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Parashat Vayetze

Dedicated Le’ilui nishmat

Morris J. Sutton, A’H,

by Moselle and Neil Tobias.

Parashat Vayetze

Protect Your Head

After Yaakov received the bechora from Yitzchak, his brother Esav wanted to kill him. So Rivkah told Yaakov to run away to her brother Lavan in Charan until Esav calmed down. Parashat Vayetze begins with Yaakov traveling to Charan. Yaakov stopped to sleep at the site of what would become the Bet Hamikdash. Before he lay down, Yaakov placed twelve stones around his head to protect himself from wild animals. The midrash asks, 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 hishtadluteffort to protect himself from the animals, and not rely on a miracle. Chazal also answered that Yaakov’s journey and makeshift barrier symbolized a challenge B’nei Yisrael have in galutexile. Jews must try to 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 corrupt 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 numerical 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 was the base of how he would deal with the issue that affects many people, supporting themselves and their families. This issue can overtake a person and 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 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 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 well-being, and therefore, Hashem did the same for Rachel.

Rachel’s Ultimate Chessed

Later on, Leah had four sons and Rachel was still childless. In perek 30 passuk 14, a strange dialogue occurred. “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 you 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! For us to understand how Leah could say this to her sister Rachel, we must first realize the magnitude of the chessed 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! It is written in Shulchan Aruch that the highest form of chessed is helping someone anonymously, without bringing any attention. This is what Rachel Imenu did for her sister Leah.

Rabbi Mansour also cites Mashechet Pesachim (8A), which teaches that if a person says, “I will give this coin to charity so that my son will live,” he is a tzaddik gamur – an exceptionally righteous person. Shouldn’t someone who gives charity with an ulterior motive be less righteous? The commentaries explain that this is someone who gives charity and wants to ensure that the recipient will not feel any shame in accepting his donation. He, therefore, tells the pauper that he – the donor – benefits from this charitable donation, because he has a sick child who may be cured in the merit of this mitzvah.

Fortunate is the one who acts intelligently towards the poor person (Tehillim 41:2).” One who wishes to give charity intelligently will make sure the recipient will feel as though he is the giver. There is a story about a man who purchased stacks of wood and placed them on his porch in the front of his house. When he would meet a poor person, he would hire him to move the wood for him to the back of the house. When he would then upon another person in need, he would hire him to move the stacks back to the porch. In this way, he provided financial assistance to those who so desperately needed it, while preserving their dignity by having them feel that they earned the money, rather than receiving a handout.

In 1550 in Krakow, during times of poverty, there was a rich Jew named Yossele who was known as The Miser of the community. He hoarded his wealth and never gave charity. He was an outcast. Children would walk by his house and throw stones; people would ignore him as he walked past them. One day, he became ill and was on his deathbed, and the Chevra Kaddisha was notified to meet with him to discuss burial. They told him, “You’re dying, and you can’t take your money with you. Donate 1,000 rubles and we will bury you with honor and give the money to the poor, whom you’ve neglected your whole life.” Yossele replied, “I could only give 50 rubles, not more.” The people were disgusted with his behavior, telling him, “You can’t take it where you’re going. Once in your life give some money to the poor.” But Yossele insisted he could only donate 50 rubles. The Chevra Kaddisha refused to bury him, and Yossele said he will bury himself. After they left, he uttered the words, “Hashem Elokenu Hashem echad—G-d is One,” and his soul left him.

Days passed, and his body was not buried. A neighbor felt very sorry for Yossele’s wife and children, and decided he would privately bury him himself. He hauled Yossele onto his wagon, dug a grave for him near a tree outside of the cemetery, threw him in, and put dirt on him, leaving The Miser to be forgotten.

The next night, on Thursday, the Chief Rabbi of the community, Reb Kalman, answered a knock on his door. It was a poor person, asking for some money for Shabbat. The rabbi said, “Sure, but I’ve never seen you before. How did you make last Shabbat?” The poor man said, “I have never been able to make a decent living, and for 20 years, every Thursday morning, there were five rubles in an envelope on my broken doorstep, but not this morning.” Five minutes later, there was another knock at the door. Another pauper asked, “Reb Kalman, please help me, I need some money for Shabbat.” Reb Kalman replied, “I’d be glad to, but where were you last week?” And the man said, “I’ve been living here ten years and unable to make enough money for Shabbat. Every Thursday morning, there was an envelope with 2 rubles underneath my broken door, but not this morning.” Within hours, all the poor people in Krakow came to the rabbi and told the same story.

After Reb Kalman caught on that it was Yossele supporting the entire community, he asked, “How come one gets five rubles, one gets two, one gets 10? How did he know their addresses?” So he asked the paupers at his door, and one by one they told similar stories. “I knocked on his door, and he answered warmly. Yossele asked me where I’m from, how many children I had, and what I did for a living. He was attentive and kind when he asked me what I would need to tide me over for the week. He wrote everything down and thanked me for visiting. Then out of nowhere, he screamed and threw me out of his house! He told me he would never give up his precious money! I went home to my wife to tell her Yossele was a crazy and selfish miser. And that Thursday, I received five rubles on my doorstep. I had forgotten all about him.”

Reb Kalman was heartbroken. Not only did Yossele give, but he also gave like Hashem gives, without credit, in the holiest way. And they didn’t even bury him. The rabbi called for a fast day for all of Krakow. The people of the community cried and begged Yossele for forgiveness. When Reb Kalman was crying and inconsolable at the ark, he fainted, and Yossele came to him in a dream. “Reb Kalman, please tell all my brothers and sisters there is no reason to fast. This is the way I wanted it. I wanted to have the privilege to give like G-d gives—without anyone knowing. Please tell them I am in Gan Eden in the highest place. I have everything I need, but there is one thing I miss so much. I would give up Heaven for one Thursday morning, one broken door, one envelope with five rubles in honor of Shabbat.” Reb Kalman said to him, “But, tell me, Yossele, we’en't you lonely being buried there all alone?” Yossele smiled and said, “But I was not alone. Our Avot Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were there. Our Imahot were there too. Moshe Rabbenu, Aharon Hakohen, Yosef Hatzaddik, and David Hamelech walked with me, and Eliyahu Hanavi led the way with a candle to show me to my place in Gan Eden.”

This is true giving. Yossele did the ultimate chessed like Rachel Imenu, sacrificing without anyone having any idea. On his elaborate tombstone in Krakow, Reb Kalman had it engraved, saying: Here lies Yossele Hatzaddik, the Holy Miser.

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 hodaah has two meanings: admitting and giving thanks. The blessing of thanksgiving in telechdah 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 it’s Hashem, our parents, our spouses, or strangers!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Point:

· Do we know of anybody who did a big chessed without the recipient knowing who helped them, or even that they were helped at all?

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