Vayetzei – Don’t Ask for Too Much

This Dvar Torah is dedicated l’iluy nishmas Chana Chaya bas Chaim Yachnes, a woman loved by all who knew her, May she be a melitza yosher for gantz Klal Yisrael, amen.

Did you ever wonder why Rochel named her first child Yosef? In this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei the Torah states in perek 30:

23 And she conceived and bore a son, and she said, “G-D has taken away my reproach.” כגוַתַּ֖הַר וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן וַתֹּ֕אמֶר אָסַ֥ף אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־חֶרְפָּתִֽי:
24So she named him Yosef, saying, “May Hashem grant me yet another son!” כדוַתִּקְרָ֧א אֶת־שְׁמ֛וֹ יוֹסֵ֖ף לֵאמֹ֑ר יֹסֵ֧ף יְהֹוָ֛ה לִ֖י בֵּ֥ן אַחֵֽר:

The Rashbam says that Rochel could have named him Asaf, for Hashem taking away her humiliation but she called him Yosef because she prayed to have another child so both names were in mind. Rashi adds: “She knew through prophecy that Jacob was destined to establish only twelve tribes. She said, “May it be His will that the one He is destined to establish be from me.” Therefore, she prayed only for another son [and no more]. — [from Gen. Rabbah 72:6]” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Ralbag, however, understands the pasuk as not saying that Rochel had prophesy, but rather the reason behind the prayer was purely practical. “It’s appropriate when asking for a favor or grace [from Hashem] to not ask for something big because maybe He will decisively reject giving the favor altogether. For this reason, you will find that Rochel only asked for one more son so that she will have at least one more child. She did not ask for many children. For this reason, you will find by Yaakov that he only asked from the Blessed Hashem for bread to eat and clothes to wear. For this reason, it’s observed that the blessing of a prophet is calculated according to the one receiving it because he will not beseech Hashem for an abundance of good, more than deserved.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Hashem is the All-knowingAlmighty, who can certainly do whatever He wants; therefore He has the ability to grant even a surplus of things if someone beseeches Him for that. Even if He doesn’t want to, or doesn’t think it is appropriate, why can a person not pray for an abundance of something and be satisfied with whatever he or she gets? It’s still connecting with Hashem and trusting Him, and if he doesn’t get all that he asks for; wouldn’t he be satisfied with what he does get? Why then does the Ralbag say he might get nothing if he asks for abundance? If one asks for a little and his or her prayers aren’t answered wouldn’t that person possibly question Hashem for not answering his or her prayers just as much as the person who asked for a lot and didn’t get all of it would seemingly question Hashem, which is probably why he or she will in the end get nothing?

It would seem that Hashem is unlikely to accept prayers asking for an abundance, but rather is ready to accept prayers asking for just what a person feels they need next. The reason must be because prayers for an abundance are really not full hearted, and are more of a general plea,on which people would be willing to accept whatever they can get. For this reason, Hashem might not give them anything if He sees their intent, kavana, is not pure and strong. Asking in this fashion creates an attitude and feeling that one doesn’t need to pray as hard as they should. But when one is asking for a little, just enough for the next thing he wants or needs, then his davening will be more authentic, with greater kavana, intent and emotion, and therefore Hashem will be more receptive. And if he sees Hashem isn’t answering his pleas, there is more of a chance that he will understand that he himself isn’t praying hard enough, and he will try to redouble his intent before giving up or settling for what he has.

This is why Rochel only asked for one more son and Yaakov only asked for food to eat and clothes to cover his back, and why the prophet can only ask for what the person deserves, since the intent of the recipient will be more authentic.

Vayetzei – Using Our Emuna Muscle

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei, Yaakov takes a rest on the way to Haran and has the famous dream of angels going up and down a ladder. When he wakes up, he realizes he is in a very holy place. “And Jacob arose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had placed at his head, and he set it up as a monument, and he poured oil on top of it. And he named the place Beth El, but Luz was originally the name of the city” (Breishis 28:18, 19).

