Dedicated In Honor of Our Mother Esther bat Shoshana by Her Children
Parashat Vayetze Protect Your Head This week, while Yaakov was travelling to Haran, he stopped 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 also answer that Yaakov’s journey and makeshift barrier symbolizes B’nei Yisrael going into galut—exile. The most important thing that Jews must try to do during this time is protect their minds from the wicked influence of society. We must know that we as a people are kedoshim—holy. The word kadosh also implies the separation of the Jewish people from the harmful forces that surround them. Success in the Real World That night Yaakov had a dream, “That there was a ladder going from the ground up to the Heavens with angels going up and down the ladder.” One interpretation of this dream is that it represents spiritual growth, which should be done one step at a time. The ladder was rooted to the ground, but the top reached the Heavens. This shows that even though the feet of B’nei Yisrael are on the ground, their minds should be focused on Hashem and spirituality. The Baal HaTurim points out that the Hebrew word sulam—ladder has the same numeric value as the Hebrew word mamon—money. The image of the ladder was supposed to send a message to Yaakov that he was going through a major monetary 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. Yaakov was now going into the real world, one that would not be as sheltered. He was going to need to deal with Lavan, the quintessential conman. The 14 years Yaakov spent at the Yeshivah of Shem and Ever was the preparation he needed for the encounters he would experience in the home of his father in-law. Yaakov’s success in yeshivah would base how he would deal with the issue that affects many people, supporting themselves and their families. This issue can overtake a person, upset him and his spiritual goals in life. Like the ladder, there is potential for tremendous ascent and tremendous descent. When one leaves yeshivah, the spirituality gained there will prepare him for life’s struggles of challenge and adversity. If a person uses his spiritual side to cope with difficulties and grow from hard situations, then he will ascend rather than descend the ladder. 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, he can suffer serious spiritual descent. Stop Crying When Yaakov reached Lavan’s home, the first person to greet him was Rachel. 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, who would be destined for Esav, 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 from a life of sadness. About 1,000 years later, when Hashem wanted to destroy B’nei Yisrael along with the Bet Hamikdash, it’s said that all the avot went to Hashem crying and begging for mercy for the Jewish people. Their prayers were not answered. But when Rachel came to Hashem and cried, He told her, “Stop crying,” and answered her request. The reason for this was because when Rachel saw Leah’s tears when she realized she was supposed to marry Esav, she told Leah “Stop crying,” because she couldn’t bear her sister’s grief. She gave her the signs immediately, sacrificed her own well-being, and therefore, Hashem did the same for Rachel. Hashem - Our First Love “[Yaakov] loved Rachel more than Leah… Hashem saw that Leah was senu’ah—hated, so He opened her womb 29:30-31).” The Or HaChaim says that only Hashem was able to perceive that Leah was “senu’ah.” But we learn Leah never felt hated by her husband. G-d forbid that Yaakov would treat Leah any differently than he treated Rachel. Rabbi Frand comments that this emotion was so subtle, so internalized within Yaakov’s heart, that only Hashem could detect that he and Leah had an inferior relationship. We should never suspect that Yaakov Avinu was guilty of mistreating or “hating” one of his wives. The relationship between a man and wife is such that if the man loves any other woman in the world more than his wife, by definition his wife becomes a senu’ah, a “hated” woman. However, as the Or HaChaim explains, in the case of Yaakov, this was only a matter of emotion, not of action, and was only known by Hashem. Rav Schwab states that this principle may also be applied to the metaphorical marriage between the Jewish people and Hashem. If, in a marital relationship, one’s greater love for a second wife will render the first mate “hated,” then similarly, if there is something more important in a Jew’s life than Hashem, then that relegates Him into the role of the “senu’ah.” We have to be incredibly careful not to do this and to always remember that Hashem is our first love. Rachel’s Ultimate Chesed Later on, 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 some of 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!” How could Leah be so ungrateful and insensitive to accuse Rachel, saying, “You took my husband and now you also want my son’s duda’im?” 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 chesed that Rachel did for Leah. Rachel could have very easily made it a practice to remind Leah of the favor that she had done for her daily, but she didn’t. 