As Ya’akov begins his trek to Charan we are told “VaYishkav BaMakom HaHu,” “He [Ya’akov] slept in that location” (BeReishit 28:11). Rashi comments that, though he slept at that location, for the previous fourteen years he hardly slept as he was fully immersed in Torah study in the Yeshivah of Sheim VeEiver. Ya’akov had been devoted to Torah study even early on in life as the Torah states “VeYa’akov Ish Tam Yosheiv Ohalim,” “And Ya’akov was a quiet man who dwelled in tents [Rashi: studied Torah]” (BeReishit 25:27). That being the case, what was so unique about the Yeshivah of Sheim VeEiver that Ya’akov went there to study?
Yeshivot, schools of study, thrived during the times of Avraham. Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:3) states that Avraham travelled from community to community and attracted tens of thousands of students to his academy. He operated with the philosophy of “Potzu Ma’ayanotayich Chutzah,” “May your wells overflow,” representing Avraham’s desire to influence the lives of all he encountered. He understood that in order to prevent a repeat of the Mabul he must make an effort to leave the confines of his tent and reach as many people as possible.
Sheim VeEiver had a different philosophy. Shem lived during the flood and was one of the eight people who survived it. Eiver lived during the Dor Haphlagah, the generation of dispersal. They witnessed conditions described by the Torah as “VaTimaleh HaAretz Chamas,” “And the land was filled with hatred” (BeReishit 6:11) and “VeChol Yeitzer Machshevot Libo Rak Rah KolHaYom,” “And all his [mankind’s] thoughts are only evil, all the time” (BeReishit 6:5). People at that time were totally corrupt. Sheim and Eiver recognized that in order to survive such an environment, isolation was a better than risking getting swept into the tide of immorality so persuasive at that time.
Ya’akov is on his way to spend over twenty years in the house of Lavan; the same Lavan who is characterized in our Haggadah as “Lavan Bikeish LaAkor Et HaKol,” “Lavan sought to destroy everything [Jewish].” In order to assure that he spiritually survive that ordeal “Im Lavan Garti VeTARYAG Mitzvot Shamarti,” “I [Ya’akov] lived with Lavan yet I kept all six hundred thirteen (TARYAG) Mitzvot,” Ya’akov felt the environment of a Yeshivah of Shem VeEiver would be necessary.
Sheim and Eiver’s dilemma is one we face all the time. While closing ranks safe in our shuttered ghettos has its time and place, making an attempt to interact with the elements of the world and trying to impact its behavior certainly has its merits as well. Hopefully, we can forge the appropriate balance as Ya’akov ultimately did: “VaYavo Ya’akov Shalem,” “And Ya’akov arrived complete” (BeReishit 33:18).