This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayeitzei (5772)
This week we learn of how Yaakov (Jacob), the founder of the Jewish people, was tricked, time after time, by his father-in-law into working 20 long and difficult years for something that should have taken much less time.
At first glance this is not understood. After all Yaakov was not an ordinary person or even regular Biblical character, he was one of the three patriarchs of Judaism; the Chosen of G-d!
Where are the miracles? Why couldn't G-d at least lighten or shorten his burden. How did He let Lavan trick him?
To understand this here is a story I read recently (translated by Yerachmiel Tilles. "Sichat HaShavuah" #1259).
Nearly fifty years ago, early one Friday morning, Yitzchak, a young Chasidic businessman, from the Stamford Hill section of London was driving home from a business trip. He set out early enough to be able to reach his London home with plenty of time to spare before Shabbat began.
But when his car broke down on the highway and he was forced to have it towed to a garage in the nearest town his plans gradually changed. At first he thought that maybe he'd make it home in time. Even the mechanic was optimistic, but as the repairs dragged on and on it slowly became clear that he would never make it back before nightfall and would have to spend Shabbat where he was.
He didn't have much time left. He found a phone, called home, told his wife the sad story and resigned himself to being stuck in a small town that he had barely heard of and where he didn't know a single person.
His inquiries revealed that there was a synagogue; thank G-d for that! That meant there must be some Jews there as well! He managed to find a small hotel nearby a little supermarket where he bought some food with kosher stamps on the wrappings, took it to his room, washed up and prepared for the Shabbat.
When night fell and Shabbat arrived, Yitzchak walked to the synagogue and entered. It was quite an impressive structure considering its location in an area of England not known for Jewish communities.
Unfortunately, it was pretty desolate and even now at the start of Shabbat there was hardly anyone there. With great difficulty a minyan (ten Jews) was finally assembled, yet most of its members did not appear to Yitzchak's eye to be particularly mitzvah-observant. But there was one religious-looking old man with a thick beard who nodded hello, approached Yitzchak and shook his hand warmly before the prayers began.
In the middle of the services, when there was a short break, the old fellow again approached Yitzchak again, shook his hand enthusiastically and, without introduction or preamble, asked him in very broken English and in an almost pleading tone if he would consent to be his guest for Shabbat.
It took Yitzchak a few seconds to realize it was English the fellow was speaking and to understand what he was saying so he repeated the question, also in broken English, "You invite me to you for Shabbat?" When the man smiled and shook his head yes Yitzchak responded in Yiddish that he would be happy to accept the invitation.
The old man's face lit up, and without another word he returned to his seat for the continuation of the prayers.
Afterwards, they left the synagogue together. His host introduced himself as Yaakov Frankenovich, but everyone called him Yankel. He pologized that he lived on the fourth floor and they would have to walk up many stairs. When they arrived Yitzchak understood what he meant. After one flight his host was breathing and coughing very heavily and the remaining flights were made slowly and with the greatest difficulty.
The apartment was quite small. Only one bedroom and when no one was there to greet them Yitzchak understood that Yanked lived alone. But yet the table in the middle of the room was set for two. Could it be that the old man knew that he was coming? Surely there was no other guest he could possibly be expecting. His host saw the wonder on his face, smiled, and remarked that he so desired to have a guest that for years he had been setting a second place in anticipation.
The meal turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. Hours went by in Torah discussion and singing the songs of Shabbat until it was quite late at night. Yitzchak rose from the table, happy but exhausted, to return to the hotel. But old Yankel pleaded with him to remain and be his guest for sleeping over also. He even began making a bed for him in the corner of the room, converting the sofa into a bed. It seemed such an urgent matter for his host that Yitzchak felt he had no choice but to accept, even though he had already paid for his hotel room.
The whole evening he had wondered why Yankel did not move in all these years to a bigger city with a larger, established Jewish community, including others that were religiously observant like him and before Yankel went into his room Yitzchak asked him. But Yankel just said, "I'm tired now, best that I'll tell you in Third Meal, at the end of the holy Shabbos".
Throughout the night Yitzchak heard Yankel coughing. Eventually they became such severe coughing fits that in the morning Yitzchak tried to convince him to stay home and rest rather than going to Shul (synagogue) but the old man refused to even consider it.
In their long slow strolls to and then back from shul, although they didn't talk about personal matters, they became friends. Yitzchak was especially impressed with the strong faith of his elder companion and the whole-hearted innocence with which he served the Al-mighty.