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, but she also never even told her what she had done! Chesed Opportunities Sometimes, Hashem throws us opportunities to be a shaliach in the form of chesed, in order to fulfill a much bigger plan. Rabbi Landau had told a story about an amazing chesed that he had done. A young man called Rabbi Landau to come visit him in St. Peters hospital. He usually made rounds visiting patients in other hospitals, but he hadn’t been to St. Peters before. On his way out after visiting this man, Rabbi Landau went to the chaplain director to get his parking validated. The nun said, “Rabbi Landau, our Rabbi who visits our Jewish patients hasn’t been feeling well, so he didn’t come in in three days. Can you please visit some of these patients before you leave? They’ve been requesting a rabbi. Rabbi Landau was rushing to teach a class in Brooklyn, so he asked if he could just visit one patient today, and the rest another time. The nun was so grateful; she picked one person from her list of names- an older lady named Rose- who was due for hip surgery. The rabbi went up to Rose’s room. She greeted Rabbi Landau and they chatted for a few minutes. A doctor came in, and said, “Okay Rose, we’re ready to take you into surgery!” Rabbi Landau was the surgeon’s son’s rebbe in school, so the doctor greeted Rabbi Landau warmly. The rabbi and Rose said a few perakim of tehillim, he gave her a blessing, and while she was being wheeled out, Rose said, “Rabbi Landau, thank you so much for coming here to visit me. I am so at peace. If anything happens, know that Hashem had been so kind to me. I love my children and I had a great life.” A few days later, while in school, the surgeon’s son gave a message to Rabbi Landau from his father, saying how sorry he was that Rose had passed away in surgery. The rabbi expressed his sadness and told the boy everyone should share in semachot. Later that day, Rabbi Landau went to mincha, and he saw a few older men that were very distraught and crying out. He noticed their shirts were torn, so he approached them. “I’m so sorry for your loss; my condolences,” Rabbi Landau said. One of the men said, “Thank you. We are so upset. We were at our mother’s bedside for three full days, and when we got up to go pray, they took her into surgery, and she passed away without seeing us. She must have been so scared and so upset. We should never have left her alone!!” Rabbi Landau took a chance and said, “Was your mother’s name Rose? Over at St. Peters?” The men were shocked, “How could you possibly know?!” The rabbi reassured them, “I spoke to your mother as she was being wheeled into surgery. She was at peace, calm, and so thankful for her wonderful children.” The men started to cry again, but this time, they cried from relief. Rabbi Landau was given an opportunity to do a chesed, but it was all an unlikely chain of events that brought a family nechama when they needed it most. We have to take every opportunity Hashem gives us to do chesed, because these plans are tailor made to us, so we can be the shaliach for something amazing. 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 word hoda’ah has two meanings: admitting and giving thanks. The blessing of thanksgiving in the amidah 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.” A person’s ability to give thanks is based on his ability to admit that he is 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 are lacking. 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 challenging to thank our parents and our spouses because we need them so much, they have given us so much, and 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, like Rachel Imenu. 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. May we learn from Leah to express our thanks and give Hakarat Hatov—gratitude to those who help us, whether Hashem, our parents, our spouses, or complete strangers! Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:
Do we know of anybody who did a big chesed without the recipient knowing who helped them, or even that they were helped at all?
Yaakov’s journey and makeshift barrier around his head while he slept symbolizes B’nei Yisrael and how they must protect their minds from the wicked influence of society.
Like the ladder Yaakov saw in his dream, there is potential for tremendous ascent and tremendous descent in one’s life. When one leaves yeshivah, the spirituality gained there will prepare him for life’s struggles of challenge and adversity.
When Rachel saw Leah’s tears when she realized she was supposed to marry Esav, she told Leah “Stop crying,” because she couldn’t bear her sister’s tears and grief. Therefore, when she went to Hashem crying about the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, Hashem told Rachel, “Stop crying,” and granted her request to save B’nei Yisrael.
Because Rachel was so discreet in her generosity and kindness, Leah did not know that she was indebted to her.
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. We must learn from Leah to express Hakarat Hatov for the gifts we are given.
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