When You Luz, You Lose! by Dr. Joel M. Berman


“VaYechi Ya’akov BeEretz Mitzrayim Sheva Esrei Shanah,” “Ya’akov lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years”(BeReishit 47:28). Rav Hirsch suggests that a superficial observer might think that these “golden” years should be viewed separately from his previous 130 onerous years. They are, however, given no prominence. Only during his lifetime of struggle did Ya’akov rise to merit the name Israel, thus preparing the path of the future Jewish nation. As an individual he experienced great happiness in Egypt, but this was of little value for his nation, Klal Yisrael.

Earlier, in Parashat VaYeitzei we learn how Ya’akov, upon his arrival at the town of Luz, proclaims that the name of the town is Beit El. If anyone would tell the residents of Teaneck that the name of their town is anything other than Teaneck, he would be laughed at. What was Ya’akov teaching us and why did the residents of Luz apparently take him seriously?

Shlomo HaMelech in teaches us in Mishlei that the city of Luz got its name from the verb ‘Luz’ which means, according to the Malbim, to turn away from moral wisdom (Mishlei 3:21, 4:21) or to become a "twisted" personality (Mishlei 3:32, 4:24, 14:2).

The Gemara (Sotah 46b) explains how the people of Luz earned such a title:

And the man went to the land of the Hittites, and built a city, and he named it Luz, which is its name to this day. A Barayta teaches; this is the Luz where they dye Techeilet, this is the Luz through which Sancheirev marched without disturbing it, against which Nevuchadnetzar marched without destroying it. Even the Angel of Death has no permission to pass through it. When the elderly become tired of life they go outside the wall and then die.

The people of the city of Luz simultaneously enjoyed a healthy economy (Techeilet was expensive and in great demand by royalty), peace and immortality. It was the fountain of youth with all the amenities. The city should have been overflowing with happy, satisfied, immortal people. Yet, how many Luzians do you know? Why did people become tired of life and leave the city in order to make themselves available to the Angel of Death? It makes no sense. They had it made! Something must have been wrong. It didn’t work.

A life of pure vacation and its associated pleasures gets old. Ya’akov Avinu taught them that the true and ultimately enduring road to immortality lies in spiritual House of God - Beit El - and not in the material or temporal - Luz. Chazal teach us that reward comes proportionally to the effort involved and that great and enduring things are accomplished through friendship and overcoming adversity.

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