Weekly Reading Insights

VeYetzei 5763

Overview of the Weekly Reading: Vayetzei
To be read on 11 Kislev 5763 (Nov.16)

Torah: Genesis 28:10-32:3;
Haftorah: Hosea 12:13-14:10 (because of 12:13 "And Yaakov fled to Aram...and served for a wife... and kept sheep.")

Stats:Vayetzei, 7th out of 12 in Genesis, contains 0 positive mitzvot and 0 prohibitive mitzvot.
Vayetzei is written on 235 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 12th out of 54 in overall length.

On the way to Charan, Yaacov stopped to sleep. He dreamt of a ladder standing on the ground and reaching heavenward with angels ascending and descending. G-d told Yaacov that He would give him the land upon which he slept. Yaacov was awed by this vision and made the stone upon which he slept holy to G-d, and renamed the area G-d's Temple. He vowed that if G-d would protect him, he would dedicate his life to G-d and give Him a tenth of his possessions. Yaacov continued his journey, and arrived at a well near Charan. Seeing his cousin Rachel with her father's sheep, Yaacov lifted the heavy stone atop the well for her, and returned with her to Lavan's house. He made a deal to work for Lavan for seven years, and then marry Rachel.

Lavan deceived Yaacov and substituted his older daughter Leah. Lavan told Yaacov that he could marry Rachel after the celebrations of the marriage to Leah, but he would have to work another seven years. The Parsha relates the birth of Yaacov's children through Leah, Rachel, and their handmaids Bilha and Zilpah. Yaacov decides to leave with his family, but then agreed to continue working for Lavan. Lavan and his sons became jealous of Yaacov's wealth. After six years, G-d told Yaacov to return to his birthplace. When they left, Rachel stole Lavan's idols. Lavan learned that they had gone, and chased after them. He sought his idols, and Yaacov, who did not know it was Rachel, said that whoever was found with them would not live. Lavan and Yaacov made a treaty, with G-d as witness.


"A ladder was standing on the ground and the top of it reached to heaven". (28:12)

The Hebrew word for ladder (sulam) has the same numerical value as money (mamon). This teachers us that money is like a ladder -- it can be used to ascend and come closer to the heavens, or with it one can descend to the depths. Everything depends on how we use it and for what purpose.

(The Baal Shem Tov)



Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of
Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

Jacob's choice of words [29:21], when he asked Laban to give him his wife at the end of seven years of service--"Hand over my wife … and I will come in to her"--is truly puzzling. Even the most boorish person would not use such crass language. We must also wonder at Leah's choice of words in 30:16: "To me you must come this night, for I have hired you for the mandrakes of my son."

Nachmanides, in his book Igeret Hakodesh, has already written about the significance of the terms joining and knowing when used to describe sexual unions. Before man sinned and became polluted with the filth of the evil urge, the act of copulation was considered the fulfillment of a mitzvah, similar to all other mitzvot. Just as one employs one's hands to fulfill the commandment of building a sukkah, hut, or one takes a lulav in one's hands, so one uses a different organ to fulfill the commandment of being fruitful. The genitals were created to enable man to perform this commandment, and there was no feeling of shame or embarrassment attached to the act.

Only after the serpent had made man aware that he was nude, and that the very condition of nudity was something to be embarrassed about, did the act of sexual union become associated with feelings of shame and embarrassment. In the future, when G-d will remove the evil urge from us, and we shall again be as free from sin as Adam was before his sin, the act of physical union between man and wife will again be the performance of a mitzvah like all other mitzvot.

The patriarchs and matriarchs were on a spiritual level approaching that which in the future will exist amongst ordinary people. This enabled them to express themselves in a totally unrestrained manner. Whereas ordinary people, in order not to appear gross, must describe every reference to sexual activity with euphemisms, the patriarchs and matriarchs had no need to resort to this; their holiness was natural, the result of child-like innocence. This is why Rashi explains that Jacob's meaning was simply: "When can I begin to sire the twelve tribes?"

This also explains why Jacob was able to kiss Rachel the moment they met, and why such conduct is not considered suggestive.

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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(W:07-63 VaYetzei )

From personal experience each of us knows that some places are more special than others. R' Michil of Zlotshov explains why from a Torah perspective: This week's Torah portion, Vayetze, begins by stating that Yaacov left Beer Sheva (28/10). Rashi explains that the departure of a righteous person from a place makes an (ostensibly negative) impact there. With the departure of the righteous person, "light turns (away), glory turns (away)…".

On examining this verse and its commentary, and especially considering that the Torah is G-d's will and wisdom, why would the Torah present something negative about Yaacov leaving? Just say that Yaacov arrived somewhere. Alternatively, Jews have a strong tradition that when a righteous person leaves a place, an eternal positive impression remains behind. Even if we are not on a high enough level to experience it, it is possible to sense it if we try. This is why, for instance, one sits 'shiva' (7 day ritual of mourning) in the home of the departed person, since that person's energy is more present there and therefore consoles us.

If the above paragraph is true, then how can we understand the verse and Rashi's commentary? After all, Rashi was divinely inspired. We should therefore try to understand Rashi in a different way-that when a righteous person leaves a place he leaves a positive impression! Forever after, a good impression will be left there-G-d's presence which is revealed on the physical plane is always drawn back to that place. The light turns (to the place), the glory turns (to the place)! A place where a righteous person lived is always filled with positive energy! We can both sense this as well as use it to help us grow.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true; G-d creates a world where good and bad appear balanced (Kohelet, 7/14). Just as the presence of a righteous person in a place causes that place to be forever filled with light, so a place where an evil person was present is forever filled with darkness and impurity. We can sense that it is much harder to express ourselves spiritually in a place that is or was filled with evil! It could well be that bad thoughts and confusion are not a product of our own minds but rather the influence of negative surrounding! There is a strong hint to this in Pirkei Avot (3/2), "Two that sit together and do not have Torah between them, this is a place of evil doers, as the verse says, (Psalms 1/1) 'Don't sit in a place of evil doers'." What does it mean, 'there is no Torah between them'? Let it say, 'who do not speak Torah'. Further, what proof does the verse from Kohelet bring? Rather, let us understand it as saying: When two people that are having trouble saying Torah in a location that does not bring any positive spiritual energy between them, this is proof that that place was once a setting for evil doers. This is as the verse confirms, 'Don't sit in a place of evil doers'!

Accepting unconditionally the above teaching would mean to avoid going to certain places. Yet we see through the generations that this is not always followed. The Lubavitcher Rebbe in particular, sent his emissaries all over the world, even to some of these places. Certainly with the power of a truly righteous person supporting us, we can overcome any problems. Also, we understand that difficulties are not always from within us, but rather a reflection of the place. If we redouble our efforts, we can overcome these obstacles and instill new positive energy wherever we go. Without question, this is the way to bring Moshiach.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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