Dvar Torah on Parshat VaYetze 2013 5774

Yaakov took his family and left Lavan’s country to return to his father’s Land of Israel. Lavan pursues him intending to harm him but the two finally make a treaty and as a witness of the pact between them they set up a mound of stones and gave it a name. Lavan called it Yegar Sahaduta and Yaakov called it Gal’ed. (Gen. 31,47)

Both gave it the same name which, as Rashi explains, means the mound is a witness. Lavan gave it the Aramaic name and Yaakov gave it the Hebrew name. In the very next verse we find Lavan explaining the meaning of the name and then the Torah says: עַל־כֵּן קָרָא־שְׁמוֹ גַּלְעֵד, “…therefore he called the name Gal’ed.” The meaning is that Laban also called it Gal’ed.

Laban, agreeing to call it by the Hebrew name, indicates that when we maintain our principles and keep to our beliefs, eventually others see our rights and accede to our view. In today’s world Israel is being delegitimized. The world cannot see our rights to Israel. Perhaps it is because we do not emphasize our ancient possession of the land but try to sell our ownership on the basis of the new founding of the state. Conceivably, if we would revise our claim to Israel, the world may see our justification.

Dvar Torah Parshat VaYetze 2012 5773

Yaakov leaves Lavan’s house and territory without informing him. Lavan is incensed and along with his people chases after him. What are his intentions? One would think that he was prepared to kill him. Hashem appears to Lavan in a dream and cautions him: הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן תְּדַבֵּר עִם יַעֲקֹב מִטּוֹב עַד רָע, “…Beware lest you speak with Yaakov either good or bad.” (Gen. 31,24)

This is a strange warning, that he should not talk to him good or bad. Because of this odd warning, and because Hashem does not warn him not to kill Yaakov, the Zohar concludes that Lavan’s intentions were not to kill him because he realized that Yaakov’s forces were greater and more powerful than his. He rather intended to kill him with witchcraft by casting an evil spell on him.

We see from this that you can kill a person, not only through physical force but also through verbal assault. Chazal in the Midrash tell us מות וחיים ביד הלשון, death and life are in the power of the tongue. (Midrash Tanchuma, Metzora 4)

One must be mindful that his verbal abuse of another can often do him more harm than physical violence.

Dvar Torah Parshat VaYetze 5772 2011

The Torah tells that when Yaakov was ready to lie down to sleep, VAYIKACH ME’AVNE HAMAKOM, “… he took from the stones of the place which he arranged around his head…”. (Gen. 28,11) When he arose the Torah says, VAYIKACH ET HA’EVEN, “…and took the stone that he placed around his head…”. (28,18)

Obviously there is a distinct change in the facts surrounding the “stones”. When he went to sleep there were many and when he arose there was only one. Rashi brings us the explanation that the Midrash offers. He says, the stones began quarreling with one another. One said, “Upon me let this righteous man rest his head”, and another said, “Upon me let him rest his head”. Immediately Hashem made them into one stone.

This sounds like a fanciful story bordering on a fairy tale. The truth, however, is that the Midrash is endeavoring to teach us a significant message that we should be aware of constantly. The Jewish people have all kinds of individuals. Many have varying opinions of what Judaism stands for. These opinions may differ widely and some may stray far afield. Some may hold theories that are so distant from what Judaism really is.

When it comes, however, to the survival of the Jewish people we should all be united. We may be different in our thinking like the many stones that Yaakov gathered, but when it comes to our continued existence we should all be united and stick together. We are all responsible for each other and must be like the one stone that Yaakov took when he arose from his dream.

Dvar Torah Parshat Vayetze 5771 2010

Yaakov escapes the wrath of his brother and makes his way to his uncle Lavan’s land. When he gets there he comes across a well where the shepherds are sitting and seemingly not performing whatever duties they had towards their flock. Rashi explains that Yaakov admonishes them saying that the day is still long. Why are you sitting around and not tending your flock? (Gen. 29,7)

This episode as described in the Torah invokes many questions. First, he was a stranger who had just arrived. How can he criticize the people there? Secondly, how come they accepted this stranger’s lecture of rebuke? The normal reaction would be that he was a stranger and where does he get the nerve to tell them how to act. Furthermore, when he came up to them the first word he uttered to them was ACHAI, ‘…my brothers…”.(Gen. 29,4) How can he call them brothers when he doesn’t even know them?

Perhaps the answer lies in the last question. He approached them in a friendly manner calling them brothers and asking them from where they come. His attitude was benevolent. He acted friendly and admonished them in an affectionate manner. This demonstrated to them that he had no antagonism towards them.

