A Real Home by Rabbi Yosef Adler


After Yaakov safely concludes his encounter with Eisav, the Torah states, “VaYavo Yaakov Shaleim Ir Shechem…VaYichan Et Penei HaIr,” “Yaakov arrived intact at the city of Shechem… and he camped before the city.” Ramban comments that Yaakov did not want to live as a guest or tenant in Shechem. He therefore camped outside the city until he purchased a piece of property, as the  Torah immediately states “VaYiken Et Chelkat HaSadeh,” “Yaakov acquired a part of the field.” In this respect Yaakov followed the pattern established by Avraham in purchasing Maarat HaMachpeilah for Sarah's burial, which gave him legitimate ownership of land in Eretz Yisrael.

The Gemara (Shabbat 33b) chooses to interpret the word “VaYichan” not as camping or setting  up a home , but rather as  endowing (related to the word Chein).  Yaakov endowed the residents of Shechem with certain ideals. What did Yaakov share with the people of Shechem? Three opinions are offered. One suggests "Matbeia" coins, a second suggests "Shevakim" markets, and a third possibility is Eiruv Techumin. What message is the Gemara trying to impart with us by claiming that Yaakov shared these three ideas with the people of Shechem?  The first two relate directly to the defining characteristics of Yaakov. We recite in our daily Tefilot “Titein Emet LeYaakov”-  the attribute of truth is associated with Yaakov. In commercial enterprise where the all-important dollar often drives our actions and conduct it is very easy to make a quick buck by engaging in dishonest business practices. Perhaps one's scales are not calibrated accurately and the consumer is cheated, thereby increasing the crook’s profit margin. Maybe a person waters down his product , fools the consumer and earns an extra few dollars. Yaakov demonstrated to the residents of Shechem that one can be honest in business and make a fortune as well. These values are symbolically communicated to the people of Shechem by Yaakov awarding them Matbeia, coins, and Shevakim, markets.

The third suggestion, that Yaakov shared with Shechem the idea of Eiruv Techumin, is very different. Halacha states that if one lives in an area in which residences are sparse and the gap between one residence and another exceeds 70 and 2/3 Amot (approximately 140 feet - this is commonplace in the Catskills) his mobility is limited to 2000 Amot in each direction. This is commonly known as the Techum Shabbat. If one would like to expand this distance, he can do so in one direction (to the east, west, north or south of his residence) by establishing an Eiruv Techumin prior to Shabbat. At the 2000 Amah mark from his house, the person places 2 meals-worth of food, recites the Berachah on Eiruvin  and is now granted an additional 2000 Amot from that point, thereby allowing him to walk 4000 Amot in that direction from his house. What is happening conceptually is that although the person continues to live in his actual residence, we consider his temporary abode (Makom Shevitah) to be where he placed the two meals of food, and he can therefore walk 2000 Amot from that location. Yaakov was announcing to the people of Shechem that the way he survived his years in house of Lavan was by imagining and believing that the his true home was not in Aram Naharayim but rather in Eretz Yisrael. Although he physically lived in Lavan's house, he did not consider it his true home.

All three ideas are important to us as well. Being scrupulously honest in business affairs is a supreme value of Yahadut. The Torah in Parshat Ki Teitzei promises longevity for maintaining accurate weights and measures. Although we live in Bergen, Essex, Middlesex, New York, Richmond and Rockland counties and enjoy relatively comfortable lives, let us be guided by the spirit of Eiruv Techumin and recognize that our true home is Eretz Yisrael.

Gift Giving by Dan Atwood

Learning from Lavan by Eitan Westrich