that Ya'akov put into Leah, which was
Avigayil, and marry her. Dovid HaMelech himself was the gilgul of
Adam HaRishon, and therefore, he too had to remove another aspect
from Naval that was still in the hands of the snake. Therefore,
Dovid had to do as Ya'akov did, and watch the sheep of Lavan, as it
says, "They were a wall over us" (I Shmuel 25:16), until he could
What is to be gained by knowing all of this? Plenty. However, at
the very least, it reminds us once again, of how complex history
really is, and therefore, of how careful one ought to be in judging
the events of the present and past.
Ya'akov saw the face of Lavan, and behold, it was not towards him as
before. G-d said to Ya'akov, "Return to the land of your fathers and
the place of your birth, and I will be with you." (Bereishis 31:2-3)
This dvar Torah will focus on the concept of exile. The Melave
Malkah section will discuss redemption.
Forget the fact that Lavan was Ya'akov's father-in-law; he was one of
the original and most dangerous anti-Semites, as the Haggadah reminds
us: An Arami wanted to destroy our father. This is why Bilaam, the
reincarnation of Lavan, hated the Jews of his time so much as well.
Hence, because Lavan was a prototypical anti-Semite, the above posuk
is a prototype for identifying anti-Semitism early on in its
revelation, and advice as to how to respond to it. However, before
we understand this, we have to first understand the purpose of Jewish
history - from a Kabbalistic point of view.
Jewish history is about collecting sparks, Holy Sparks to be precise.
When G-d made creation, one of the primary spiritual elements He used
was Nitzutzei Kedushah - Holy Sparks - which act as the spiritual
life force for all that physically exists. For the sake of
free-will, they began in the world of spiritual impurity, and every
time a person learns Torah or performs a mitzvah, the spark is said
to be drawn out of the world of impurity and transferred to the world
Even though the sparks are spiritual entities, they are somewhat tied
to the physical reality, some being more accessible in some parts of
the world more than in others in certain time periods. G-d works all
of that out, our job only being to use the sparks available to us in
the best way whenever we can and wherever we may be at the time.
For the Jew, all of life comes down to this; everything else that
happens around us no matter how real or how serious is just the
historical vehicle to give us access to the sparks of that time.
Depending upon our willingness to "redeem" the sparks available to
us, G-d will "shape" the events of our day to allow us to get the job
In the good old days, G-d brought the sparks to us. For example,
when the Jewish people lived in Eretz Yisroel in Shlomo HaMelech's
time, gentile nations came from far and wide to see the "wise king"
and bearing wonderful gifts. Well, at least that is what THEY
thought they were; really they were "carriers" of Holy Sparks from
outside Eretz Yisroel brought to the Jewish people within their Holy
However, when the Jewish people ceased to appreciate this wonderful
Divine assistance and their role within the perfecting of creation,
G-d told them, "If you won't redeem the sparks from where you are,
then YOU go out and get them." Thus, you have the definition of
"exile" in a nutshell: Jewish redemption of Holy Sparks beyond the
borders of Eretz Yisroel, or under foreign occupation while in Eretz
The duration of any particular exile is determined by one thing and
one thing only: the Holy Sparks to be redeemed there. As long as
there are sparks to be redeemed in an exile, the exile will continue.
If there is a "golden era" for the Jews in a particular place in the
world at a particular time in history, it is because the Jewish
people have hit the climax of the spark-redemption process in that
area of the world for that era.
There is a set amount of sparks in every part of the world and as the
Jewish people reach that limit, that phase of exile comes to an end.
Not only does it come to an end, but we are even told not to return
there, as in the case of Egypt, for there is no purpose for a Jew in
a place devoid of such sparks, needing redemption.
At such a point in history, there comes the time to "move on" to
continue the work in another part of the world, if that is what G-d
determines needs to be done. In a nutshell, that is the concept of
This is the reason why the Jewish people have gone to the "four
corners of the world," in search of every last spark they are
expected to redeem before history as we know it comes to a close with
the advent of the Days of Moshiach. With nowhere else to turn to
redeem sparks, it becomes time to return home to Eretz Yisroel, once
and for all. That is the concept of "Geulah Shlaimah" - Complete or
How do we know when that is, when we can't really see the sparks
being used up, or how many are left? Like Ya'akov before us who
understood the purpose of exile more than any other Jew, we pay
attention to the attitude of the host nation of our time. When their
attitude changes towards us, even slightly for the negative, we don't
assume that it is what they had for breakfast that day or they are
having a bad day in the Stock Market. Rather, we take it as a Divine
sign that our work is coming to an end, and with it, this final stage
of exile - no matter how much we have been enjoying ourselves until
Imagine a contractor who has been hired to remodel your house. When
he begins the job, you are excited to see him show up early in the
morning, and as long as the job is in progress, you anticipate his
arrival daily. However, as the job comes to a close and the work
nears completion, you long for the time that he will no longer come
and intrude on your privacy. If he shows up after the work is
complete and he has been paid, then he becomes a nuisance and a cause
for anger, if not hostility.
Ya'akov understood, as we must too, that even though the gentile
world has free-will, the way they act towards the Jewish people is a
function of Divine Providence. As we have said previously,
anti-Semitism is a form a Divine communication between G-d and the
Jewish people, a way of telling us that in no uncertain terms, our
job in that part of the world at that time is over, and that it is
time to move on.
If, like Ya'akov, we listen to the message and take it seriously,
then everything work out well for us and the whole world. If not,
and we become like the contractor who just keeps showing up and wears
out his welcome, then Jewish history speaks for itself. It can never
just "blow over" once the sparks have been spent in that part of the
world. Since we Jews are in the business of finding and redeeming
Holy Sparks, then we'll never find business in a place where the
sparks are no more.
At this VERY late stage in history, and after having been almost
every place in the world we might be expected to go en masse, and
with the golden era seemingly ending, it is time to consider the
status of our work and to read the writing on the wall.