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by Fred Toczek
A survey of parsha thoughts from Gedolei
Yisroel compiled by Fred Toczek. Perfect for printing and
use at your Shabbos tisch.
VAYEITZEI 5757 & 5762
A. Yaakov's Dream. During Yaakov's journey from Be'er
Sheba to Choran, he reached Mt. Moriah (where the Akeidah
had taken place and where the Temple would be built) and
slept there overnight. In a dreamlike vision, he saw
angels ascending and descending a ladder which stretched
from the earth to the heavens. Hashem then appeared to
Yaakov and promised that the land on which he was resting
(Canaan) would be given to him and his descendants and
that he would return home under Hashem's protection. Upon
awakening, Yaakov anointed and consecrated the stone
which he had used as a pillow as an altar to Hashem, and
promised that when he returned safely to his father's
home he would offer Hashem one-tenth of all of the
possessions which Hashem had given him. He would return
to worship and pray to Hashem at the altar he had just
B. Yaakov at the Well. Yaakov arrived at the wells in
a field in the outskirts of Choran. He noticed that three
flocks of sheep and their shepards had gathered around
the well and were sitting by idly. Yaakov asked them from
where they were, and was told they were from Choran. He
asked if they knew Lovan, which they said they did. They
then pointed out his daughter, Rachel, who was coming
with Lovan's sheep. Yaakov noted that the day was yet
long and asked them why they weren't giving the sheep
water and taking them out to pasture. The shepards
explained that they couldn't until other shepards arrived
to help them move a large boulder covering the well. When
Rachel arrived, Yaakov singlehandedly removed the boulder
and gave Lovan's sheep water.
C. Yaakov Marries Leah and Rachel. Yaakov informed
Rachel of their familial relationship and she ran to
inform her father, Lovan, of Yaakov's arrival. Lovan
welcomed Yaakov, who agreed to work as Lovan's shepard
for seven years in order to marry Rachel, whom he had
come to love. Lovan agreed, but after the seven years had
elapsed, tricked Yaakov into marrying his eldest daughter
Leah whom he substituted in Rachel's place under the
wedding canopy. Lovan excused his deceitful conduct on
the basis that Leah was older and should be married
first. Yaakov had no choice but to accept the situation.
He soon afterwards also married Rachel on the condition
that he would work an additional seven years for Lovan.
D. Yaakov's Sons (a/k/a the 12 Tribes). Hashem saw
that Leah was not as well liked by Yaakov as Rachel, and
He consequently allowed Leah to have children while
Rachel remained childless. Leah gave birth to Yaakov's
first four sons: Reuven, Shimon, Levi and Yehudah. Rachel
saw that she wasn't having children, so she followed
Yaakov's grandmother Sarah's example and offered her
handmaiden, Bilhah, to Yaakov as a wife; Bilhah bore
Yaakov's next two sons: Dan and Naftali. Leah saw that
she had stopped giving birth and gave her handmaiden,
Zilpah, to Yaakov as a wife; Zilpah bore Yaakov's next
two sons: Gad and Usher. Leah herself then gave birth to
two more sons, Yissocher and Zevulen. (She also gave
birth to a daughter, Dinah.) Hashem then remembered
Rachel's prayers and she gave birth to a son, Yoseph.
(See Attached Chart).
E. Yaakov Leaves Lavon. With Hashem's help, Yaakov
became very wealthy, arousing Lovan and sons' jealousy
and cold shoulder. As a result, Yaakov took his wives,
children and flocks and left Choran while Lovan was away
and began the journey homewards. Unbeknownst to Yaakov,
Rachel stole her father's idols to prevent him from
worshiping them. Three days later, Lovan was told of
Yaakov's departure and Lovan pursued him, overtaking him
at the mountains of Gilad. Hashem appeared to Lovan at
night in a dream and warned him not to try in any way to
influence Yaakov to return to Charon. Lovan rebuked his
son-in-law for having left so hurriedly, and accused him
of stealing his idols. Yaakov denied Lovan's accusation
and unwittingly proclaimed that the real thief would die.
