After Yaakov Avinu’s nighttime fight with an angel, the Torah states, “The sun rose and shined upon him” (Bereshit 32:32). The Gemara in Chulin (91b) relates the story when Rabi Akiva went with Rabi Yehoshua and Rabban Gamliel to buy meat for the latter’s son’s wedding. Rabi Akiva asked the others, “Did the sun just shine for Yaakov? Did it not shine for everyone?” Rabbi Yitzchak explained, “The sun that set for him shined for him.” What exactly is the Gemara discussing here? Furthermore, why did the Gemara deem it necessary to include the seemingly superfluous background information of time and place?
The Menachem Tzion provides an ingenious and enlightening answer to this intriguing question. He points out a profound quality of Rabi Akiva. He calls attention to the fact that Rabi Akiva lived during the time of the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash, a time of gloom, misery, and hopelessness. Yet, Rabi Akiva, upon seeing a fox amongst the ruins of the Beit Hamikdash, started laughing, despite the mourning of his peers. He explained to them that seeing this fox confirmed one prophecy concerning the Beit Hamikdash’s destruction, so he could now be sure that the other prophecies, the promises of redemption from exile, would also be fulfilled.
These Rabbanim lived during a time of Roman oppression when Jews were persecuted and killed. Rabi Akiva could tell that Rabban Gamliel was troubled, asking himself why he should even bother to marry off his son. After all, it all might only result in him watching a grandchild die at the hands of the Roman Empire. In order to raise the spirits of Rabban Gamliel, Rabi Akiva reminded him of this Pasuk.
In last week’s Parsha, Yaakov found himself in a state of extreme troubles and difficulties. He was exhausted and stressed from fleeing his brother and surviving Lavan, while still remaining penniless. This was the setting of the sun, the dark time in the life of Yaakov Avinu. Now, however, he has built himself up, raised his family, greatly improved his financial situation, and come to a state of full spiritual health. This is what is meant by the rising of the sun. It is the daytime which eventually clears away the nighttime struggle, even though it sometimes seems like an eternity before the day shines out. Rabi Akiva was telling Rabban Gamliel that just as it had done in the past for Yaakov, the “sun” would again rise in their time of darkness and save the day.
Often we find ourselves or our colleagues in times when the sun seems to have set and life has become dark. However, one must have faith in the future rising of the sun, living life with a perseverant and positive attitude. It is equally important to keep an eye on our friends, and to be perceptive as to when they have fallen into their own personal times of darkness. We must give them reassurance and support, reminding them that they will pull through and see that shining hopeful light of day which they have been persistently working for.