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Parshat Vayetzei

In our parsha the spiritual-minded Yaakov, who was described by the Torah as "a scholarly “tent dweller" was forced to leave his home and birthplace to go to Haran. According to tradition, Yaakov stopped on his way to study Torah in the beit midrash of Shem and Ever. Then, in Haran he faced some difficult situations that would appear to be out of the league of such a delicate personality.


Already at the outset of his journey to Haran, Eisav's son Elifaz chased Yaakov in order to kill him. Elifaz ended up taking all of Yaakov's belongings so that later on, when Yaakov reached Lavan's home, he didn't have any gifts to offer Rachel and Lavan.
Chazal teach us that Yaakov convinced Elifaz not to kill him. When Elifaz raised the point that his father, Eisav, had commanded him to kill Yaakov, Yaakov persuaded Elifaz to take all of his belongings instead of actually killing him since "the destitute is considered as if he is dead."


Yaakov reached Haran and saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep resting near it. The shepherds were waiting for others to arrive so that together they could lift the heavy stone that covered the well. The laziness and negligence of the shepherds who were resting in the middle of the workday troubled Yaakov's refined ethical sensitivity, and our "scholarly" protagonist lifted the stone off the well by himself. He reached the home of the Lavan the swindler, and agreed to work seven years for the right to marry Lavan's "youngest daughter, Rachel." Although Yaakov made sure to spell out that their agreement was for the right to wed Lavan's youngest daughter, Lavan still succeeded in tricking Yaakov. Lavan was successful only because of the righteousness of Rachel, who revealed to her sister the secret sign that she had agreed upon with Yaakov so that Leah wouldn't be embarrassed.


Yaakov endured 20 years of deplorable conditions while working for Lavan. Lavan kept on changing the form of compensation to avoid paying Yaakov. Yaakov testified about his labor: "All that time, your sheep and goats never lost their young. Not once did I ever take a ram from your flocks as food. I never brought you an animal that had been attacked- I took the blame myself. You made me make it good whether it was carried off by day or by night. By day I was consumed by the scorching heat, and at night by the frost, when sleep was snatched from my eyes." When we try to imagine the gentle Yaakov in such difficult conditions, we can easily picture him giving up. Yet, the opposite is true. Yaakov put in more effort than was necessary and is an example of morality and work ethic, despite being amongst con men and liars.


Yaakov knew how to place certain sticks in front of the flocks to induce them to bear ringed, spotted and streaked offspring. We see that when necessary, the "scholarly" and gentle Yaakov, applied his intelligence and cunning when dealing with cheats and wicked people. When he saw injustices, he stepped forward to correct them.


Am Yisrael can learn from Yaakov Avinu appropriate reactions to events in our time. After all, we are named Bnei Yisrael after Yaakov (who was also called Yisrael). Our nation is a pure and holy nation, but at the same time (and because of this) we need men of action, "movers" who can grapple with worldly issues in a manner consistent with the Torah's divine ethics, and won't overlook the injustices that our world has become accustomed to. These people must be able to take the initiative. They can't be "scholarly" - in the negative sense of the word. Their actions reveal Hashem's name in all facets of our lives- from the lofty aspects of life to the most mundane aspects of life. One who realizes this ideal in his life understands that it is as if Hashem is acting in this world through his efforts. Even in his monetary endeavors he remains "connected" to Hashem.


When Yaakov set out on his way to Haran he said: "If G-d will be with me and protect me on the journey that I am taking, if He gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return in peace to my father's house, then I will dedicate myself totally to G-d." We see that Yaakov was aware that Hashem was the one providing him with bread to eat- even though we are well aware of (and already mentioned) the intense labor and effort that Yaakov expended. The midrash on the pasuk "and G-d's angels were going up and down on it (the ladder)" explains that this verse is referring to Yaakov. The angels saw him at the head of the ladder and at the foot of the ladder. They climbed the ladder and saw his image, they went down the ladder and saw Yaakov sleeping. The midrash compares this to a king whose subjects enter his court room- and see him sitting in judgment. They then go out to the fields of the city and find him sleeping in the fields.


The midrash is saying that even the angels couldn't comprehend how two seemingly contradictory forces could be united in one person. On the one hand Yaakov's image was underneath the throne of Hashem, a place of great kedusha (sanctity), and on the other hand they saw him sleeping- like a regular inhabitant of the physical world. What the angels didn't understand is that this apparent contradiction was Yaakov's greatness. He was capable of uniting the spiritual and the physical aspects of the world. Yaakov joined the heavens and the earth into one indivisible unit. This was a fulfillment of Hashem's goal in creating the world.


Although Yaakov Avinu was a synthesis of these seemingly opposing forces (the physical and the spiritual), in our lives it is difficult to bring them to perfect synthesis. Some people are more inclined towards the Beit Midrash while others find that their nature leads them to a life of activism. Our goal has to be to work together to unify these strengths and forces within the framework of Am Yisrael. By doing so we will succeed in glorifying Hashem's name in this world.

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