Lovan began a search of Yaakov's possessions, which
proved fruitless since Rachel had carefully hidden the
idols. Lovan and Yaakov then parted after completing a
peace treaty. Yaakov met a group of Hashem's angels as
the journey continued. Yaakov named the place where he
saw these angels "Machanoyim" (group).
F. The 12 Tribes. In this Parsha, the birth of the
Shevatim (12 tribes) is mentioned. The birth of Binyomin
(the youngest) is mentioned in next week's Parsha. (See
II. DIVREI TORAH
A. Lilmod U'Lilamed (Rabbi Mordechai Katz)
1. Yaakov and Lavon: Learning Good Even From the
Wicked. Yaakov made a special point of practicing honesty
throughout his life, even in the corrupting environment
of Lavon's home. When taking care of Lavon's sheep, he
cared for each one and make sure that no harm came to any
of them even though they weren't his possessions. Yaakov
was a firm believer in the statement: "truth is a
tree of life whose fruits you should eat all of your
days." Our Rabbonim learned from and copied Yaakov's
admirable traits. Rav Saffra owned a store. One day,
while he was reciting the Shema a man entered his store
and asked to buy a certain item. Not noticing that Rav
Saffra was reciting the Shema, he offered a particular
price. Rav Saffra didn't reply since he was in the middle
of the Shema. The customer thought that Rav Saffra's
silence meant that his first offer was too low, so he
raised his offer. Again, Rav Saffra was silent, so again
the man raised his offer. Finally, Rav Saffra finished
his prayers and turned to the man. Though he could have
easily gotten the higher price, he said "I will
accept your original price, for in my mind I had decided
to sell it to you at that price. The only reason I didn't
respond to you what that I was praying and if I accepted
more money that your original offer, I would be
dishonest." (Makkos 24a). Another story is story of
Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair, who lived in the South of Israel.
Two poor men who had come to seek a livelihood in that
area came to his house and inadvertently left a small
amount of barley seeds in his house. In their absence,
Rabbi Pinchas planted the seeds and reaped the harvest
each year. Seven years later, the men passed by Rabbi
Pinchas' home and remembered that they had left the
seeds. "Please return the seeds," they asked
Rabbi Pinchas, "if you still happen to have
them." Instead of merely giving them the seeds, he
took them to the barn and opened it up; to their
surprise, he told them that the entire harvest from the
past seven years had been saved and was theirs! (Bava
2. Rachael and Leah: the importance of not
embarrassing someone. Lavon agreed to marry off Rachel to Yaakov in exchange for Yaakov labor, but had nothing of
the such in mind. Yaakov knew that Lavon might try to
trick him, so he gave Rachel some secret codes to
identify her under the "chuppah" (bridal
canopy). However, when Rachel learned of Lavon's plan,
she revealed these codes to Leah. She felt that she
couldn't let her sister, who was older, be embarrassed
under the chuppah. So Rachel, who had waited seven long
years to marry Yaakov, delayed her chance for happiness
simply because she didn't want to see her sister
embarrassed. This act of selflessness is a lesson to us
all. (Megillah 13). Reb Nechunya Ben Hakanoh was asked by
his disciples to what he attributed his longevity. He
responded "I have never gained honor from a
colleague's disgrace". (Berachos 43) A story is told
of a Rabbi who delivered a sermon about "Lechem
Haponim" (the breads which were offered in the Beis
Hamikdosh, Holy Temple, every Shabbos) and how
unfortunate we are to not be able to perform this mitzvah
today. The sermon left a deep impression on a congregant,
a poor man, who decided that he would use the purest and
finest flour he could find to bake two challahs and leave
them on the Aron HaKodesh (Ark) each Erev Shabbos. The
shammos of the shul came there every Erev Shabbos, saw
and smelled the delicious challahs and took them home for
Shabbos. When the poor man came later and noticed the
loaves missing, he assumed that Hashem had accepted them,
and he was overjoyed. When the Rabbi learned was
happening, he scolded the poor man for being naive enough
to think that Hashem would accept his challahs. The poor
man left ashamed. Soon afterwards, a message came for the
Rabbi from Rabbi Yitzchak Yuria telling him to make out a
will since he was destined to die within the next few
days. The Rabbi rushed to Rabbi Yitzchak to find out what
he had done to deserve this sudden fate. Rabbi Yitzchak
responded that nothing since the days of the Holy Temple
had caused Hashem such joy than the challahs baked with
such sincerity by the poor man. By shaming the poor man,
the Rabbi had sealed his fate. Embarrassing another is a
most grievous fault; If we kill someone he dies only
once, but if we embarrass him he dies many times over.
