Friday, December 05, 2008

Parshat Vayeitzei - פרשת ויצא

In this week's Parsha, we read how Ya'akov sets out for Charan. Ya'akov had spent many years studying with his father, and was now coming from 14 years solid learning at the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever. There, we have learned, he did not break from his learning even to sleep. Ya'akov was totally alien to the outside world, he was a "יושב אוהלים" as is said in last week's Parsha; a tent dweller, one who spent his days devoted to the study of Torah.

Out of the three forefathers, the three אבות, the Jewish nation was named after one - Ya'akov. Not by that name, though, for we are known by the name he was later on given, the name of Yisrael. Other Biblical characters had their names changed, too: Avram became Avraham, Sarai became Sarah, and Hoshea later on became Yehoshua. In the cases of Avraham and Sarah, their names were changed by God himself. Surely their names would be a more fitting title for the Jewish nation?

Let's come back to that later. First, we must look at the Avot, and Ya'akov's position within them. Avraham was the first of the Avot. The Jewish nation have a title that comes from him, but it is less commonly employed: זרע אברהם - literally "Seed of Avraham." Avraham and Ya'akov were very similar to each other. The best way to understand it is as follows. If we examine the natural pattern of many things in this world, we can see that there are often three very distinct stages: Firstly, the initial spark, a wonderful eternal potential, but one that disappears within moments. The second stage is one of darkness and hard work. The third stage is the stage of the completion of that work, and the sweetness at the effort and perspiration of the second phase having realised the vision of the first stage. The third stage is an exact parallel of the first stage’s potential, for it is merely that potential having been realised.

Avraham Avinu was considered to be that first phase of the Jewish people, whereas Ya'akov was the third stage. The first stage is the flash on unlimited potential, in our case the vast promise that the Jewish people holds. The third stage was the actualisation of that dream, Am Yisrael being born. (From Ya'akov, the archetypal twelve tribes were born.) Avraham Avinu was typified by the ten tests given to him by Hashem, ten challenging tests that none of us have ever faced. Ya'akov had relatively normal tests in his life, nothing like being asked to slaughter his only son, or to jump into a furnace. His challenges were far closer to the challenges that most people have, nothing particularly extreme. Because he was so removed from mundane matters; he achieved a unique level of holiness that merited his station as the "בחיר האבות," the choicest of the forefathers, the one whose name would be lent to the nation that would descend from him.

Interestingly, the בתי מקדש are seen as being linked with the three Avot. If we look back to the aforementioned three-phase process, it is said of the first stage that it though it lasts only a while, it will seem at the time as though it will last forever. The second stage, the stage of darkness and hard work, is said to have the scent, but not the taste of the first stage. (We can understand this by referring to the World before the sin of Adam HaRishon. I have learned that back then, a fruit tree and a fruit's peel would taste and smell the same as the fruit it bore, whereas nowadays, after our perspective of reality was changed by the sin of Adam, only the smell remains.) The third stage is very much like the first stage, only this time there is no illusion of permanence; it is real. In this light we can understand the Zohar when it says that the first Bet Hamikdash is associated with Avraham, the second with Yitzchak, but the third and final Bet Hamikdash, which will be established in the End of Days and will be everlasting, is related to Yaakov.

And so Ya'akov set off for Charan. As we know, if we look closely at the names in the Torah, we find deep meaning to them. Charan is no different, it's name is particularly apt. Ya'akov left for Charan, for charono shel olam, the wrath of an unfriendly world. Ya'akov left 14 years of learning, and set out to continue his learning elsewhere, but something happened that wasn't on his script.

On his journey, Ya’akov came across a certain place, and stopped there overnight. The Pasuk uses the odd word "ויפגע," he “encountered” this particular place where he would experience the vision of the ladder. Chazal teach us that this encounter meant that he sought to travel on, to escape back to his quiet life of learning, but the place itself opposed him like a solid wall blocking him. This was not a chance meeting, Hashem brought him to a place where he would experience a clash that would change his perspective. Ya’akov went to sleep and had his famous dream, and he woke up a different man. Ya'akov then understood his mission, and it was then that he undertook his life's task. If we see Avraham and Ya’akov as being equal, as being in parallel, we may argue that while Avraham was all about the extraordinary, typified by exceptional and spectacular demonstrations of commitment to Hashem, Ya'akov was all about the Kedushah inherent in (what we perceive to be) the ordinary.

As mentioned before, Avraham was defined by the ten tests posed to him by Hashem. They demonstrated how Avraham, faced with tremendous difficulty and disappointment, never lost a beat in serving Hashem with joy and eagerness. The narrative of his life is an unfolding of the greatness of his accomplishment. What is there to say about Yaakov, however? His narrative seems so mundane, so full of details about ordinary, pedestrian life – dealing with sibling strife, acquiring a large family, raising the children, making a living.