Much more can be accomplished if one approaches his relationship with others in a sociable and pleasant manner. There is a special technique in admonishing one, and for that matter, even in giving someone advice. It has to be evident that you mean well and are not criticizing but offering help. It has to be done in a gentle and caring approach.

Dvar Torah Parshat Vayetzei 5770 2009

When Yaakov fled from Esav we are told that he lay down to rest and gathered around him stones for protection from wild animals. He did not place the stones around his entire body but the Torah says: VAYASEM MERASHOTAV, “…he arranged them around his head.” (Gen. 28,11)

There is an interesting deduction that can be seen in this passage. The Jew has always been subjected to physical harassment though out our history. He was able to withstand this persecution. We rarely hear that the Jew stood up physically against this maltreatment. When the nations of the world tried to affect our thinking, when they tried to change our beliefs, then we stood our ground and refused to budge.

We did not fight back when they harmed our bodies, as it were, but when they attempted to touch our heads with their ideas, philosophy and religion, we stood our ground. The Jew has never succumbed to pressure to abandon our beliefs.

Dvar Torah Parshat Vayetze 2008 5769 דבר תורה פרשת ויצא

Yaakov fled from Esav and on the way he slept. He had a dream of a ladder on top of which Hashem appeared and promised him that the land upon which he was sleeping would be given to his descendents. When he woke he said that Hashem was in this place and “I did not know”. (28,16) Rashi comments: SHE’IM YADATI LO YASHANTI BEMAKOM KADOSH KAZEH, “Had I known I would not have slept in such a holy place”. Had he not slept he would not have had the dream and he would not have heard the promise of the land. What was so wrong with his having slept? Why was he so perturbed that he had slept?

Harav Kook, the first chief Rabbi of Israel explained. Yaakov did not want to receive the land as a gift coming from Hashem in a dream. He wanted to have earned it and worked for it. Had he known, he would have stayed awake and would have striven to earn the promise as a reward for his efforts.

We often look for gifts and handouts from others. The proper way to achieve is through our efforts. If we strive, we earn and we deserve.

Dvar Torah Vayetze 2007 – 5768 דבר תורה ויצא

When Yaakov leaves his father’s home fleeing from his brother Esav who was determined to kill him, the Torah tells us he slept and he had a dream. In his dream he saw a SULAM, a ladder, the foot of which was on the ground but the top was reaching into the heavens.

One of the famous commentaries on the Torah, the Baal Haturim, points out that the Gematria or numerical value of the word SULAM is the same as the Hebrew and Aramaic word MAMON which means money. The numerical value of both words is 136 (both written with a Vav).

The Baal Haturim explains that money can elevate a person or bring him down. The Baal Shem Tov elaborates on the same theme and says that money is similar to a ladder. People can go up with it or can come down with it.

Money is a very essential aspect in life but what we do with it is what matters. If we spend it wisely, if we use it for necessities, if it helps us do charity, then it elevates our existence and meaning in life. If, however, we use it for pleasures only, if we squander it, if we fail to share it with the less fortunate, then it only helps to demean us and lower the meaning of our life.

Dvar Torah Vayetze 2006 – 5766 דבר תורה ויצא

Yaakov has to flee from his home because he fears that his brother Esav will take his life. During his journey he goes to sleep and he dreams of a ladder that is stationed on the earth and reaches into the heavens. Rabbi Yosi ben Zimri tells us that the foot of the ladder stood in Be’er Sheva and the top was over the Bet Hamikdash. (Ber. Rabbah 69,7)

Be’er Sheva was the place where Yaakov lived. All the years he was there he did not dream of this ladder. Only when he left did he realize that the approach to the holiness of the Bet Hamikdash starts in Be’er Sheva, in his home. Neither the school, the Bet Midrash, the synagogue nor any other sacred institution is the proper place to find the beginning of the ascent to a life of holiness. The education that one gets at home is the true source of developing a moral and Jewish life. The other institutions can help but the seeds of holiness have to be planted in the home.

Just like Yaakov we often do not appreciate what the home offers until we leave. Fortunately Yaakov did not forget what he learned in his home from his revered parents Yitzhak and Rivka. He was able to carry this upbringing with him throughout life. We all should imitate his worthy action.

Dvar Torah Vayetze 2005 – 5765 דבר תורה ויצא

Yaakov comes to the well where shepherds are waiting to remove the stone covering it. It seems they did not trust each other so they placed a heavy stone over the well so that no one shepherd can remove it by himself. Yaakov then greets them by calling them ACHAI, my brothers. We can make two very interesting observations from this incident.

