“And Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said, ‘Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know [it].’” (Genesis 28:16)
Yaakov Avinu experienced a most incredible dream. He had seen God perched on top of a ladder which extended to the heavens; he had seen the angels climbing up and down and had received a promise of security, safety and success from the Master of the Universe. Yaakov was not expecting such a revelation and so he awoke startled, “this is clearly a holy and special place, and I did not know.” The simple interpretation is that Yaakov was unaware of its holiness. Rashi explains that the dream took place on Mount Moriah, the site of Akeydas Yitzchak (the binding of Isaac) and the future site of the Temple. Yaakov remarks to himself, “Had I known this was such a holy and significant place, I would have never allowed myself to fall asleep here.”
The great Chassidic master, Rav Yisroel of Chortkov (1854-1934) explains Yaakov’s statement a bit differently.
“Acheyn yesh Hashem ba’makom hazeh (God is present, can be felt and experienced in this place.)”
“Va’anochi lo yadati” – I stopped focusing on anochi (myself). I did not know myself.
Yaakov ventured far away from the comforts of his familial home because he knew he had something great to accomplish. He understood that there was a magnificent destiny waiting to be seized and actualized. But it would not be easy, it would not be comfortable, it would require great sacrifice. Yaakov placed his self-interests on the backburner to maximize his life potential. Yaakov stopped focusing on anochi (myself) and instead focused his efforts on what God wanted from him. When he was able to subvert the anochi, he was able to acutely experience and feel the presence of God: “Indeed the Lord is in this place.”
Often, we experience conflict on communal and personal levels. In our communal lives, there is often a tension between what I want as an individual versus what is best for the community (whether this is the community of a Shul, school or organization). Too much strife occurs when we allow our personal interests to interfere with what is good for the collective. The only way to bring holiness into our communal lives is through “Va’anochi lo yadati,” putting our personal interests on the side and focusing on the needs of the tzibur (group). As individuals we experience this conflict as well. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (1707-1746) writes in his introduction to Mesillas Yesharim (Path of the Just) that a person must ask himself, “What does God want of me?” This is in contradistinction to the question we often ask ourselves, “What do I want out of life?” There are times when what I want for myself and what God wants from and for me are in conflict. Yaakov had this conflict as well. One would have to imagine that Yaakov would have much preferred to remain at home, build his family in the Land of Canaan and be with his parents as they grew old. But deep down, Yaakov knew that God wanted something different for him and his communal impact. Deep down Yaakov knew that destiny awaited, and it was across the river in a foreign land with hostile inhabitants. Yaakov put aside his anochi and found God.
There are times in life when the plan we have for ourselves is dramatically different than the plan God has for us. In these most humbling moments, we must find the strength to put aside the anochi of our personalistic self-interests and embrace the destiny God has waiting for us. If we can summon the strength to do so, we too will be able to say, “Acheyn yesh Hashem ba’makom hazeh” – I will feel the presence of God guiding and holding me everywhere I go and in every step I take.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur.
Sponsored by Rosalie Sklar in memory of her husband, Manny, Menachem Mendel ben Tzvi Hirsch z’l
And Jacob left Be’er Sheva and he went to Haran (Bereishis 28:10)
The dramatic journey had begun. Yaakov fled the familial home to escape the wrath of his older brother, Esav under the cover of going to find a wife from amongst his mother’s family. The journey was filled with twists and turns, ups and downs, yet Yaakov heroically clung to God and the ideals of his parents. Amid all the drama, the commentaries ask a simple question: why must the Torah state that “Yaakov left Be’er Sheva (Va’Yetzei Yaakov M’Be’er Sheva)” and that “he went to Haran (Va’Yelech Charana).”? Once you state the second part of the verse (that he went to Charan), it is obvious that he left Be’er Sheva. Why include a seemingly redundant phrase?
The Beis HaLevi (Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, 1820-1892) explains that people make life changes for different reasons. There are times in life when one’s objective is to get away from his current circumstances. We don’t have a specific destination; we just know that we don’t want to be “here.” Our circumstances are so compromised that we must get away, take flight, and leave. The destination is unimportant, we just need to leave. And there are times when one is not looking to escape from his current circumstances. His current circumstances are fine, but he is not looking to live a “fine” life, he is searching for greatness and holiness. We can live out our lives in our current situations, but we choose to journey to something better. We need to journey to reach an important destination; there is somewhere else we need to be. Yaakov’s journey had both elements. He left home at the behest of his parents. His mother commanded him to leave the familial home to save his life. The destination was unimportant; Yaakov couldn’t be in Be’er Sheva. On the other hand, Yitzchak tells his son to specifically travel to the home of Lavan to find a wife. Yaakov tried to accommodate the wishes of both parents. “And Yaakov left Be’er Sheva,” he was running from danger thereby accommodating the wishes of his mother. “And he went to Haran,” he was journeying specifically to find a wife, in accordance with the desires of his father.
