Dedicated In Honor of my wife Shifra
At the end of last week’s parasha, we learned that Yaakov received the berachot from Yitzhak, and for this reason his brother Esav wanted to kill him. So his mother Rivka told Yaakov to run away to her family in Haran, to her brother Lavan’s home, until Esav would calm down.
Protect Your Head
Vayetze, this week’s parasha, begins with Yaakov on the way to Haran. Yaakov stopped off to sleep at the site of what would become the Bet Hamikdash. Before Yaakov lay down, he placed twelve stones around his head to protect himself from wild animals.
The question is asked: “How is putting twelve stones around his head going to protect him from wild animals?”
One explanation is that Yaakov had to make a minimum hishtadlut (effort) to protect himself from the animals, and not totally rely on a miracle.
Chazal says that Yaakov’s journey symbolizes Beneh Yisrael going into exile (galut). The most important thing that we as Jews must try do is protect our minds from the pernicious influence of the surrounding society. We must know that we as a people are kedoshim. The word kadosh means “holy,” and implies separation of ourselves from the harmful forces that surround us.
Success in the “Real World”
That night Yaakov has a dream: “He dreamt that there was a ladder going from the ground up to the Heavens with malachim (angels) going up and down the ladder.” One interpretation of this dream is that it symbolizes spiritual growth, which should be taken one step at a time. Also, the fact that the ladder was rooted on the ground but the top reached the Heavens symbolized that we as religious Jews should know that even though our feet are on the ground, our heads and our minds should be focused on Hashem and spirituality.
Rabbi Frand asks: “What is the significance of the ladder?” The Baal HaTurim points out that the Hebrew word for ladder has the same numeric value as the Hebrew word for money. The image of the ladder was supposed to send a message to Yaakov that he was going through a major transition. In his father’s house, he sat and learned. He established a reputation as an “ish tam yoshev ohalim — a pure man, who sits in the tents (of learning).” He had no financial worries. He lived a life devoted to spiritual growth and self-improvement but now Yaakov was going into the “real world,” one that would not be as sheltered. He was going to need to deal with Lavan, the quintessential con-man. The 14 years Yaakov spent at the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever was the preparation he needed for the encounters he would experience in the home of his father in law Lavan.
Yaakov’s success in the so called “real world” would hinge on how he would deal with the issue that continues to stay with us for most of our adult lives —that is supporting ourselves and our families. This issue can overtake a person and upset him and his spiritual goals in life. So this is precisely the reason why it’s so important that young men post high school study in Yeshivot in Israel or here in America for a year or so in order to prepare themselves for their lives ahead. It’s also why businessmen throughout our community and most orthodox jewish communities start their days by learning Torah to help them prepare for the “real world”.
Life is like this ladder: There is potential for tremendous ascent and tremendous descent. It is not inevitable that when one leaves yeshiva, everything spiritual will be “down-hill from now on.” On the contrary, a person can grow through challenge and adversity. If a person can cope with those difficulties and grow under those situations, then he can ascend rather than descend. He can rise from the ground to the heaven! If, on the other hand, he allows the challenges of earning a living to consume him, then a person can suffer serious spiritual descent.
Rachel’s Ultimate Hesed
When Yaakov reached Lavan’s home, the first person to greet him was Rachel. Yaakov immediately decided that he wanted to marry her. He made a deal with her father Lavan to work for seven years in order to marry her. Yaakov was warned about Lavan’s nature, and that he would probably try to trick him into marrying his older daughter Leah first. So Yaakov gave Rachel special signs for the wedding night to protect him from Lavan’s “bait and switch.”
When the night of the wedding arrived, Rachel felt sorry for her sister Leah, so she gave her the signs. Rachel was willing to sacrifice her love for Yaakov and her place as one of the mothers of Klal Yisrael to protect her sister Leah from the embarrassment.
To embarrass someone is a very big sin. The Ten Commandments include the injunction lo tirtzah, do not murder; but murder according to our Rabbis also refers to spiritual death. When you embarrass someone, you can see all the blood rush to their face. They have been diminished and injured on a spiritual level.
Some years later, Leah had four sons and Rachel was still childless. In perek 30 passuk 14, a strange dialogue occurs: “Reuven went out in the days of the wheat harvest; he found duda’im in the field and brought them to Leah his mother. And Rachel said to Leah, ‘Please give me some of your son’s duda’im.’” Rachel was very unhappy that she didn’t have any children, and she wanted the duda’im for fertility purposes.
But Leah replied, “Was your taking my husband insignificant? And now to take even my son’s duda’im!’” Rachel replied, “Therefore, he shall lie with you tonight in return for your son’s duda’im.”
How could Leah be so ungrateful and insensitive to accuse Rachel “You took my husband and now you also want my son’s duda’im?” If anything, Leah is the one who took Rachel’s husband!
