Third Temple Torah, True Teachings

Parashas Vayeitzei

From the Book of Bereishis (Genesis)

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

Parshat Vayeitzei opens with a seemingly straightforward description of Yaakov's travels: "And Yaakov left Beersheva and went toward Haran. And he encountered the place, and he spent the night there, because the sun had set" (Gen. 28:10-11). The Kedushat Levi explains that this journey symbolizes Yaakov's departure from the Land of Israel and subsequent travels into exile. Since our tradition teaches that every experience of the patriarchs has repercussions for their descendants, it seems that Yaakov's travels must still be relevant to our lives today. We can understand the lesson of his journeys by examining the opening verses of the parsha in detail.

The Torah tells us, "And Yaakov left Beersheva." The Kedushat Levi sees within Yaakov's departure from the Land of Israel a hint to the spiritual greatness of the Land. He derives this from the word "Beersheva," which is a combination of the Hebrew words "be'er" and "sheva." "Be'er" means "well" -- a source of water, symbolizing abundance and blessing -- while the word "sheva" means "seven," alluding to a seven-fold increase of the blessing. The Land of Israel is therefore the source of spiritual abundance.

The verse continues: "Éand he went toward Haran." Yaakov understands that his journey out of the Land of Israel will cause his descendants to be exiled in the future. According to the Kedushat Levi, the word "Haran" is related to the phrase "charon af," meaning "fury." G-d's anger and displeasure at the Jewish people's future behavior will result in their being exiled from the Land. This knowledge causes Yaakov great pain, as the next part of the verse indicates: "And he encountered the place" (vayifga ba-makom). The word "vayifga" shares a root with the word "lifgoa," which means "to injure." Furthermore, the word "makom," beyond its simple meaning of "place," often refers to G-d Himself, the foundation of the world (Bereishis Raba 68:9). We can understand from these words that Yaakov Avinu did not only feel the people's pain at being exiled, but he also felt Hashem's pain at being compelled to exile His children!

Yaakov was highly sensitive to the pain of exile. Therefore, the verse continues, "Éand he spent the night there, because the sun had set." The exile is compared to night. Yaakov saw that his journeys out of the Land of Israel would eventually lead to the darkness of exile descending upon the Jewish people. Just as Yaakov slept, the people, too, would be compelled to "sleep." Yaakov understood that his actions were only a prelude to what would happen to his descendants. Based on this idea, we can suggest a deeper understanding of the words, "And Yaakov left" (vayeitzei Yaakov). Yaakov came out of himself by allowing himself to feel the pain of the Jewish people's exile. He broadened his focus, shifting his attention away from himself and making room for others. This teaches us a valuable lesson about the importance of feeling other people's pain.

We see another demonstration of this quality in Parshat Lech Lecha (Gen. 15:13), when G-d tells Avraham that the Jewish people will be enslaved to a foreign nation for 400 years. We know from other sources, however, (Rashi on Gen. 42:2) that the Jewish people served in Egypt for only 210 years. How can we reconcile this contradiction? According to the Kedushat Levi, as soon as Avraham was informed about the future Egyptian exile, he felt the pain that the Jewish people would experience there. His pain was so acute that Hashem subtracted 190 years from the original decree!

This ability to feel pain for others also helps us to see why Rachel was the ideal wife for Yaakov. Yaakov had arranged to marry Rachel, yet he suspected that his future father-in-law Lavan would try to deceive him in some way. He and Rachel therefore agreed upon secret signs that would enable them to recognize each others' true identity. When Rachel learned of Lavan's plan to give her sister Leah to Yaakov instead, she taught Leah these secret signs -- because she was so sensitive to the pain that Leah would experience were she to be publicly humiliated under the chuppah (Megilla 13).

As soon as Yaakov feels the pain of the Jewish people's exile and goes to sleep in the darkness, G-d blesses him (Gen. 28:13-15) with the promise, "Behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this Land." We can learn from this blessing the tremendous power of developing sensitivity to others. Although G-d's Presence is with us even in the exile, feeling other people's pain can give us the merit to return to the Land of Israel. The blessing that Yaakov receives is a message to us as well.

May we all learn to become sensitive and responsive to the pain of others, and may this ability bring us one step closer to the final redemption, when we will be gathered from exile and return to our Land in peace.

Shabbat Shalom,
Aba Wagensberg

Photos and Data © Third Temple and/or Avrahom Dovid 1980 through 2005. Parsha Highlights © Rabbi Aba Wagensberg.