Vayetzei – A Light unto the Nations

There is a verse in this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei which has become a very famous song. It happens to have been my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz zt”l’s, favorite song.
“והיה זרעך כעפר הארץ ופרצת ימה וקדמה וצפנה ונגבה ונברכו בך כל משפחת האדמה ובזרעך.”

“And your offspring will be like the dust of the earth and you will spread out west and east and north and south and all the families on earth will be blessed because of you and your offspring” (Breishis 28:14).

Hashem came to Yaakov in the famous dream of a ladder spanning from the ground
to heaven with angels going up and down it. There are many interpretations of the dream in Chaza”l. Focusing specifically on this verse, the Rada”k says that Hashem told Yaakov: “Because of you and your offspring all the families will be blessed for one who performs the mitzvos of Hashem and he recognizes that He is alone and Master of the World is subsisting the world and the world exists because of him.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Mesillas Yesharim (Chapter 1) tells us: “If one has control over himself and clings to his Creator, and only uses this world to help him serve Hashem, he will be elevated and the world itself will be elevated with him. For it is a great benefit for all of creation to be used by man in his holy perfection, sanctified by Hashem.”
The Mesillas Yesharim is teaching us that the whole world was created for one purpose, to serve humanity. If a person uses the world in the correct manner he becomes a better person and the world becomes a better place. This is real tikkun olam! (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The Rada”k, at first glance, is taking this concept one step further. If we perform Torah and mitzvos and have a strong belief in Hashem then all the families on earth will be blessed, simply because we are fulfilling the purpose for which the world exists. It makes logical sense, that if we use the properties of this world the world will become better.  Trees being used in building a shul or making a Torah, cows being used to make a Klaf (parchment) for a Torah or tefillin, or being slaughtered properly to eat with a blessing, are all examples of elevating the status of creation from something mundane to something holy, thereby fulfilling the purpose of creation. But what did a family in China or Africa or wherever else do to deserve a blessing; simply because we are observing the mitzvos properly and have a high belief in Hashem? On the contrary, every human being was endowed with free choice, and we have a choice to fix the world or destroy it – which includes Jews and non-Jews alike! So how can my Torah observance, wherever I live, make a difference to the rest of humanity? Is it magic?

Another question is, if it truly is “magic,” meaning that if Hashem just blesses all the families of the earth because of what the Jews do, then why does the pasuk (verse) say: “When you will be scattered?” Why is it when we will be scattered throughout the world then all the families of the earth will be blessed, if we observe the mitzvos and have a high belief in Hashem? Can’t that be accomplished if we were all together?

Rather, it would seem that our optimal Torah observance and belief in Hashem is not just “magical,” but, rather, when people around us see our commitment to Hashem and his Torah it makes a tremendous impact and can influence them to be better people. That is why everyone would be deserving of blessing; the more sincerity we have in our Torah observance, the more of an impact it will have on the world. The world in its totality will be a better place with everyone and everything fulfilling their mission in life.

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