In order for us to understand how Leah could say this to her sister Rachel, we must first realize the magnitude of the hesed that Rahel did for Leah. Rachel could have very easily made it a practice to remind Leah of the favor that she had done for her on a daily basis, but she didn’t.
An analogy to explain Rachel’s greatness would be helping a friend who doesn’t have a livelihood. So very discreetly, you help him start a business and even send customers his way. Ultimately he becomes very successful. Years later, you come on hard times and you go to that same friend for help. He says, “I’m sorry, I can't help you right now because I’m busy!” You remain silent and don’t bring up how you helped him in the past. This demonstrates the extent of the hesed, which was so complete that the friend did not even know that he was given anything.
Because Rachel was so discreet in her generosity and kindness, Leah did not know that she was indebted to her. Not only had Rachel given Leah her husband, she never even told her what she had done!
Rabbi Diamond always taught us from the halacha that the highest form of hesed is to help someone completely anonymously, without bringing any attention to yourself. This is what Rachel Imenu did for her sister Leah. Because of this merit she is remembered so dearly, as we see in the famous haftara that we say every Rosh Hashana. In Yirmiyahu, perek 31, pasuk 14, Hashem speaks to Rachel: “A voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping, Rachel weeps for her children; she refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are gone. Thus Hashem said: Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for there is reward for your action — the word of Hashem — and they will return from the enemy’s land. There is hope for your future — the word of Hashem — and your children will return to their borders.” These words from the prophet Yirmiyahu also inspired the beautiful song “Mama Rachel” by Yaakov Shweky.
There's a modern day story that touches on the attribute of hesed done anonymously as Rachel did for Leah. When Thomas Edison was a young boy his mother showed him the utmost sensitivity to bring out amazing results in her son that has benefited all of us to this very day. One day, as a small child Thomas Edison came home from school and gave a paper to his mother. He said to her “Mom my teacher gave this paper to me and told me only you are to read it. What does it say? Mom?”Her eyes welled with tears and she read the letter out loud to her child.
"Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and it doesn’t have teachers good enough to train him. Please teach him yourself at home.”
Many years after Edison’s mother died, he was going through a closet and found the folded letter that his teacher wrote to his mother when he was a child. He opened it and the message written on the letter was “Your son is mentally deficient. We can not let him attend our school. He is expelled." Edison became emotional reading it. He then wrote in his diary...Thomas Edison was a mentally deficient child, who’s mother encouraged him with her sensitivity to become the genius of the century.
We see here how a positive word of encouragement can help change someones destiny.
Say “Thank You”
The Torah continues to tell us that when Leah gave birth to her fourth son, Yehudah, she said “This time I will give thanks to G-d” (29:35). The Midrash says that Leah “acquired for herself” the attribute of giving thanks, and that her descendants continued to emulate her attribute of thanksgiving.
Rav Hutner points out that the Hebrew words for “admitting” and “giving thanks” are one and the same — hoda’ah. The blessing of thanksgiving in the Amida begins with the words modim anahnu lah. Rav Hutner says that the literal translation of these words is not “we thank You,” but rather, “we admit to You.”
Rav Hutner explains that a person’s ability to give thanks is based on his ability to admit that they are incomplete. If a person gives thanks to someone, it indicates that the other’s favors and kindness were needed. This is why it is so difficult sometimes for us to say “Thank You” — because it is difficult for us to admit that we were in need. The greater the gifts that we receive from someone, the more difficult it is to say “Thank You,” because a greater gift indicates a greater need.
It is sometimes difficult to give thanks to parents because we need them so much and they have given us so much. It is sometimes very difficult to thank our spouses because we know that we are incomplete without them. In order to say “thank you,” a person must have the ability to admit that he is less than perfect.
May we all go through life with the goal of helping our friends in need, but carefully and in the most discreet way, to avoid any embarrassment to them. May we also be sensitive to reach out to another Jew in need, even though we don’t know them, because we all come from the same family. We are all brothers and sisters in the Jewish nation.
· What challenges do we have from being in the “real world?” How can we use these as opportunities for growth?
· Do we know of anybody who did a big hesed without the recipient knowing who helped them, or even that they were helped at all?
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
Eliyahu Ben Rachel Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Sarah Bat Chanah Esther Bat Sarah
Shulamit Bat Helaina Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rafael Ben Miriam
Rav Haim Ben Rivka Moshe Ben Mazal
Yitzchak Ben Adele Avraham Ben Mazal
Chanah Bat Esthe Ovadia Ben Esther
Moshe Ben Garaz Rahamim Ben Mazal
Avraham Ben Garaz Avraham Ben Mazal
Yaakov Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Kami
Meir Ben Latifa Moshe Ben Yael
Malka Bat Garaz Mordechai Ben Rachel
Yaakov Ben Leah
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