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This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat VaYeitzei

7 Kislev 5768

November 17, 2007

Vol.17 No.10

In This Issue:

It's All in Your Head

by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein

This week's Parasha begins with Yaakov's famous revelation depicting angels ascending and descending a ladder reaching the heavens. Rashi explains that the ascending angels escorted Yaakov in Eretz Yisrael, but when he left, the descending angels accompanied him. Apparently, Rashi believes that Eretz Yisrael's angels operate only while they are within its borders, and the new team of angels had to take over in Chutz LaAretz. If Yaakov's absconding from Israel necessitated this swap, it should take place as Yaakov crossed over Israel's border. However, according to Rashi, Yaakov slept in Yerushalayim, far from the border, so why does the swap occurring at this seemingly improper point?

Rabbi Isaac Bernstein suggests that although Yaakov still rested in Eretz Yisrael's heart, his thoughts and focus turned towards life in Galut, the exile. Rabbi Bernstein explains that when determining a human's location, one must consider his heart and mind's setting in addition to his physical locale. Yaakov had left Eretz Yisrael emotionally; therefore, the replacement of the old angels was required. Any teacher can attest to the truth of Rabbi Bernstein's suggestion; the consistently quoted phrase describing the brouhaha of the last few minutes of class or the last day before summer vacation is, "The students were already out the door."

This idea is reminiscent of Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi's famous quote describing life in the Diaspora, "Libi BaMizrach VaAni BeSof Maarav," "My heart is in Yerushalayim although I am living physically in the farthest throes of the west."

A friend of mine told me that his father would spend Shabbat, in a concentration camp during the Shoah, singing familiar Zemirot and mentally reviewing the laws of Shabbat. I realized, after hearing this story, that while the Nazis physically stole his Shabbat, they could not prevent him from celebrating Shabbat in his heart and mind, a poignant example of how our thoughts and emotions gage our hopes and aspirations.

Indeed, there are times when reality prevents us from physically achieving goals we want to accomplish, like when we are stuck at work but would rather be with our families, or when we want to give more Tzedakah but our financial resources prevent us. At these times, our thoughts and feelings indicate our real nature.

Rapid Response

by Nachi Farkas

In this week's Parasha, Reuven goes out into the fields and finds some Dudaim, a form of flower whose identity is unclear. Rachel then makes a deal with Leah: in exchange for the Dudaim, Leah would get to spend the night with Yaakov. Why is this entire story important in the context of the birth of the tribes?

The Ibn Ezra suggests that the Dudaim were a known fertility aid, which is why Rachel wanted them. There is a problem with this opinion: if she wanted to have children, why did she sacrifice her husband, who was the real source of children, for a fertility aid?

The Ramban maintains that the Dudaim were not fertility stimuli, but rather fragrant flowers or fruits that were pleasing to Rachel. It is clear that Rachel was not using a fertility aid from the fact that when she did give birth, the Torah states "VaYishma Eileha," "He (Hashem) listened to her," connoting that the birth was caused by her prayer, not by natural means. The problem still remains, though: why did she give up a night with Yaakov for the sake of some aromatic flowers?

The Seforno comments that this transaction showed how much Rachel really wanted to have children. There is a concept that words are not enough; action must be taken to demonstrate sincerity. When Rachel sacrificed her night with Yaakov, she showed how badly she wanted to have children. All she had to do to get them was to give up one night. On the other hand, Chazal say that this thought process was wrong and showed a lack of respect for the righteousness of Yaakov, causing her to be buried apart from Yaakov.

If, as the Seforno suggests, Rachel merited having children by taking a concrete action, why is there an interlude between this transaction and that of Rachel finally giving birth? Perhaps the interlude, depicting Leah having kids as a result of the night she spent with Yaakov, demonstrates an important lesson in Tefillah and Chesed. The Gemara (Bava Kamma 92a) states that one who davens for others who have the same troubles as he does will be answered first. Also, the Parasha discusses how Yaakov's two wives prayed and were rewarded with kids. When Leah gave the Dudaim to Rachel, she demonstrated a Chesed. By giving Rachel something that she could have used herself in order to have more kids, she showed self-sacrifice and put Rachel ahead of herself. This sacrifice led Hashem to answer her prayers first, giving her kids, and then answering Rachel's by giving her kids. Even more astonishing is that Leah conceived on the first night; the one for which she traded her Dudaim.

This entire episode has great ramifications. When one selflessly puts another in front of himself, even sustaining a loss as a result, Hashem rewards him by answering his prayers speedily.

