Individual Impact by Hillel Koslowe


Many of the Parashiyot in Sefer BeReishit share the theme of individuals leaving their cities. Parashat VaYeitzei begins with Ya’akov’s departure from Be’eir Sheva towards Charan. The Pasuk states “VaYeitzei Ya’akov MiBe’eir Shava VaYeilech Charanah,” “And Ya’akov left from Be’eir Shava, and he went towards Charan” (BeReishit 28:10). Earlier in Sefer BeReishit, it states “VaYeilech MiSham Yitzchak VaYichan BeNachal Gerar,” “And Yitzchak departed from there, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar” (26:17). Even earlier in the Sefer, we read of Avraham’s departure: “VaYeilech Avram Ka’asheir Dibeir Eilav Hashem”, “Avram departed as Hashem had spoken to him.” (12:4) Rashi comments on Ya’akov’s departure by asking why it is necessary for the Torah to write that Ya’akov left Be’eir Sheva and traveled to Charan. Could it not have simply written that he went to Charan? He answers by saying that the Pasuk wanted to teach that the departure of a holy person from a place makes an impression.

One can ask a simple question based on this Rashi. Avraham left where he was living and went to Egypt, and Yitzchak left his home and went to Gerar. Why does Rashi not comment on those Pesukim? Would the departure of these great Avot not have a significant impact on their cities? Why does Rashi wait until Ya’akov leaves to comment?

The Keli Yakar identifies a distinct element of this case that distinguishes it from the previous ones. He explains that by all the previous departures, there was nobody left of comparable stature in their cities. When Avraham and Sarah left to go to Egypt, nobody who remained in her city was on their spiritual level and Yitzchak had no comparable peers when he left. Therefore, the Torah does not need to say that their absence would be felt, because it is blatantly obvious. However, when Ya’akov leaves Be’eir Sheva, Yitzchak and Rivkah remained behind, and one might think that since there were other people on his level left in the city, Ya’akov’s absence would not be as acute. This is why the Torah indicates that his absence was felt by using the word “VaYeitzei”.

The Avnei Shoham gives a different answer. Avraham, who was known for his generosity, kindness, and for hosting guests, would obviously be missed. Yitzchak had dealings with many people, and was known for his weath; certainly his departure would also be felt. In Ya’akov’s case, however, the “Ish Tam Yoshev Ohalim,” a “Quiet man, living in his tents,” (25:27) who spent his time learning by himself, might not have left a large mark on his community. We might think that he was not an active member of his society. We may also think that he was not involved in Chesed, as Avraham was. Therefore, Rashi has to tell us that even Ya’akov’s departure made an impact. Even if he was not as involved in communal activities, his presence was undoubtedly felt.

There are many lessons to be learned from Rashi and his commentaries. Even if we do not think a person is an important member of the community, there is always something that that person is doing that is making a vital impression. In addition, we should also learn that no matter what situation we are in, we can always make a difference. We should not think that because we are busy, we do not have to be involved in communal activities. Just as the Avot, who were extraordinarily busy, made time for Chesed, so to, we should be able to find the time to make a positive impact on our communities.

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