Leaving Ya'akov For Yisroel
Many are the thoughts of man, but it is the will of G-d that prevails.
At first this posuk makes it sound as if G-d is in competition with us. We
have this idea about what we want to accomplish with our lives, but He has
His plan as well. And, as Divine Providence would have it, it is His plan
that wins out. What can we do, but pray that what makes us happy is what
He wants for us as well.
Right . . .
The other alternative is what the rabbis suggest:
Make your will like His will so that His will can become your will.
(Pirkei Avos 2:4)
This means that we have to be happy with what G-d wants for us, which is
really the journey of life itself. For, unlike what most believe in the
Western world, a person's quest for happiness and fulfillment is really
what one finds when his will matches that of his Creator, who created man
to become fulfilled, but as a result of his own free-will.
That is the odyssey of life. That is the journey of the individual. Like
Ya'akov Avinu before us-Ma'aseh Avos siman l'banim-we all "go out" on a
personal path with the goal of merging our own with that of G-d. Happy is
the person who realizes early that the zigs and the zags of life are
really Hashgochah Pratis just moving us along our way to personal
completion. Fulfilled is the person who knows how to go with THIS flow,
and doesn't waste time resisting the Heavenly "hints" to grow in the
direction of personal greatness.
This approach sheds a whole new light on Ya'akov's journey. Rather than
ask the question, "How could G-d allow such a thing to happen to such a
tzaddik?" we can ask instead, "What was it that Ya'akov Avinu needed to
complete his personal journey to completion? Why did Eisav and Lavan
specifically become necessary to move Ya'akov in the direction seemed bent
on sending him?"
In other words, if becoming "Yisroel" meant reaching the merging point
between Ya'akov's plan for his life and that of G-d, then what did
Eisav "contribute" to this, and Lavan as well? They were not incidental to
his life, but part-and-parcel of it, otherwise they would never have
entered his picture. Surviving the likes of Eisav and Lavan is what made
Ya'akov a Yisroel, and given that we are on the same path, albeit in a
personalized manner, we ought to understand what it is we must gain from
interacting with the Eisavs and Lavans of history.
In other words, Eisav was the firstborn not because he happened to be born
first. Rather, he was born first so that Ya'akov could buy the right of
the firstborn from him, as opposed to inherit it for free at birth. And,
it was also a way of making sure that when it came to his father's
blessings, Ya'akov would have to dress up like Eisav and sneak the
blessing from under his father's nose to get that which was clearly meant
for him since the beginning of time, if not earlier.
Otherwise, the idea would never have come to Rivkah to do so, nor would
Ya'akov have consented to carrying out his mother's plan, or have been
successful in the end. Gam zu l'tovah-"this too is for the good"-meaning
that, whatever it is we have to go through it is not accidental, and is
meant to help us achieve a higher level of personal perfection.
Ya'akov awoke from his sleep and said, "Indeed, G-d is in this place,
yet I didn't know it." (Bereishis 28:16)
This was something Ya'akov HAD to know. It was something Ya'akov would not
have know had he not been chased by his brother out of town, and had the
sun not set early on him. He was a different man because of this
knowledge, and he turned an important corner as a result of it.
Likewise, this too he had to learn, and was sent out by G-d, that is,
Divine Providence, to learn it:
He was frightened and said, "How awesome is this place! It is none other
than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of Heaven." (Bereishis 28:17)
True, G-d could have simply told him that, and everything else for that
matter, as He does often. However, much of the time it is not only WHAT we
come to know, but HOW we come to learn it. For, a person relates to
knowledge on a much deeper level when it is gained through experience-the
more stimulating the experience, the deeper the connection is to the
Unlike computers, human beings are also about awareness; awareness is what
connects us to the source of information. For a computer, the wiring just
has to be okay, and then the technical flow of information can begin and
continue with a certain amount of perfection. Whatever flows to the memory
chip will enter and remain accessible as long as the computer functions.
For human beings, a teacher can stand at the front of a class and yell out
information, and even though the student hears him, he can still day dream
and not absorb the knowledge. Or, we can read books, our eyes scanning the
material as usual, and yet not take it in because our minds are locked on
some other more pressing matter.
Simply put, the more we are involved in the learning process, and the more
of us that is involved, the more we connect to the knowledge and the
greater the chance that it will become one with us. That's why the best
teachers are the ones who can make learning an experience in the full
sense of the term, especially when it comes to the education of young
ones, the future leaders of mankind.
Ever since the beginning of Creation, and who knows how much earlier than
that, there was meant to be a Yisroel. Yisroel is a concept that existed
long before Ya'akov Avinu was even born, but he was born to become the
human embodiment of that concept, and his life's experiences were a
Divinely-tailored path to bring him to that level of human perfection.
When the angel changed Ya'akov's name to Yisroel, and G-d later confirmed
that change at Beit El, it wasn't only because he "fought with an angel
and with man and prevailed"; it was an evaluation of Ya'akov's entire
life's journey, the climax of a ninety-nine year journey that began when
Ya'akov moved in the direction of the Bais Midrash while still in his
mother's womb, and ended when he survived the incident in Shechem, like
when Avraham was ready to slaughter his son and had to be stopped by the
G-d said, "Adam has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. Now
might stretch out his hand and also take from the Tree of Life and eat,
and live forever." (Bereishis 3:22)
If only Adam HaRishon had waited three hours before eating from the Aitz
HaDa'as Tov v'Rah. Had he waited, history and its suffering would have
been completely unnecessary, and we would have been born into Gan Aiden
instead of this spiritually limited level of reality.