First of all, we can see what kind of a community this was. No one trusted the others. Rachel came from this environment and from a family that we learn later is full of deceit. We cannot forget that Rivka, too, came from this place. This teaches us that an individual can overcome his surroundings and emerge a decent person. We cannot blame our upbringing or our background for things that we do wrong. Both Rivka and Rachel were able to overcome and outgrow all the influences of their surroundings and end up righteous.

Secondly, we see how Yaakov reacted when he came to the well. He was a stranger and the shepherds should have greeted him. They did not, but he greeted them. He also called them brothers. This in itself is strange. He was fleeing from his own brother and Esav certainly did not act like a brother to him. Yet when he sees strangers he greets them as brothers.

We learn from this that a person should always greet others and not wait for them to be first. When you see a stranger in Shul or in school or at some gathering, don’t wait for them to be first. You show your friendliness and greet them. Also, treat strangers as one of your own. If you were in their position you would appreciate the same attention.

Dvar Torah Vayetze 2005 – 5764 דבר תורה ויצא

The Torah forbids an Ammonite or Moabite man from marrying a Jewish woman. (Deut. 23,4) The reason given is that they did not offer bread and water to the Israelites when they journeyed through the Wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.

The Midrash Rabbah asks a very remarkable question. Did they really need bread and water? Wasn’t the Manna supplying them with their daily needs and wasn’t the well giving them all the water they needed? The Midrash answers that it is normal and natural to offer a traveler or a stranger food if they are passing by. Even if they did not need these items, the hospitality should have been extended. This is what Avraham did when he saw the strangers who turned out to be angles. Since the Ammonites and the Moabites did not act as normal human beings should, they do not belong in the midst of the Jewish people.

There is a most significant message in this narrative. A person should be ready to offer help to others even if he does not know whether the help is needed, and certainly when he knows the help is needed. A person has an obligation to assist others with whatever blessings Hashem has granted him. One must be ready to share with siblings, with family members, with classmates and friends and even with strangers.

Dvar Torah Vayetze 2004 – 5764 דבר תורה ויצא

When the Torah describes Yaakov and Esav in last week’s Sidra, it says that Esav was a man of the fields and Yaakov was an ISH TAM YOSHEV OHALIM. (Gen. 25:27) Yaakov, the Torah says, sat in the tent. Rashi explains that it means he sat in the tents of the Yeshivot of Shem and Ever and studied Torah.

In this week’s Portion we read that Yaakov fled from his brother and at one point when it turned night it says: VAYISHKAV BAMAKOM HAHU, “he slept in that place”. (Gen. 28:11) Here, too, Rashi says that he went to study in the Bet Midrash of Shem and Ever. He studied there before and he studied there now. What is the difference?

The explanation is that he studied different things. Before when he lived in his father’s house it was a Jewish environment. He studied how a Jew should act and conduct himself when he is among Jews. Later when he was going into Galut, he had to learn how to live among non-Jews. Some things are not the same. You have to have greater fortitude to live up to your beliefs when everyone around you thinks differently. You also have to understand how to act so that you do not shame your faith and not bring ridicule from others who do not understand your ways.

This is what Yaakov had to learn when he left his father and went to live with Lavan. In his new way of life he had to be sure that he maintained his own beliefs even while living among non-Jews. He also had to learn how to act so that his faith would not bring shame to his way of life but rather admiration.

Dvar Torah Vayetze 2003 – 5763 דבר תורה ויצא

Yaakov and Lavan make a treaty and set up stones as a monument to remind them of this agreement. They give a name to this monument. Lavan called it YAGAR SAHADUTA and Yaakov called it GAL’ED. (Gen. 31:47) One name was in Aramaic and one was in Hebrew. Each one insisted to give the monument a name in his own language.

There is a very deep message in this passage. It teaches that one should always be careful to speak in the language that expresses his own beliefs and philosophy best. Yaakov understood that the ideas of the Jew are best expressed in the Hebrew language. There are certain Jewish ideas that cannot be translated into a foreign language. For example, there is no word in English for TAMEH and for TAHOR. LASHON HARAH does not mean the same in other languages as it does in Hebrew. There are many other concepts like that, which cannot be translated.

This thought does not refer only to the language used but also to how one uses the language. There are people who cannot say a sentence without a curse word. There are individuals who always use foul language when they speak. The lesson here is that one should always be careful how he talks because his speech is a reflection on his personality.