Every letter, word, and phrase in the Torah has a reason behind it. Rabbeinu Bachye asks, “The place he [Yaakov] called Beis El is Yerushalayim, and what is the significance of informing us that it was called Luz originally, and what benefit is reaching us from this [knowledge]? It makes sense to say that the pasuk is coming to hint to us with this name that from this place the world started to expand and develop. And behold it is the beginning of creation and its renewal, therefore [the pasuk] revealed to us that the name of the city was originally Luz from the same language as Luz, which is a body part on the spine of a person from where in the future He will awaken, renew, and recreate for the sake of the resurrection of the dead. For just as the incredible innovation [of the creation of the world] stemmed from there, so too the wonder of the resurrection of the dead will start from there. King David already elaborated on this concept and said that the creation of the world and also the creation of the soul and the body all are from the middle which is Zion. That is what it means in Tehillim, beginning of perek 50, ‘God, God the Lord, spoke and called to the earth… From Zion, the finery of beauty… He shall call to the heavens above etc.’” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The stone that Yitzchak was placed on as an offering by Akeidas Yitzchak is the same stone from which Hashem created Adam, and it is rests in the Beis Hamikdash, and it remains in its place to this day. (Indeed, it is from there that Muslims mistakenly believe that Mohammad ascended to heaven). This place is where all of human life started, and everything evolved. Chaza”l say that Yerushalayim is at the center of the earth, from whence everything is perfected, and it is the epicenter of advancement throughout the ages. Because it is the source of the advancement of mankind, Yerushalayim was originally called Luz, just like the specific vertebrae on the spine where Chaza”l say the resurrection of the dead for each individual will commence and reconfigure the body.

It would seem that this resurrection at the end of days will begin in Zion, Yerushalayim, just as the beginning of mankind began from that same central point, which is the significance for the pasuk to be telling us why it was called Luz originally. But what benefit is there in whether we know or not this knowledge, that the resurrection of the dead will in the future start from Yerushalayim?

The last of the 13 Principles of Faith spelled out by the Rambam is “I believe with complete faith that there will be a resurrection of the dead whenever the wish emanates from the Creator, Blessed is His Name and exalted is His mention, forever and all for all eternity.” The first Mishna in the 10th perek of Sanhedrin, Perek Chelek, lists as one who has no share in the world to come, one who says the resurrection of the dead isn’t in the Torah. The Gemara there explains the reason why he loses his share in the World to Come is because since he denies the resurrection of the dead he will not be resurrected.

Not only is this pasuk a hint in the Torah to the resurrection of the dead but Rabbeinu Bachye is telling us that the Torah wanted to train us to believe in such a concept. For just as we can believe that Hashem fashioned all of creation and created man from this point on earth, so too Hashem will recreate, or resurrect, everyone deserving from that point on earth using their spinal vertebrae called Luz. Because history happened in the past and we presently can’t see what actually happened or take a time machine to find out what actually happened then we must rely on belief in the mesorah, tradition, that is passed down from generation to generation, of what has happened in history from the beginning of time, all sourced from the Written and Oral Torah.

 However, it would seem that this pasuk is giving us an indicator, an aid of how to help us strengthen our belief muscles. It is easier to believe the history of what has happened in the past, especially if there are visual aids and hints that could paste together a puzzle and picture of what must have happened. The future does not have that kind of clarity or even hints, no stories or relics, it is all speculative at best. Therefore a greater leap of faith is needed to believe in something that will take place in the future. However, Hashem made it more tangible for us to understand what will happen in the future by the resurrection of the dead by telling us that it is the same concept from where all of man had started from. So, by working on our belief system of how Hashem originally created the world we can more easily understand and believe what will happen at the end of days so that we will merit to be a part of such an illustrious event.

Hashem has purposefully created a situation where we can use easier more simple beliefs in order so that we can apply them to more difficult, esoteric beliefs to make the belief system more palpable as long as we put forth the efforts into recognizing this system of belief in Hashem.

Vayetzei – No Improvising

This Dvar Torah is dedicated by the Aryeh family in loving memory of:
אשה כשרה וחשובה חנה פייגא בת ר׳ נחום
Mrs. Feigie Aryeh
שחינכה וזירזה בניה על דרך התורה ,חסד,והיראה כל ימי חייה. 
פיה פתחה בחכמה ותורת חסד על לשונה. 
צופיה הליכות ביתה ולחם עצלות לא תאכל.

Towards the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei, after 14 years of learning in the Yeshiva of Shem V’Ever, Yaakov arrived in the outskirts of Haran, to find his uncle Lavan in hope of marrying one of his daughters. He arrived at the well where shepherds drew water for their flock and he inquired from the shepherds if they knew of Lavan. They answered affirmatively . “And he said to them, ‘[Are things going] well with him?’ And they said, ‘[Things are going] well, and behold, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep’” (Breishis 29:6).

The Sforno learns a lesson from Yaakov’s inquiry of how Lavan was doing. “For behold he put effort into finding out how Lavan is doing before he went to see him because it is improper for a guest to be demanding of his host if he is in the middle of a simcha, joyous occasion, or the opposite for some reason, [i.e. he’s dealing with a sad situation].” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Why did Yaakov feel he had to inquire from these shepherds, who the Sforno relates in the very next pasuk were not the most upstanding individuals, wouldn’t he potentially be setting them up to speak lashon hara, slander, about Lavan? Especially since he probably knew from his mother Rivka, and possibly his grandfather’s servant, Eliezer, that Lavan was a shady character. How can he set a stumbling block for them to potentially slander Lavan?

