Archive for December, 2005

Anti-Assimilation

December 23rd, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

While going through Parashat Vayishlach there was one theme that stood out to me: the efforts of non-Jews to cause Jews to assimilate and the hard stance of the Jewish people against these efforts:

  • Yaakov fights the “man” (Bereishit 32:25-31). Chazal in midrashim (Bereishit Rabba cited by Rashi) say that this was the sar of Eisav. Thus this battle between Yaakov and the ish represented the overall struggle between the stength of Eisav, of worldliness, against those of Yaakov – of Torah and spirituality.
  • Yaakov meets Eisav. Instead of attacking Yaakov, Esav offers a partnership:

    ויאמר, נסעה ונלכה, ואלכה לנגדך

    And (Esav) said: let us travel and go, and I will go along with you

    Bereishit 33:12

    Esav offers to Yaakov that they (and by extension their children and descendents) would share a common future, going through the journeys of this world together. In the next passuk Yaakov declines.

  • Yaakov comes to the city of Shechem. After his Dinah is raped, he is offered by Chamor the father of Sh’chem that the people of Shechem and the children of Yaakov should intermerry and live together. Yaakov’s reaction is definitely in the negative (Shimon and Levi took this a step farther by killing all of the men in the city)

Common theme: the efforts of the non-Jews to assimilate the Jewish people into their midst, and the response of the Jews: no thank you! Something to keep in mind for those in Chutz La’aretz as we approach the climax of the “holiday season”.

Don’t Embarass Your Sister

December 23rd, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ויבא יעקב מן השדה בערב, ותצא לאה לקראתו ותאמר אלי תבוא כי שכר שכרתיך בדודאי בני, וישכב עמה בלילה הוא

And Yaakov came from the field in the evening, and Leah went out to him and said ‘Come to me, for I have hired you with my sons duda’im‘, and he slept with her on that night

Bereishit 30:16

The gemara in Megilla 13b explains how Rachel told Leah about the signals that she had pre-arranged with Yaakov. Even though this is what allowed Leah to take her place under the chuppah, Rachel did this in order that Leah not be embarassed.

In the passuk above, Leah returns the favor. Leah had already negotiated with Rachel that in exchange for the duda’im that Reuven had found, Leah would be able to spend the night with Yaakov instead of Rachel. The Netziv explains that Leah went out to greet Yaakov as he was returning because she wished to avoid causing any embarassment to Rachel. If Yaakov had returned from the field and gone to Rachel’s tent as he had been planning, only to leave a few minutes later after being told that he was to be spending the night with Leah, everyone would see this, and Rachel would be embarassed. Instead, Leah went out to meet Yaakov and tell him. Even though this was not the ideal in terms of modesty, Leah felt that it would be better to do this if it would lessen the embarassment of her sister.

Sorry for the Absence

December 23rd, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

There are some good reasons why I have not written many posts in the past few weeks:

  • My busiest week at work ever
  • Packing almost all of the things from our apartment onto a lift
  • Going through everything else and sort into the following categories: throw away, give away, sell, pack
  • Had last day at work
  • Left apartment for good

And as God willing I will be making aliyah this upcoming Tuesday (the second day of Chanuka) with my family on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Winter flight, I cannot guaruntee that the next couple of weeks will be any better. I will try to post at least one item on every parasha until things are more settled in my personal life. So please stick around.

(When logging in today I noticed that due to some configuration changes that my webhost made to my account without informing me, the blog was not displaying. Sorry about that. Everything is fixed now)

(On a related note, if anyone out there would like to be a guest blogger here for the next few weeks, posting on parashat hashavua/current chagim, please contact me at yaakov – at – parshablog – dot – com.

Carrying One’s Legs

December 11th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

וישא יעקב רגליו, וילך ארצה בני קדם

And Yaakov lifted his legs and walked to the land of the people of Kedem

Bereishit 29:1

We know from the context of this verse that Yaakov was travelling from the Land of Israel to Charan. If this is so, why doesn’t the verse simply say וילך יעקב חרנה – “And Yaakov went to Charan”? Why do we need to be told that Yaakov “lifted his legs” and that he went to “the land of the people of Kedem”.

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The Netziv explains this by way of analogy: If you were walking along a path with which you are very familiar, there would be no need for you to be watching every step you are taking. You could trust in your legs to do the walking. In other words, your legs are carrying you. However, if you are walking along an unfamiliar way, it would be dangerous for you not to pay attention to each and every step. In this case you are carrying your legs.

Yaakov was not only going to Charan. He was going to a place which presented spiritual challenges and dangers that were very different from the ones he faced while living in his father’s house in the Land of Israel. He was going to the land of the people of Kedem. Kedem has already been identified in the Torah as the destination of the Bnei Keturah (Bereishit 25:6) and the origin of Bil’am (Bamidbar 23:7). Kedem is not a place of idolatry like Canaan was in those days. Kedem was a place where people engaged in Kishuf and Nichush – sorcery, incantations and divinations. People sought to find out what was destined to occur in the future. This is a very serious spiritual offense (the Torah prohibits it explicitly).

Yaakov had so far lived his whole life in Canaan, in the house of Avraham. He had conditioned himself against temptation to idolatry and was able to carry on his day to day life without having to actively avoid idolatry. Thus, one could say that while in Canaan, Yaakov’s legs carried him.

However, when Yaakov was leaving the Land of Israel to a place on a lower spiritual level (as every place is compared to the Land of Israel) and a place where there were new spiritual temptations (exhibited by the people of Kedem) that could potentially entrap Yaakov during his sojourn in Chutz L’aretz Yaakov would need to start paying much closer attention to everything he did, every step he took. He would have to start carrying his legs.

Calling to Yaakov

December 6th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ויגד לרבקה את דברי עשו בנה הגדל, ותשלח ותקרא ליעקב בנה הקטן, ותאמר אליו הנה עשו אחיך מתנחם לך להרגך

And Rivka was told the words of Esav, her older son, and she send and called to (ל) her younger son, and she said to him: behold, Esav your brother is intending to kill you

Bereishit 27:42

ויקרא יצחק אל יעקב, ויברך אתו; ויצוהו ויאמר לו: לא תקח אשה מבנות כנען

And Yitzchak called to (אל) Yaakov and commanded him and said to him: do not take a wife from the daughters fo Canaan

Bereishit 28:1

After Yaakov received the blessing from Yitzchak, both Yitzchak and Rivka both called to Yaakov in order to give him marriage advice. However, as it is recorded in the Torah, they each addressed him in a slightly different way. When Rivka called to Yaakov it is written ותקרא ליעקב – the letter ל is used to denote Yaakov as the object of Rivka’s calling. When Yitzchak called to Yaakov, it says ויקרא יצחק אל יעקב – here instead of a ל, the word אל is used.

The Netziv (here and at Shemot 8:21) explains that in the Torah there are two ways of calling:

  1. Two people are not near each other. One calls to the other to come closer. This way of calling is delineated with a ל.
  2. Two people are near each other. One person calls to the other by name in order to make clear to them their feelings, their countenance. This way of calling is delineated with the word אל.

After receiving the blessing from Yizchak, Yaakov fled the house of his father in order not risk an encounter with his brother Esav. Rivka called to Yaakov in the first manner of calling – she wanted him to come back close to her so that she could speak with him.

When Yitzchak called to Yaakov, Yaakov was not far away. However, Yaakov was avoiding his father because he was afraid that Yitzchak was mad at him because of how he had received the blessing. Yitzchak called out to Yaakov in the second way, in order to let him know that he harbored no ill will against Yaakov (which is immediately confirmed when he blesses Yaakov again).