(Midrash Eliyahu 42).
B. Kol Dodi on the Torah (Rabbi
1. The "Ladder" of Prayer. The
"gematria" (numerical value) of the Hebrew
words for "ladder" and "voice" are
equivalent. From this we learn an interesting symbolism
-- just as the ladder in Yaakov's dream connected the
earth to heaven allowing the angels to ascend and descend
on it, so do our voices (i.e., our prayers) connect us to
2. Sensitivity to One's Feelings.
Why did Yaakov
agree to work an additional seven years in order to marry
Rachel? He could have correctly claimed that the seven
years he already worked were for Rachel, not Leah. Why
did he ignore his rights and acquiesce to Lavon's
trickery without protest? Yaakov's behavior was motivated
by a strong respect for Leah's feelings; he knew that if
he insisted on marrying Rachel without further payment,
she would be devastated. From here, we see the lengths to
which the Torah expects us to go to avoid hurting the
feelings of another person.
C. Peninim on the Torah (Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum)
"And he [Yaakov]
took from the stones of the place and placed them at his
head and laid down to sleep." Rashi cites the Talmud
which states that the 12 stones began arguing with each
other, each urging Yaakov to rest his head on it. Hashem
therefore merged them into one large stone. The Gerar
Rebbe, z'tl questions this consolidation, since Yaakov
could rest his head on only one area of the stone. The
Rebbe insightfully suggests that when the stones merged,
they blended together with such harmony that they were no
longer distinguishable from each other. Every aspect of
the consolidated stone was a fusion of each of the
individual stones. This is essence of "achdus"
(unity); we should strive for a harmonious blending of
personalities such that as a community we respond as one.
Through the undermining of jealousy and other
manifestations of intragroup discord, we merit the
appreciation of "who is like your nation Israel, one
People in the land."
D. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi
1. Climb Higher On the Spiritual Ladder Each Day.
Chofetz Chaim cited the idea expressed by many
commentators that the ladder in Yaakov's dream symbolizes
the situation of every person in the world -- i.e., we
either ascend or descend the spiritual ladder based upon
how we deal with life's daily challenges. If we have the
will power and self-control to overcome these challenges,
we go up the spiritual ladder; if, however, we fail to
overcome these challenges, we lower ourselves. This is
our daily task -- to climb higher every day. There is no
standing in one place.
2. Yaakov's descendants will be triumphant in the
end. "And your descendants will be like the dust of
the earth." Everyone tramples on the dust of the
earth, but in the end it covers up everyone of those
people. This will be the history of the Jewish people --
there will be exile after exile, persecution after
persecution, but in the end we will overcome in the days
of the Final Redemption (may it come soon).
3. Hard Work Is Easier When You Focus On The
Benefit. Yaakov was able to endure the fourteen years of
labor since he remained focused on the benefit --
Rachel's hand in marriage. We must keep focused on the
benefit when we encounter hardships in our work,
relationships, Torah study, etc.
4. Make An Effort To Perceive Others' Pain.
indicated by the names "Reuven" and
"Shimon", Hashem both "saw" and
"heard" Leah's pain -- we must perceive others'
pain, whether or not they verbalize it.