Furthermore, Yaakov was a very smart and intuitive person, he probably could have figured out on his own by walking into town and snooping around to find out how Lavan is doing and what he is up to. He is known for being subtle but sly for he was known as an Ish Tam, a quiet person who sat there and learned most of the time but was very acute, for he was able to pull off getting the blessings from his father Yitzchak, albeit with the help of Rivka, unbeknownst to him and Esav, as well as taking away the birthright from Esav. If so, he definitely had the brains and ability to figure out a situation and to improvise on how to handle any subtleties on the spot. If so, why then did he inquire of the Shepherds how Lavan is doing?

We see from here that when it comes to derech eretz, proper manners, one should not beat around the bush, and try to use back handed manners, even if they are potentially doable to figure out the proper mode of action. It is better to be straight forward and to the point, in order to be sure you are doing the proper thing. Of course, if something negative was said you cannot accept it as truth, rather just be cautious.

Yaakov was also a prominent nephew of Lavan who one would think Lavan would be overjoyed to welcome as a guest into his house no matter what the situation was at the time, on the contrary Yaakov could have enhanced or helped the situation whether it was presently good or bad. Yaakov was probably aware of that too but he still put in all the effort he can to first inquire about how Lavan is doing because it’s important to not take any chances rather just be straightforward, you don’t even need to many details,  to be sure you are doing the right thing.

Vayetzei – Handling Depression

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In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei, Yaakov, sometime after leaving his parents, is promised by Hashem in the famous dream of the Angels going up and down the ladder, that he will have many offspring. Furthermore: “And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you” (Breishis 28:15).

After this episode, the Torah remarks: “Now Yaakov lifted his feet and went to the land of the people of the East” (Breishis 29:1). The Radak explains what it means by “Yaakov lifted his feet.” “Since G-D promised him and showed him this great vision he was happy and he easily lifted his feet and walked joyously, with a good heart. For originally, he was walking with weakened feet, like a person running away from his father’s house depressed. But he did not run away in a rush like one who runs away from the sword because he was not afraid of the sword of his brother as long as his father was alive.”(Click here for Hebrew text.)   It sounds like on some level Yaakov was depressed; Hashem lifted his spirits, and Yaakov was elated with joy after being promised blessing, security, and salvation by Hashem.

How could Yaakov Avinu be depressed after he took away the blessings from his brother and was told by his parents to leave his home? Aren’t we supposed to serve Hashem with joy and accept with a full heart anything that Hashem brings our way, no matter how dire the circumstances may be? If that’s the case, how could Yaakov, one of our forefathers, a role model for his descendants, feel a sense of depression?

We have to put things into perspective; Yaakov always did the right thing. He sat in the tent learning Torah most of his younger years, and the Torah testifies that he was a sincere person. Yaakov did as he was told from beginning to end. He listened to his mother when she told him to get the blessings. He now listened to his father (and mother) to go find a wife by his uncle Lavan. Yaakov wasn’t afraid of any danger, as the Radak said that he had nothing to worry about until his father died. It must be that he was simply upset to be the focal point of all that family stress, which in fact Esav was causing.

His depression must not have even affected him in a great manner, for Chazal testify that after he left his parents’ house he learned diligently in Yeshiva Shem ViEver for 14 years, unhindered by anything, to the point that when calculating the amount of years Yosef was away from Yaakov, which was a punishment for Yaakov not honoring his parents, those 14 years were not included in the calculation. Therefore it must be that during his time in yeshiva he put all his strength and effort into his learning of Torah. Furthermore, if his depression would have actually affect the way he served Hashem, then he would not have been deserving of Hashem coming to him and assuring him that He would be with him wherever he goes and that his future looked very bright, since he would not have deserved all that attention from Hashem. If this then is the case, what does the Radak mean that Yaakov was depressed?

We must say Yaakov still is only human, and on some miniscule level, which manifested itself in the way he walked, he looked depressed, even if for the most part he served Hashem to the utmost, putting in all the proper emotions and abilities into his service of Hashem. However, once he received chizuk [words of encouragement from Hashem] he was a new man, with a spring in his step, which gave him a whole new level of joy and elation.

It would seem that it is human nature for people to feel depressed at times, and it is a great kindness for others to lend a hand of security and encouragement to uplift that person. However, there are still expectations and responsibilities to learn; how to handle or control one’s depression so that it will not get in one’s way of walking on Hashem’s path and doing His will.