This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayeitzei (5768)
This week's Torah portion opens as Jacob sees angels rising and descending a ladder and it ends (32:2) as more angels come to greet him as he returns.
Rashi explains that the first angels were 'Israeli' angels 'rising' away from him as he left the Holy Land and second were 'foreign' angels descending to replace them and the third were seemingly different 'Israeli' angels greeting him upon his return home.
This is, at first glance, completely not understood. Why did there have to be different angels, why couldn't the first angels just stay with him.
Even more; what are angels? Why did they accompany Jacob at all?
To understand this, here is, with HaShem's help, a story. (Y'dion HaKfar 27 Chesvan, 5767).
It takes place over two hundred years ago somewhere in the Ukraine and its hero is an elderly, G-d fearing, good natured Jew by the name of Akiva who was an inspiration to all those around him.
One day to the surprise and disappointment of everyone Akiva announced that he had decided leave the village and spend his last years in Israel. It was a surprise because a man of his advanced age usually wouldn't attempt such a demanding and dangerous trip and a disappointment because he was one of the valued elders of the community.
But they understood and when the day finally came for him to depart the entire village gathered to wish him farewell. He boarded the wagon, they again wished him the best of luck, he said a short speech about how he was sad to leave, blessed them all, told them that he was leaving his books and other heavy items to the Synagogue to do with as they saw fit and he departed.
A month later they even received a letter from him saying he arrived safely in Israel, again thanking everyone for their friendship and wishing them happy and healthy lives. The letter was read over and over and that was the last they expected to hear from him.
Time passed and life in the town went on but then a bit more than a year later it happened. People couldn't believe their eyes. Akiva came back!
They all gathered around him, welcomed him with open arms and asked the obvious question; what happened? Why did he return? Hadn't he planned to be buried in the holy Land? Perhaps someone there wanted to kill him and he had to flee? Perhaps he had a dream?
But Akiva refused to answer.
He did talk about other things; his adventures on the way there, what happened when he arrived, what he saw in the holy cities of Chevron, Tsfat and Jerusalem, what he felt at the Western Wall etc. but when someone asked the obvious question, He just fell silent.
Life in the village quickly returned to normal until one day, over a year later, the burial society (a.k.a the Chevra Kadisha) got a message that Akiva was dying and wanted them to be present at his last moments.
They went to his small, one room house to find him lying in bed, weak, old, almost lifeless but fully conscious and they stood around his bedside waiting for his last words. But he only told them to bring chairs and sit instead of standing and to feel free to make themselves a tea and then after a few hours of silence, told them they could leave and should return tomorrow.
But the next day the same thing happened and he again asked them to come again tomorrow.
As can be understood, on the third day they were already impatient but just as they began wondering how long he would keep this up he suddenly sat up, as though with renewed power, cleared his throat and spoke.
"You probably want to know why I keep calling you here, right? And maybe you're wondering why I came back from Israel a year ago. Well, now I can tell you.
"Up to a few years ago I used to go every year to the great bazaar in the city of Braditchev to make business and when I was there I would pray in the Synagogue of the holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Braditchev. Ayy, what a holy Tzadik!!
"One day I came to Shul (Synagogue) a bit early and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak must have not heard me enter but I heard him saying the morning blessings. Believe me I've never heard anything like it in my life. It was simply awesome!
"But then suddenly the door of the synagogue burst open and in came a Jew, another businessman, crying like a madman, waiving his arms around and screaming 'they wiped me out!! All my money!! Oy! they stole my money!'
"Rabbi Levi Yitzchak calmed him down and asked him what had happened. He almost couldn't talk he was so emotional but he explained that he spent the night in the local inn and when he woke up he discovered that someone had stolen all his money and he suspects the cleaning lady there. It was a fortune and a lot of it was borrowed and now he was ruined!
"Meanwhile the synagogue started filling up with curious passers by and it wasn't long before the police showed up and began asking questions.
Well, the poor fellow mentioned that he suspected the cleaning woman and within a few minutes she was brought forcefully with the manager of the inn into the Shul weeping and protesting her innocence despite the curses and humiliations heaped upon her and it looked bad for her.
"But then Rabbi Levi Yitzchak held up his holy hand, and quietly said, 'There is no doubt that there has been a burglary but there is also no doubt that this woman is innocent. Now, whoever reimburses this fellow the amount of money that was stolen from him I will guarantee a place in heaven.
"I heard this and my heart jumped. It meant I would have to give away almost everything I had to my name, but I asked Rab Levi Yitzchak if he would put it in writing and when he said yes I took out my purse, gave him the money and he gave it to the victim.
"The fellow jumped for joy. Took the money kissed me and the Rabbi, thanked and blessed us a hundred times and left.
"Rebbi Levi Yitzchak then promised the maidservant that she would be compensated for her suffering and then turned to me. He called for a piece of paper and wrote on it: 'Please open the gates of heaven for this man', signed his name and instructed me that before I die I should ask the Chevra Kadisha to bury me with this note in my hand.
But then he warned me to never tell anyone about this except to the burial society on my last day on earth.
"But that's not all. The next day after the prayers Rabbi Levi Yitzchak asked me to step into his room. When we were alone he took out a bundle of money, a fortune and explained that the thief somehow heard about how I reimbursed that fellow and it made him feel so guilty that he repented and returned the money he stole.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak said that I could have it all if I just gave him back the letter. But I refused.
"True, without the money I would be close to poverty myself. But I didn't want it. Rather I suggested that he give the money to the maidservant to fulfill his promise to her and I would keep the letter.
"Sorry for calling you yesterday and the day before but I thought it was the end but today I'm sure it is.
"Now, do you want to know why I came back from Israel?
They shook their heads 'yes' and he continued.
"Well, when I returned from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak with the letter I sewed it into the binding of the prayer book that I used every day so as to never forget or lose it and when I moved to Israel I was sure I took it with mel.
But when I unpacked my bags I realized to my horror that I had somehow forgotten it and realized it must have gotten mixed up in the books I donated to the Synagogue before I left.
So I had to come back.
It took me a long time to get up the money for the trip back but when I got here I searched and, Thank G-d I found the letter. Here it is!"
With this Akiva said 'Shma Yisroel' closed his eyes and with a smile of contentment passed away.
This explains our questions.
Chassidim usually aren't concerned with rewards, not even heavenly ones. The reason Akiva really left Israel is for the same reason our forefather Jacob did so thousands of years earlier; he realized that hehad work to do in the mundane world.
According to Chassidic thought the reason we are in this world is in order to improve it by making it a vessel for Moshiach and, eventually forthe raising of the dead. This was why Jacob went to Charan and why Akiva back to the Ukraine.
But both of them had heavenly assistance: Akiva had Rebbe Levi Yitzchak's blessing and Jacob had angels.
Angels are spiritual creations of G-d with various purposes. Some are created to praise G-d with love (the hosts of Michael) or with fear (the hosts of Gabriel). Some, like those that destroyed S'dom, are sent to manifest G-dly decrees,.
But some are various units of spiritual energy designed to help us improve the world.
As with Jacob; the angels that escorted him to the boundary of Israel gave him power to leave the Holy Land and do his job and those that 'descended' to replace them came to protect him in his perilous battles against Lavan and Eisov.
But the ones that met him at the end of our Torah portion as he returned to Israel were the results of the energy and good deeds he did in his journeys.
From this we can learn that we are never alone. If we make up our minds to do good, G-d will send angels to help us.
And the job of our generation is, in the language of the Rebbe, to change the entire world and bring Moshiach.
Just one good deed can do it! And it's not difficult. Especially when we remember that we have angels to help us bring....
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