E. Darash Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, z'tl)
Do not focus on the difficulties in performing a
mitzvah. After Yaakov told Rachel and Leah that Hashem
had commanded them to leave Lavon's house and return to
their native land, they gave Yaakov other reasons for
wanting to leave with him. Weren't these reasons
unnecessary, since they should have answered simply that
they would comply with Hashem's will? Their reply showed
that didn't desire to take any credit for fulfilling
Hashem's will. This teaches that we shouldn't look at any
mitzvah as a trial, something difficult to perform. If we
can do mitzvot with this attitude, we will find that they
become easier to perform. After all, a mitzvah never
costs anything to perform. For example, refraining from
work on Shabbos doesn't cost us anything, since our
livelihood for the entire year is decreed in advance on
Rosh Hashonah. Furthermore, if we can inculcate this
attitude in our children, it will be easier to teach them
to keep the mitzvos. Those who boast about the trials and
tribulations they endure to keep Shabbos or other mitzvos
may instill pride and strength in their children, but
they may also be doing them a great disservice. The
message they may convey is that it is hard to be a Jew
and that keeping Shabbos, Kashrus or other mitzvos
requires great suffering and endurance. Their children
may easily come to think that if they don't have the same
fortitude as their parents, keeping Torah and mitzvos is
beyond their power. Thus, parents must emphasize must
emphasize the rewards, rather than the difficulties, in
keeping the Torah. This way they will instill in their
children the attitude that for one who has faith, every
mitzvah is easy and enjoyable to perform.
F. The Chassidic Dimension (the Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, z'tl)
Giving Names. In this week's Parsha, we learn of
the birth of 11 of Yaakov's 12 sons and the names given
to each of them by their mothers. The reasons for the
names of each of these children -- who later went on to
establish the 12 Tribes of Israel -- are stated
explicitly in the Torah. This is marked contrast to the
names of the Patriarchs, where the Torah doesn't
explicitly spell out the reasons for the names given them
at birth. Why the difference? A Jewish name is not mere
happenstance -- there is a direct connection between a
person's Jewish name and his/her soul. It is the name
that connects the soul and the body. In its revealed
form, as a specific name, it also serves as a personal
expression of the particular qualities and personality of
the individual so named. The Alter Rebbe, z'tl explains
the difference as follows: "the spiritual level of
the Patriarchs is found at all times in all individuals .
. . this level was bequeathed by them to their prodigy in
each and every generation .. . However, the other
degrees of saintliness, such as those of the individual
Tribes, may not necessarily be found in all
individuals." The names of the Patriarchs, who are
the source and root of all Jewish souls, represent the
collective quality of Judaism found within each and every
Jew, while the individual names of the Tribes allude to
the specific level and individual qualities of each Jew.
Thus, while we all share equally in the Patriarchs'
bequest, we are each blessed with our individual
qualities, capabilities and life task.
G. Living Each Week (Rabbi Abraham Twerski).
1. Seize the Moment. Jacob awakened from his sleep and he said, "surely G-d is in this place. . . he took the stone that he had put in his head and made it into an altar." The Baal Shem Tov quoted the Talmudic statement that each day a heavenly voice emanates from Sinai urging us to do teshuvah (repentance). What use is this voice, he asked, if no one has ever attested to hearing it? Although it is inaudible to the human ear, it is heard by our souls. The moments of arousal to do teshuvah that we experience are due to our souls perceiving the voice from Sinai. The Divine voice arouses us. We must seize upon the opportunity or risk neglecting it.
2. If G-d Wills It. Jacob made a vow, saying "if G-d will be with me. . ." It is customary to say "G-d willing" or "with G-d's help" when planning to do something. It is important that these words do not become rote, but that we focus on sincerely believing that without G-d's assistance we can do nothing.
3. Try, Try Again. Why was Jacob so critical of the shepards' failure to roll the stone from the mouth of the well? The S'fas Emes answers that even if they had made an unsuccessful attempt, they still had no excuse for sitting by idly. They should have tried again. While we cannot guarantee the success of our efforts, it is our obligation to keep trying.
4. Constructive Envy. After Leah conceived her fourth child, she said "this time I will be grateful to G-d." It is at this point that the Torah teaches us that Rachel envied her. Why wasn't Rachel envious when Rachel had her first three children? Only with the fourth child did Leah express her gratitude towards G-d. It was Leah's spiritual attainment of this great degree of thankfulness - not her fertility - which provoked Rachel and caused her to be envious. While envy is usually a destructive emotion, it can in certain circumstances stimulate us to achieve a higher degree of connection to
H. Soul of the Torah: Insights Of the Chasidic Masters of the Weekly Torah Portions (Victor Cohen).
1. The Ladder. The S'fas Emes noted that the meaning of the verse "a ladder was sent earthward and its top reached heavenward" is that the material aspects of our being dwells earthward but our spirituality is heavenward.
