Spreading the Word
Ya’akov left Be’er Sheva in the direction of Charan. (Bereishis 24:62-63)
It was our first exile, not yet as a people, but since “the actions of the
fathers are signs for the children,” it could easily have been. Like his
father, and his father before him, everything Ya’akov Avinu did was on
behalf of the nation he would eventually father. Whatever we have undergone
as a people is rooted in what happened to our father, Ya’akov.
The amazing thing is how Ya’akov’s exile began, and what caused it. As the
Torah testifies, until his mother called him in to imitate Eisav and dupe
his father into blessing him instead, Ya’akov Avinu sat in the tents of
Torah study day and night, minding his own business. He only left the Bais
Midrash to perform this remarkable act of deception that permanently changed
his history for the worse, earning the eternal wrath of Eisav in the
process, to honor the command of his mother.
Likewise, he only left home at her behest and his father’s agreement, and
for no personal reason at all. They sent him away from Eisav and to the evil
Lavan’s house, where he worked hard to build the foundation of the Jewish
nation. And yet, as Rashi points out at the end of last week’s parshah, he
is held accountable for the 22 years he spent in Padam Aram during which
time he could not honor his father and mother.
But he was there in the first place to honor his father and mother! Even
when he spent six extra years accumulating wealth for himself after working
the 14 years to marry Rachel and Leah, you can be sure it wasn’t wealth for
wealth’s sake. We are taught over and over again how everything Ya’akov did,
even when it seemed like he was doing it for himself, was really for the
future of the Jewish people. If anyone epitomized the idea of doing
everything for God’s sake, it was him, and therefore, if anyone deserved a
peaceful life, it was Ya’akov Avinu.
Yet, by the time he stands before Pharaoh at the age of 130, he is a worn
man, so-much-so that Pharaoh is compelled to ask his age. Understanding what
was at the root of the King of Egypt’s question, he told him, “If you had to
live through what I have gone through, you’d look worse!”
Hence, if anyone had justification to complain, it was Ya’akov Avinu. And
yet, we are told, that he was punished for doing so. All he wanted to do was
learn Torah and perform mitzvos, and yet Divine Providence sent him down
another path which made doing so very difficult, and even though he survived
all of it with flying colors, he is held accountable for the minuscule
things he didn’t.
What did this mean for Ya’akov Avinu, and by extension, what does it mean
for us? The answer, for many, might be hard to swallow, which is one of the
main reasons why we are still in exile to this very day.
The Kabbalah behind this answer is in another weekly parshah sheet that I
send out called “Deeper Perceptions,” which I mention here only so that
readers will understand there is more to this story than will meet the eye
in this week’s Perceptions.
In next week’s parshah, Ya’akov’s family will meet with catastrophe when
Shechem ben Chamor will kidnap Dinah, Ya’akov’s daughter, and violate her.
Then he will insist on keeping her and marrying into the family, contrary to
everything Ya’akov’s family had built up and were destined to accomplish.
To make matters worse, this will happen after Ya’akov Avinu will have
successfully overcome the Angel of Eisav and become “Yisroel,” after which
he survived his vengeful brother, Eisav, not to mention his evil
father-in-law, Lavan. By the time he arrived in Shechem, he probably had
thought he had gone through all he had to in order to fulfill his destiny.
Boy, had he been wrong!
Hence, the rabbis struggled to find a reason for all of this, something
Ya’akov Avinu must have done to warrant such heavy Divine retribution. Their
answer: When Ya’akov and Eisav met, he hid Dinah from him so that Eisav
would not see her and want to marry her. Had he allowed that to happen,
perhaps Dinah would have been able to do a little outreach on Eisav and
bring him back from the dark side.
That’s funny, because the rest of Jewish parents throughout history have
been told to keep their children away from bad influences, and we pay
shadchanim good money to try and limit the possibilities of a “bad”
shidduch. Because Ya’akov Avinu protected his daughter from a known felon he
was punished by losing her to another one? Would Eisav have even listened to
her had she married him and tried?