Equality and Justice for All

by Doniel Sherman

There is something about the nature of mankind that causes people to have trouble coexisting. Slavery, the practice of subjecting a person on the basis of inferiority, is one of the earliest, most despicable examples of this inability to coexist. But inequality did not end when slavery was abolished, as racism and other forms of discrimination unfortunately are still prevalent. In this week's Parasha, Yaakov had difficulty balancing his relationship with his two wives who should have been equal, but, in reality, were treated quite differently.

After fleeing from Eisav's wrath, Yaakov went to his uncle Lavan's house to seek refuge, and he met his first cousin Rachel, with whom he fell in love. Yaakov asked Lavan to give him Rachel's hand in marriage, and while Lavan orally consented, he tricked Yaakov by underhandedly giving Leah to him instead, a switch that Yaakov did not realize until the morning after the marriage. When he recognized the betrayal, Yaakov demanded Rachel's hand in marriage. Lavan agreed, and Yaakov was wed to Rachel eight days later.

Unfortunately, Rachel and Leah's relationship became wrought with strife as they both fought for their husband's affections. The first Pasuk after Yaakov is married to Leah and Rachel states, "VaYeAhav Gam Et Rachel MiLeah," "And [Yaakov] loved Rachel more than Leah" (Bereishit 29:30). As soon as Yaakov was married, he treated his wives unequally. Hashem instantly responded to this injustice by giving Leah sons while withholding children from Rachel, as the Pasuk relates, "VaYar Hashem Ki Senuah Leah VaYiftach Et Rachmah VeRachel Akarah," "And Hashem saw that Leah was hated, and He opened her womb, and Rachel was barren" (29:31). However, Hashem's gift to Leah did little to alleviate the tension in the household, as evidenced by the names of Leah's sons. Leah called her first son Reuven, because "Raah Hashem BeOnyi Ki Atah YeEhevani Ishi," "Hashem saw my affliction and now my husband will love me" (31:32). This Pasuk clearly demonstrates Yaakov's lack of love for Leah and Leah's great desire to be loved by Yaakov. Yet when Leah's next son was born, she named him similarly, indicating that not only did she not receive the love she hoped for, but also she gave up on the idea of being loved by Yaakov. She named the second son Shimon because "Shamah Hashem Ki Senuah Anochi," "Hashem has heard that I am hated" (29:33). Yaakov still didn't love Leah, and Leah didn't express any expectation of love from Yaakov. The status quo between Leah and Yaakov remained the same through the birth of her third son Levi, as he was named as such because, "Atah HaPaam Yilaveh Ishi Eilai Ki Yaladti Lo Sheloshah Vanim," "Now my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons" (29:34). Leah fully expected, after delivering her third son, to be accepted as an equal into the household, but it is important to note that she makes no mention of being loved here as she did at Reuven's naming. By this point, she had given up entirely on the idea that Yaakov would love her, and she wished only to be treated equally. But even this desire was not realized, as evidenced by her choice to name her fourth son Yehudah, because "HaPaam Odeh Et Hashem," "This time I will praise Hashem" (29:35). After her fourth son, Leah already had given up hope that she would even be accepted into Yaakov's household as an equal, and therefore named her son after HaKadosh Baruch Hu instead of some form of desire to join with Yaakov. Things hit rock-bottom for Leah after the birth of Yehudah, causing her to take a break from having children.

Leah remained dormant until the incident of the Dudaim, when Reuven went out and collected Dudaim for Leah, whereupon Rachel asked Leah if she could have some of the Dudaim. Leah responded, "You took my husband, now will you take my Dudaim?" Rachel replied that, "In exchange for your Dudaim, you can sleep with Yaakov tonight" (30:15). This interaction signifies a change between Rachel and Leah, as this is the first time the Torah records a discussion between the two. They have begun to communicate and repair the dysfunction within their family, as Leah finally tells Rachel her feelings about her exclusion from the family and Rachel responds with sympathy. Soon after, Leah bears two children; the second of these two sons, Zevulun, is given his name because "Now my husband will dwell with me" (30:20). A change of the emotions between Leah, Rachel, and Yaakov clearly occurred, leading to more equality between them all, as Leah effectively was readmitted into the family. Such kindness and harmony was duly repaid, as Rachel immediately was granted the ability to have a son.

This story teaches us the importance of equality. All people, regardless of their status in life, deserve equal respect. Yaakov learned this lesson the hard way, as there was a great deal of internal strife within his household, exemplified by the names Leah gave her first four sons. As soon as the situation was rectified and everybody was treated equally, Rachel, the superior wife, was given what she perpetually had desired: a son. May we all merit the ability to treat others equally and give them the respect they deserve, unifying Am Yisrael and hopefully bringing the Geulah speedily in our days.