And, lest one think that waiting three hours before eating from the Aitz
HaDa'as was a small tikun for the world, we have spent the last 5,766
years making amends, and we're still not there yet.
Likewise, the incredible transformation of Ya'akov to Yisroel occurred in
just over two parshios-for Ya'akov. However, it was a transformation meant
not only for our great ancestor, but for everyone of his descendants as
well until the end of history, when the process will be complete for every
remaining Jew. And, every experience we undergo on both a personal and
national level will have occurred only for this reason, no matter how
serendipitous it may appear to us.
The Torah and the history books do not portray Jewish history in this
matter. Rather, it is presented as if all that matters is being "good,"
and then we are told and bear witness to what happens to those who are
not. The element of national journey is more-or-less left out, as if it is
unimportant and perhaps, only relevant to some of the Jewish people.
In this approach, events such as the Crusades and even the Holocaust are
just terrible examples of what happens to Klal Yisroel when Creation goes
astray. But, if Jewish history has always been about the journey, then, as
the Midrash implies in many places, as hard as it is to see and
emotionally accept, even something like the Holocaust was destined to
occur as part of the building Ya'akov into Yisroel.
How? Why? These are questions that will only be fully understood in Yemos
HaMoshiach and onward. I say fully understood because even now they can be
partially understood by seeing the positive results that have occurred as
a result. Coined phrases such as "the State of Israel was built upon the
ashes of the Holocaust" are not random statements, but perceptions given
to mankind as a result of the planning of Heaven.
Not that any of us would have sacrificed six million Jews just to gain the
permission of the world to return the land of Israel back into the hands
of the Jews. Not that any of us can fathom the equation that lead to the
cause-and-effect relationship in the first place. We only know that the
correlation exists, because one led directly to the other as a matter of
Thus, we might have had Eisav to thank for forcing Ya'akov to flee from
home and in the direction of the ultimate state of being a Yisroel. And
Lavan as well, except that both of them contributed unwittingly and
certainly would not have "helped out" had they known what their evil
actions would lead to. Instead, we only have G-d to thank for using the
two of them to "guide" our ancestor on the way while he laid the spiritual
tracks that we must travel even in our own time towards personal and
Ya'akov left Be'er Sheba in the direction of Charan. He arrived and
there (Mount Moriah) because the sun had set. He took some stones from
there, put them around his head, and lay down over there. (Bereishis 28:10-
We take for granted that Eretz Yisroel is called Eretz Yisroel. We've been
using that name for so long now that it sounds to us as meaningful as
America, or England. But what if America was really called the "Land of
Washington," or "Jefferson," or after any of the founding fathers of
America? The name of the largest remaining super power today would have a
whole different meaning.
In a sense, Ya'akov was the "founding father" of Israel, and thus the land
was named for him. It is not called "Eretz Avraham," or "Eretz Yitzchak,"
or even "Eretz Avos," at least not in any official way. It is called
the "Land of Yisroel," a.k.a. Ya'akov Avinu, and the question is, why.
The answer is, there seems to be a special relationship between the third
and final Forefather and the land itself. In fact, as Chazal point out,
his lying down to sleep on Har HaBayis was not incidental, but an integral
part of his personal journey to becoming Yisroel, for he was brought back
there miraculously, and the sun was made to set early to compel him to
stay the night there.
In fact, one might ask, what is the reason for the borders of Eretz
Yisroel, seeing that they are somewhat complicated. The Arizal explains
that the borders of Eretz Yisroel resemble, of all things, a man lying
down, and that the sulam-the ladder-is not as it appears to be:
. . . Know that the "Ladder" is not physical, rather it is atmospheric. It
encompasses all of Eretz Yisroel, protecting it and preventing the
expansion of the Klipos into the Land. The width of this Ladder is four
cubits (about six feet) and its height is five hundred years. This Ladder
has many levels ascending from the earth up to the sky. Some of these
levels are internal while others are external. Anyone departing Eretz
Yisroel, as long as he hasn't gone farther than four cubits past the
border is considered as if he hasn't left at all. For, while he is within
those four cubits he is considered to be in the midst of the Ladder.
Similarly, anyone who is entering Eretz Yisroel, and hasn't entered more
than four cubits, it is as if he has not yet entered Eretz Yisroel. (Tuv
HaAretz, p. 82 )
A man lying down? A ladder that is really a border?
What really happened that fateful night that Ya'akov Avinu, pursued by his
angry twin brother, after spending fourteen years at the yeshivah of Shem
and Eiver, camped out on top of the holiest place in the world? It seems
that as Ya'akov Avinu himself lay to sleep, perchance to dream, a certain
spiritual bond was created between him and the land upon which he lay,
between him, and his descendants to come after him. It is as if the
spiritual borders of a Jew is intimately united with the spiritual AND
physical borders of Eretz Yisroel, and that somehow, the journey along the
path to Yisroel is synonymous with the return home to the land itself.
That's why the Angel of Eisav confronted Ya'akov at the border of Eretz
Yisroel. It was kind of a final stand, a last ditch effort on the angel's
part to keep Yisroel the man and Yisroel the land away from each other. It
was a tough battle, lasting the entire night, and according to the
Midrash, the entire exile of which we are still a part. And, lo and
behold, the Ya'akov we represent is still doing battle as the Sar shel
Eisav still uses every device he can too keep Jews away from the land.
Some he has assimilated into Western culture and they have no drive
whatsoever to live in Eretz Yisroel. Some he has made afraid, and some he
has convinced that other mitzvos are more pressing. In the end, we'll have
the last laugh at his expense, but in the meantime, to quote a popular
Israel phrase that has come to mean so much: chaval al ha zman.
Have a great Shabbos,
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.