The Beis HaLevi not only provides us with an important textual insight but provides us with an important life lesson as well. There are two types of journeys we take throughout life. The journey “from” and the journey “to.” There are times in life when our circumstances are unhealthy and difficult, and we must extricate ourselves from them to each become a whole person. We take flight from our current reality to escape negative circumstances. But there is a danger when you are only running from something. You can end up without direction. On the other hand, there are times in life when we realize that life can and should be more. And we decide to grow and improve. We leave our current situations to expand our hearts and souls, but if we don’t know where we are going, if there is no life itinerary, we can end up spinning our wheels and experience mounting life frustration. It is not just enough to journey “from,” we must also journey “to.” We must create a plan that includes our intended destination. Where do I want to go? Who do I want to be? And then we can each answer the question, how can I get there?
Sometimes we must leave our Be’er Sheva, our current circumstances. We must resist the temptation to only “journey from” and find the courage to “journey to.” If we want the journey to be successful we must identify our destination and chart our course. May we be privileged to find the strength to embark on the journey and may God grant us the wisdom to reach our destination.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur
It was the dawn of a new age. The era of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs paved the way for emergence of the Twelve Tribes and the beginning of the Nation of Israel. Together with his wives, Rachel, Leah and their maidservants Bilha and Zilpa, Yaakov continued to build upon the foundation of his father and grandfather. However, Yaakov’s familial circumstances were far from idyllic. There was ongoing tension in the household. This was most clearly expressed in Leah’s naming of her children:
“And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has seen my affliction, for now
my husband will love me.” And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “Since the Lord has heard that I am hated, He gave me this one too.” So she named him Shimon. And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, for I have borne him three sons; therefore, she named him Levi (Genesis 29:32-34).”
Leah desired to be close to Yaakov. She desperately pined to feel loved. She knew she was not the intended or desired spouse. She knew the intensity of the love shared between Yaakov and Rachel and yearned for that same level of marital connectedness. With the birth of each child Leah secretly hoped that this would be the event that would create marital closeness with Yaakov.
Yet something changed with the birth of her fourth son.
“And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “This time, I will thank the Lord! Therefore, she named him Judah, and [then] she stopped bearing (Genesis 29:35).”
It is interesting to note that Yehuda’s name makes no mention of her pain or desire for Yaakov’s attention. The first three children’s names all reflected this anticipatory desire for greater spousal connection and yet now she utters just a simple statement of gratitude to God. What changed? Furthermore, why didn’t Leah express her gratitude to God upon the birth of her older children?
Rav Shimon Schwab (1908-1995) explains this profound transformation in one word – acceptance. Leah spent the first few years of her married life in incredible pain over her perceived second tier status. Yaakov loved Leah, as the Torah states, “… and he also loved Rachel more than Leah … (Genesis 29:30)” – he just loved Rachel more. For there to be harmony in a marriage a wife must know that she is most important and a priority in her husband’s life. Leah knew she was loved, she knew Yaakov cared for her, but she also knew she was not the most important person in his life. Leah’s pain was so acute that it was reflected in the naming of her children. During what should have been times of incredible joy, all Leah felt was pain. This pain overshadowed and eclipsed the feeling of blessing that should have been present at birth of her children. But then something changed. Leah realized that the circumstances of her life were not going to change. Rachel was and would always be the love of Yaakov’s life. And so, Leah Imeynu had a choice. Either use up all of her emotional energy yearning for something that would not come to fruition or devote herself to maximizing her current circumstances despite the fact that they were not optimal. Leah chose the latter. Leah chose to accept her circumstances and realized that although, she may not be the primary wife, she would become the dominant matriarchal influence within the Abrahamitic family. The future kehuna (priesthood from the tribe of Levi) and monarchy (from tribe of Yehuda) would emanate from her. When Yehuda was born, Leah had already accepted the reality of her circumstances and her new role. As a result of this acceptance, Leah was finally able to appreciate the beautiful life blessings God had conferred upon her.
We start out with a vision of how we expect life to turn out. We have dreams and aspirations and when we close our eyes we can even see how each of these dreams will materialize. Sometimes, they do. But more often than not, life does not turn out exactly the way we had expected. Life does not always go according to plan. Whenever possible we must exert incredible effort to bring our dreams and life vision to fruition. However, there are moments when we must accept that the life we want is not the life that we have. We must sometimes accept that some dreams do not and will not come true. And it is in these very moments we must make a decision. It is in these pivotal moments that I must make a choice. Will I spend all of my energy lamenting that which is not or will I devote myself to maximizing that which is? This was the strength of Leah and it is the strength we must each find within ourselves. Even if our story doesn’t have a fairy tale ending we must endeavor to find happiness, meaning and fulfillment in the ever after.