2. The "Stone" Impeding Our Prayers. "Roll the stone from upon the mouth of the well." The S'fas Emes commented that when it comes to prayers, it often seems as though there is a stone in our mouth. Our prayers often lack sincerity and do not seem to be a service from the heart. This is why we recite "my Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise" before the Amidah. That is, roll the stone from our mouths so that we may pray with sincerity.
I. Windows To the Soul (Rabbi Michael Bernstein).
True Love. From the moment Jacob first saw Rachel, he was enraptured. The Torah tells us that the seven years of servitude which Jacob endured in exchange for her hand in marriage "were in his eyes as but a few days, in his love for her." Given his intense love, how was it that these years flew by? Doesn't time pass slowly when we are anxiously awaiting something? The Torah is not speaking of frustrated earthly passions. It was Rachel's immense spiritual value that inspired Jacob's love. To Jacob, seven years of service seemed but a small consequence for the great spiritual good he would gain with Rachel as his wife. What a powerful lesson in the characteristics of true love.
J. Reflections on the Sedra (Rabbi Zalman I. Posner).
The Meaning of Prayer. In Jacob's famous dream, he saw "a ladder standing on earth and its top reach[ing] heaven". A common interpretation is that the ladder is prayer. That prayer should reach heaven is obvious; that prayer "stands on earth" is less clear. The Jewish conception of prayer treats it not as in and of itself, but rather as an instrument. Prayer is effective not in its effect on G-d but in its influence on us.
K. Love Thy Neighbor (Rabbi Zelig
Be Careful Not To Speak Harshly Even When Angry.
"And Jacob was angry, and quarreled with Lovan. And Jacob answered and said to Lovan: what is my trespass? What is my sin that you have pursued after me?" The Midrash notes Jacob's self-control. Despite his anger and Lovan's accusation, Jacob did not say anything that would antagonize Lovan or stir up animosity. He merely defended himself against the accusation and restated his own innocence. The Chofetz Chaim said that from here we learn that we should avoid becoming involved in dispute, even when we know that we are in the right.
L. Wellsprings of Torah (Rabbi
Alexander Zusia Friedman)
1. The Reward For Humility. ". . . and behold a ladder set up on the ground and the top of it reached to heaven . . . "If we regard ourselves as humble (i.e., "set up on the ground") then "our head will reach to heaven." That is, G-d will consider us truly great. As the Zohar notes: "he who is small is actually great." Then, too, he will deserve to have "the Lord stand beside him".
2. The Power of Truth. ". . . Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well . . ." The strength of Jacob was truth. Truth enables us to roll even the heaviest of boulders of deceit and concealment from the well of living waters.
M. Growth from Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
In Spiritual Matters, Have The Persistence To Continually Try. "And Rachel said, with great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed, and she called his name Naftali." Rashi explains that the name Naftali comes from the word meaning being stubborn. R'Yeruchem Levovitz says that from here we learn two things about spiritual matters: (a) it is proper to be stubborn and even obstinate. Rachel saw that G-d did not want to give her children, yet she did not accept this and fought with all her strength to achieve her wishes; (b) when we try to elevate ourselves and are determined to accomplish this with all our will, we will eventually be successful. When we try to study Torah or are engaged in mitzvot, we often find obstacles in our path. Do not allow them to stop you. Rather, use the difficulties as a que to try even harder, for if you keep on trying you will eventually be successful.
N. Torah Gems (Rabbi Ahron Yaakov Greenberg)
Perfect Harmony. "And your seed will be as the dust of the earth. . . " The Jewish people are compared to the stars, sand and dust. With stars, each one is separate from another. With sand, one can place a pile of grains of sand together, but the grains are still separate from one another. Only dust clings together and form a single block. G-d's blessing to Jacob was that his children should live, like dust, in perfect harmony and clinging to one another.