The Avot's Prayers

by Dani Yaros

While describing Yaakov's flight from his hostile brother, Eisav, the Torah states, "VaYifga BaMakom VaYalen Sham Ki Va HaShemesh," literally translated as, "He (Yaakov) met the place (Har HaMoriyah) and he slept there because the sun had set" (Bereishit 28:11). Rashi, however, quotes the Gemara in Berachot (26b), which says that the word "VaYifga" also connotes Tefillah, prayer. The Gemara learns from here that Yaakov instituted the nightly Maariv prayer. Previously, the same Gemara derived from "Asheir Amad Sham," (19:27) that Avraham instituted Shacharit, the morning prayer, and from the words in "LaSuach BaSadeh," (24:63) that Yitzchak invented Minchah, the afternoon prayer. This Gemara is difficult. How do Chazal see that these words connote prayer? Certainly it is a nice idea to suggest that the Avot came up with our Tefillah structure, but these arguments do not seem to have any thematic basis (they learn from Pesukim). Nonetheless, my Rebbe, Rabbi Jachter, often likes to say that Chazal did not just randomly come up with Derashot on Chumash while sitting on a beach chair relaxing; rather, these Derashot came about through a real understanding of the Torah's words. From where, do Chazal learn these particular Derashot?

Shacharit is recited in the morning as the sun is rising. The shining sun represents confidence, hope, and the arrival of good times. For example, while trying to portray a dangerous and scary scene, very rarely does a movie director make the setting a very sunny, warm day outside. Rather, he sets a dark, rainy scene. In the Torah, Shacharit is connected to a positive, hope-filled time in Avraham's life, to reflect in Shacharit positive feelings and hope. After leaving Charan and arriving in Eretz Yisrael in Parashat Lech Lecha, Avraham faces few physical hardships. He is respected by kings such as Avimelech and is very successful in his endeavors, which include defeating the four kings as well as bringing people closer to Hashem. The one time that Avraham faces hardship after arriving in Eretz Yisrael occurs in Egypt with Paroh, an incident that did not take place within the confines of Eretz Yisrael. In fact, the Ramban feels that it was a mistake for Avraham to descend to Mitzrayim. Furthermore, Avraham represented the future hopes of Klal Yisrael as a nation led by Hashem. This generally cheerful time in Avraham's life and its significance portray the deeper meaning behind Shacharit; it is therefore quite apt for Avraham to have created the prayer of Shacharit.

Minchah, has much in common with Yitzchak's personality. It is often pointed out that it is difficult to find time to daven Minchah. Shacharit is said early in the morning before the day really has begun, while Maariv is said after one's hectic day is over. Yet Minchah is right in the middle of the day, when one often has many other responsibilities to attend to. Nonetheless, Chazal insist that one stop working and daven Minchah. In fact, it takes a lot of strength and self discipline to recite Minchah on a regular basis, as often it severely interrupts one's schedule. How is this related to Yitzchak? Chazal teach us that Yitzchak represented the trait of "Gevurah," strength. Only a Gibor, a strong person, could have instituted Minchah as a prayer to be said on a regular basis. Once again, it is apparent why Chazal determined that it must have been Yitzchak who first said Minchah; Minchah is a perfect representation of Yitzchak's personality.

Finally, when night comes, one is required to daven Maariv. In Kabbalistic sources, the night is often said to contain evil spiritual forces. Certainly, the night represents uncertainty because of the basic fact that it is hard to see where one is going at night. This uncertainty represents Yaakov's life. As he instituted this prayer, Yaakov was about to embark on a twenty-year journey that would take him away from his spiritual family and Yeshiva, where he had spent the first 84 years of his life, to a contaminated Chutz LaAretz, where he would encounter his sneaky and devious father-in-law, Lavan. Yaakov often would not be able to determine what was in front of him and what tricks Lavan was scheming. Maariv represents praying to Hashem even when times are bleak and uncertain. Therefore, it was only proper that Yaakov institute this prayer, as hard, testing times represented his life, just as it represents one main theme of the Maariv prayer.

It is apparent why Chazal determined that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov came up with Shacharit, Minchah, and Maariv, respectively. These prayers represent the lives and essences of each of our forefathers. Chazal's statements clearly were not stated on pure whim, but rather were deeply rooted in the Torah's portrayal of the Avot.

-Adapted from a Dvar Torah in Thinking Outside the Box, by Yochanan Kirshblum

Staff at time of publication:

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