Perhaps not. However, apparently, for us, that is not the issue, as the
[At the time of the destruction of the First Temple] The Holy One, Blessed
is He, told Gavriel, “Go and make a mark of ink upon the foreheads of the
righteous so that the Damaging Angel cannot harm them, and a mark of blood
on the foreheads of the evil so that the Damaging Angel can harm them.”
The Trait of Judgment said before The Holy One, Blessed is He, “Master of
the Universe, What difference is there between the two?”
He told her, “These were completely righteous, and these were completely evil.”
She said before Him, “Master of the Universe, They (the righteous) could
have protested, and yet didn’t?”
He answered her, “It is revealed and known before Me that had they
protested, they would not have been listened to!”
She answered Him, “To you it was revealed . . . but who revealed it to
them?!” (Shabbos 55a)
In other words, our job is to try and teach people about mitzvos and help
them return back to Torah. We can have our doubts about our chances of
success, but that is between us and God; between us and our fellow Jews, we
have to give it the best shot we can, especially if we don’t want to be
swallowed up by Divine wrath when God finally lowers the boom on a generation.
Apparently, Ya’akov Avinu had given up on his brother Eisav, and
understandably so, from our point of view. However, from God’s perspective,
it seems, he should have kept trying anyhow, especially in the early years.
After all, Yitzchak, their father, still saw in Eisav the potential to be a
Dovid HaMelech, and as Rav Dessler says in Michtav E’Eliyahu, he really
should have been the fourth Forefather.
After all, success in outreach is purely a miracle, especially when you
consider what some potential ba’alei teshuvah are up against—Western
Society, family pressure, economic goals, etc.—and this is Lesson #1 for
anyone planning to go into outreach. The best we can do is abandon ourselves
to the will of God so that He can work His magic through us.
Just think about it. Had Ya’akov Avinu influenced his brother even just a
little bit, perhaps he would have remained worthy of the right of the
firstborn. And, had he remained worthy of the firstborn, perhaps he would
have become fitting to receive his blessings, which would have finished the
job and transformed him into an earlier version of Dovid HaMelech (red,
ruddy, killing with his hands, etc.).
Had this been the case, then Ya’akov Avinu could have remained in his tents
of study while Eisav ran the nation. And, rather than be forced to flee to
Padan Aram to find a wife, someone could have gone for him, as Eliezer had
done for Ya’akov’s father, Yitzchak, sparing him the need to go into exile
at all and allowing him to honor his father and mother in person, as Eisav
did the 22 years Ya’akov was away.
As it says:
I am God; I called you for righteousness and I will strengthen your hand;
and I formed you, and I made you for a people’s covenant, for a light to
nations. (Yeshayahu 42:6)
As history has shown, if we don’t fulfill that destiny, no one else will. If
we don’t positively influence the nations of the world, they will not figure
out for themselves what Creation is about. Worst yet, they will become
abusive and that always bodes poorly for the Jewish people, and has resulted
in thousands of years of exile.
Hence, when the Torah tells us in last week’s parshah that Ya’akov dwelled
in the tents of Torah study, perhaps it isn’t meant only as a praise. Maybe
it is also alluding to why Ya’akov Avinu had to undergo all that he did,
earning the wrath of his brothers and having to live in exile for 36 years,
all the while dealing with the lowest elements of society.
If so, then the story of Ya’akov Avinu is also a very important warning to
those of us for whom Torah learning is top priority. Yes, we should do
whatever we must to protect Torah and to learn it every chance we can,
making sure that it survives forever (which it will anyhow). It is what we
are all about as a people.
However, if we allow our devotion to Torah to completely sever us from the
world around us, denying the rest of our people and the nations of the world
the opportunity to know what God really thinks about Creation and man, then
we will pay the price in the long run. We HAVE paid the price in the long run.
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.