In truth, however, the sagas of the two Avot are precisely balanced and parallel. Ya'akov is about Kedushah, and more specifically, about the Kedushah inherent within the ordinary. By following Ya'akov's example, we may learn how to change our perception of existence, taking the commonplace the events and mundane objects of material existence and turn them into spirituality on the highest plane. In this way, everything around us can become a כלי, a vessel, for spirituality. It can be argued that Avraham and Ya’akov’s traits were almost identical.

This lesson has vital relevance for today's generation. It is essential that we study Torah, but we must take it out with us into the real world. We must be fluent in our tradition of the Torah, we must be "עוסק בתורה," but simultaneously it is important to remember that we deal on a day-to-day basis with the outside world, with people who are not like us, who do not want to be like us. Ya'akov wanted to continue on his way, learning Torah, but Hashem made him collide with the world. Hashem brought him to the realisation that his task was not to sit all day and learn Torah, but to serve Hashem within the context of everyday life.

Returning to my earlier question, we can understand that it is not surprising therefore, that Ya'akov received the name Yisrael, which may be read "ישר-אל, Straight to Hashem." Through our interaction with the challenges and temptations of business, for example, one can either attempt to make his fortune, or make a Kiddush Hashem by dealing in a way that befits a God-fearing Jew. We can utilise all that is in this world to forge a direct connection with Hashem. It is for this reason that the Jewish nation was given Ya'akov's name to adopt above any other.

This last week, we have seen distressing events in Chevron unfold. I must make it very clear from the beginning that I empathise very strongly with the settlers, Israel is absolutely our land, Chevron is one of the four holy cities in Judaism along with Jerusalem, Bet El and Tiveryah. It is our right to live there, and to make pilgrimages as and when we want to Ma'arat Hamachpela.

But at the same time, I saw things this week that were no short of tragic. I saw video footage of Jews throwing projectiles from the roof of Bet Hashalom at passing Arabs, turning household objects into missiles with which to aim at the Arabs of Chevron. If there is one thing I am ashamed of, it is the undermining of our own (valid!) cause by acts of violence and extremity. I have no issue with eight families living in one house; they legally own it, they have the right to do with it as they wish. They may choose to protest against the police, but when these legitimate protests take a turn and become violent, making other people's life a misery, I get more than merely upset; I become greatly distressed. To borrow an expression of Rav Riskin's, "my Torah is crying."

I see a shameful misrepresentation of what true Judaism is, and I am horrified. It is not merely required, but it is absolutely against Halachah to hurl abuse at the soldiers whose job it is to protect the settlers. Yes, they also do the job of removing Jews from their homes, but to the average irreligious Israeli, there is no problem with that. They have no concern for Halachah, and screaming in their faces that the Torah says that this is our home will not change that. To attack a fellow Jew because he is following orders is unacceptable. Just because he is doing something wrong, does not mean we have an halachic imperative to attack him. It was shocking to see reports on the Jerusalem Post website of crude missiles, such as potatoes with nails hammered into them, found in what amounted to a ammunition depot of rudimentary projectiles to aim at the soldiers.

It is horrific to see stories of settlers throwing an Arab child of a rooftop on media such as The Times website. Make no mistake, it is heartening to see the settlers' commitment to our inheritance and our right to live in places such as Chevron. It brings me tremendous simchah to see Jews who have such a strong belief in the Torah, despite the world's dismissal of religion. I absolutely agree with them that Hashem has promised us this land, from the Mediterranean sea to the Jordan. But we are still in the Galut, Mashiach has not yet made his grand arrival. We still have to make do with what we have. We have to know how to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting a Jew, and when to concede certain things.

Not that we should concede anything and everything. Specifically, the Israeli government has no right to make Jews leave their homes in Chevron, especially after previous governments encouraged such settling activity. That is something that I, as a Jew cannot accept. The settlers are now effectively caught in an trap. It is absolutely wrong to tear people from their homes, especially when these people are the legal owners of their home. It is right and just to protest against any decision that states otherwise. And yet, we must protest strictly within the confines of the law. It is nonsensical to viciously attack soldiers for "God's word." What happened to the commandment forbidding us to raise our hands to our fellow Jews? We must learn from Ya'akov Avinu, we must continue to learn our precious Torah, but we too must involve ourselves with the outside world, and be careful to create a Kiddush Hashem, not a Chilul Hashem. In any case, Hashem's plan will be revealed according to His desire in the end.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

No comments:

Post a Comment