Yaakov had every reason to be afraid. His brother Eisav wanted him dead, and judging from Eisav’s past performances, we know that Eisav was not afraid to kill (Rashi to BeReishit 25:29 s.v. VeHu Ayeif). Yet Rashi tells us at the end of last week’s Parashah (28:9 s.v. Achot Nevayot) that Yaakov stops off en route to Charan at the Beit Midrash of Sheim and Eiver for fourteen years of Torah study! It were as if he never really left his father’s side, so much so that the Torah opens this week’s Parashah by telling us, “VaYeitzei Yaakov,” “Yaakov left” (28:10), as if to say he left a second time (Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Cheilek 15, Sichah 4).
Why did Yaakov feel he needed to study Torah for so long? He certainly had no shortage of Torah in his life up to that point. At age 63, when he entered this fourteen-year period of intensive learning, he had already distinguished himself as a Torah scholar par excellence. The Torah had already informed us that Yaakov was the first full-time “Kollel man,” and the Torah rightfully accords him the title “Ish Tam Yosheiv Ohalim,” “A wholesome man, abiding in tents (of Torah study)” (25:27). Rashi comments that he was accustomed to sitting and learning in the Yeshiva of Sheim and Eiver. Furthermore, the Yalkut HaPelaot (Erech Avot) tells us, in the name of earlier Midrashic sources, that Yaakov studied 15 hours a day for a span of 15 years with both his father and grandfather. The author of Yalkut HaPelaot astutely notes that in reality Avraham and Yaakov resided in this world together only for 15 years, bringing us to the conclusion that Yaakov was studying 15 hours a day immediately after his birth! Yet this should not surprise us, as we know that Yaakov longed to study Torah (and let his mother know it) even before he exited the womb (see Rashi to 25:22 s.v. VaYitrotzetzu). (Regarding the question as to why he was not satisfied with the Torah of the Malach in vitro [as per Gemara Niddah 30a], see the Sefer Zikaron of Rav Betzalel Zolti who explains that Yaakov longed to study the Torah with his own Ameilut [diligence].) So what exactly was the sense of urgency that led Yaakov back into the Yeshiva for a fourteen year-long, sleepless (see Rashi to 28:11 s.v. VaYishkav BaMakom HaHu) study session before heading off to Lavan’s home?
Rabbi Meir Yechiel HaLeivi of Ostrovtza (1852-1928), a renowned Chassidic Rebbe and noted Talmid Chacham, explains that in the years prior to Yaakov fleeing from Eisav, Yaakov had studied how to live as a Ben Torah and an Oveid Hashem amongst his fellow Jews. Now, in preparation for arguably the greatest trial of his life, leaving Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov needed to be trained in a different type of Torah. Yaakov needed to learn how to exist as a Jew amongst the nations of the world and not be negatively influenced by their ways. Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky in his work Emet LeYaakov continues with the above theme and notes that Yaakov understood that there could be no greater role model for himself than Sheim and Eiver. After all, Sheim, the son of Noach, was a survivor of the most corrupt generation to ever inhabit this earth, the Dor HaMabul. The other great Rosh Yeshiva of the time, Eiver, was equally suited to teach such survival tactics, as he was a survivor of the Dor Haflagah. We would expect such fine mentors to give Yaakov the tools to survive, and indeed, Yaakov passed with flying colors. As Rashi notes at the beginning of Parashat VaYishlach, “Im Lavan HaRasha Garti VeTaryag Mitzvot Shamarti,” “With the wicked Lavan I resided, and I kept all 613 Mitzvot” (32:5 s.v. Garti).
The tragic events of this past week’s terrorist attack in Mumbai, India certainly serves as a harsh reminder of the danger, both spiritually and physically, that exists for the Jew in Galut. The story of innocent, caring, righteous Jews whose lives were stripped from them solely for being Jewish should leave us wondering what we as a people did to deserve such a decree from On High. Yaakov understood that the key to his survival was by questioning how to approach such a challenge strictly from a Torah perspective. We too must strengthen our resolve to Torah and recommit ourselves to Torah and its values to ensure that such a tragedy never again befalls the Jewish people. May the lessons of Yaakov inspire us to turn our anger and sadness into action and greater commitment towards Hashem, His Torah, and our fellow Jews. As such, we will not allow the lives of our brethren, Hashem Yikom Damam, to be lost in vain, and we will feel consolation through sanctifying Hashem’s name in these trying times which precede the arrival of Mashiach.