Growing From Strength to Strength by Rabbi Hershel Solnica


Chazal teach us in Pirkei Avos (פרק ד' משנה כ"א) that one should view this world as a פרוזדור, a hallway, to the real world, the eternal world of Gan Eiden. We therefore must prepare ourselves to accomplish good deeds, מעשים טובים, in this world so that we'll be able to enter the real world. This vital Mussar message is even more important and should be on one's minds as one goes from one stage in life to another stage. As we consider our growth from childhood to the teenage years and then to adulthood, and eventually to becoming a mature, experienced and accomplished person, one should bear in mind that everything that happens in this world is only a step towards the real world.

This is an equally vital and basic message in terms of our faith in Hashem as we go through different moments of crisis in our lives. Our past is the inspiration for the present, and the present is the guarantee for the future. In this Parsha, Hashem says to Yaakov "הנה אנכי עמך ושמרתיך בכל אשר תלך," "Behold I am with you and I shall watch you in all that you do" (בראשית כ"ח:ט"ו). The Sefer Al HaTorah offers a sharp observation. Hashem tells Yaakov that if he keeps the אנכי"" with him, that is, if the "I" in that Posuk, referring to Hashem, is always with him, Hashem will watch over him. If one always maintains the consciousness that Hashem is constantly with him, then He will surely watch over him in the future. It is certainly this inspiration that Dovid HaMelech teaches us in Tehillim (ט"ז:ה'), saying לנגדי תמיד"שויתי ה'," "I always place Hashem near me." In many synagogues, this Posuk appears as a sign above the Aron HaKodesh. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch begins his work (סימן א' סעיף א') by citing this Posuk as a preamble to Jewish observance.

After his dream, Yaakov woke up and asked "אכן יש ה' במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי," "Hashem indeed is in this place and I did not know it" (שם פסוק ט"ז). How could Yaakov wake up and doubt the presence of Hashem in this or any other place? Perhaps Yaakov was saying that he could not appreciate Hashem's presence today, if he didn't fully appreciate all that He did for him yesterday. The opening phrase,"אכן יש ה' במקום הזה," "Hashem indeed is in this place," thus relates to the present, and the second phrase, "ואנכי לא ידעתי," "I did not know it," relates to the past. Because he did not realize that Hashem was with him in the past, he could not fully appreciate his being there in the present.We must take the past and allow it to inspire us to grow and to build. This is the meaning of going מחיל אל חיל, from strength to strength. Once Yaakov understands this, he is able to go on to build his family and the future of Klal Yisrael.

To appreciate the lessons of the past is the only hope for success in the future. One's Emunah in Hashem during the most difficult times of one's life can inspire and enable one to rejoice and appreciate everything when the sun rises and shines again in the future. One who has endured great sadness and difficulty greatly appreciates the friendship of Chaveirim, Talmidim, and family. But ultimately, one must appreciate Hashem and realize that He was always with him, even during the bad times. Only then will Hashem continue to watch over him in the future, fulfilling the promise of "ושמרתיך בכל אשר תלך." This is an important lesson for all of us.


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