Friday, November 23, 2012

Parshat Vayetze - פרשת ויצא

"וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם וַיָּלֶן שָׁם, כִּי-בָא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, וַיִּקַּח מֵאַבְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם, וַיָּשֶׂם מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו; וַיִּשְׁכַּב, בַּמָּקוֹם הַהוּא - And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep."
(בראשית כח:יא)

One of the focal events of this week's Parsha happens when Ya'akov lies down to go to sleep. He dreams a dream, in which he sees a ladder above him and also receives prophecy that the entire land of Israel would become an inheritance for Am Yisrael.

Many commentators on the Parsha choose to discuss the exact details and the precise meaning of these events, but a seemingly "minor" point is the focus of this D'var Torah. Rashi points on the verse above that the words, "וַיִּשְׁכַּב, בַּמָּקוֹם הַהוּא - And [Ya'akov] lay down in that place to sleep" are an expressed in a way that suggests a measure of limit. Rashi goes on to explain that whereas here Ya'akov lay down to sleep, for the duration of previous fourteen years, when he learned in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever, he refrained from going to lie down to sleep.

The Yalkut Lekach Tov notes the words of Kovetz Sichot by Rav H. Shmulovitz, that after Ya'akov's fourteen years restless pursuit of Torah, he doesn't go to sleep on a plush king-size bed with soft cushions. No, he lies down on the ground. He does prop up his head, but with what - a rock?

Moreover, Ya'akov takes more rocks and sets them around his head in order to protect himself "from wild beasts." Here too, we have a problem as Rav Simcha Zissel of Kelm points out. Why would a few rocks stop an animal from getting to Ya'akov while he sleeps - surely the rocks could be knocked away with ease.

The answer to be found is a lesson taught by Ya'akov's behaviour. Ya'akov's actions are an example in how to conduct oneself; after massive sleep deprivation, Ya'akov realised that if one pushes himself to the limits, he can do tremendous things. As such, he was able to deal without sleeping properly for all this time. Indeed, Ya'akov has conquered his natural desires and instincts to the extent that after this episode, he felt no need to use anything more than a few rocks to lie on. Similarly, when he placed these stones around his head, ostensibly to protect himself from animals, he was fully aware that they didn't offer proper protection.

Seemingly happy with this relatively insecure barrier, Ya'akov goes on, in the opinion of at least one commentary, to enjoy his best ever night's sleep that night. It seems that he was completely satisfied in his act of השתדלות (acting in a way to demonstrate one's commitment to a cause while accepting that one's own role is always beneath that of God). Nevertheless, the assertion that he was entirely comfortable with this most minimal of safeguards remains troubling. To resolve this difficulty we have to understand that Ya'akov chose to employ this simple barrier in the knowledge that in reality, everything that one does is essentially a miracle. Man is incapable of doing anything himself - he is only permitted to by God. As such, Ya'akov knew that he had no need to place stones around his head. The reason he put them there was to reduce the miracle, as it were. His action was an attempt to limit the need for a miracle. We may tender that in this merit, Ya'akov deserved to experience the bigger miracle of waking up to see the multiple stones unite to become one.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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