Finally, at the Third Meal, Yankel opened up about himself, as he had promised. He was born in Russia. When he was a young boy, in the early stages of the Bolshevik Revolution, his grandfather decided that Russia was no longer a safe place for them to live, and the entire family uprooted to England. They settled in this same small town, where they lived a meager existence, but happily free of fear and persecution.
As a result of their pioneering presence, other Jewish immigrant families gravitated to the town and eventually it became a significant Jewish community. They built a fine synagogue, the one they had just prayed in, and they even had a Rabbi for a while.
His grandfather and grandmother, despite the fact that they were the founders of the community, always remained humble, friendly and very hospitable, always managing to come up with a donation to anyone who needed it. And when a person was too embarrassed to accept charity they would extend it as a loan.
But then came the spirit of "progress". The next generation wanted the big city and moved away to areas distant from their parents, and the children of the minority that remained, that is the third generation that were Yankel's age, for sure didn't stay.
But Yankel's grandfather refused to leave. He said that since they were the founding pillars of the community, they were obligated to stay and before passing away he requested that Yankel too not abandon the community. He told him that just the fact that he had a place to stay, kosher food and a Synagogue was in itself justification for him to remain.
"Who knows?" his grandfather concluded his dying request; "Perhaps someday a Jewish traveler will show up, and you will be able to fulfill the blessed mitzvah of hospitality." Yankel, being the simple Jew that he was, didn’t ask any questions. He stayed.
Suddenly Yitzchak realized that he was the guest that his new close friend had been awaiting all these years – perhaps decades!
Tears welled in his eyes. His elderly host tried to continue speaking, but another difficult coughing spell forced him to pause.
Finally he resumed. "Please don't feel sorry for me," he said. "Really the opposite is true. You can't know how much gratitude I feel towards you that you enabled me to have the merit of fulfilling the mitzvah of bringing home a guest. Now I feel that I have fulfilled my mission from my grandfather."
On Saturday night, as the Shabbat ended, Yitzchak bade his host goodbye, thanked him profusely and rushed to the garage to pick up his car and drive home. But before he left he promised Yankel a return visit. He was concerned about his welfare and anyway he wanted to bring him a nice present.
A few days later as soon as he had some free time, he traveled north again, drove directly to Yankel's house and, when there was no response at his door, he figured that the old man must be in the Shul.
So he hurriedly drove over to the synagogue, found the attendant in charge and asked him where Yankel is. The man answered, Yankel? "The other day, that is… Sunday he came here, started coughing, fell over and by the time the ambulance got here it was too late. He died right here!"
The attendant looked down for a sad moment, dried off his eyes with his hand, then looked at Yitzchak, pointed at him and said, "One moment, aren't you the guest that was here this past Shabbat? You're Yitzchak, right? Well just wait a minute, I have something for you." He went into the next room, returned with a package and said, "Here, Yankel left this package on his table, and it has your name on it."
With great emotion, Yitzchak hurried to open the package. Inside were a few books and a letter. He began to read:
"Yitzchak, my dear friend. I feel that my end is near. Your visit brought me so much joy and pleasure; genuine 'Yiddishe nachas' (Jewish satisfaction) . I hope that the merit of the mitzvah of hosting will stand for me in the World of Truth, where I'm going. I bequeath my siddur (prayer book) and chumash (Pentatuch) to you, along with my heartfelt wish that you will succeed in raising your children in the path of Torah."
Yitzchak cried quietly. When he heard there was no one to say kaddish for the deceased, he promised that he himself would do it.
From that day on, Yitzchak made it a rule in his household that an extra place should always be set at the table, for any guest who might happen to appear and always did his best to bring at least one guest to fill it. In addition to his own mitzvah, he wanted this practice to be an ongoing memorial for Yankel's dedication and love his entire live for the mitzvah of hospitality.
This answers our questions. Sometimes a soul can wait for years, even an entire lifetime, to do one good deed. And it can even be that this one single deed can give meaning to all the years, days and moments preceding it. As we saw in our story.
This was why Yaakov took so long. He was giving us the power to do the same: to make life worthwhile every single instant… even if that instant happens to be the last in our life and even if it is such an apparently mundane act such as tending sheep, as Yaakov did, or taking in a guest as in our story.
If we view life properly, as our patriarch Yaakov did, and as he gave us the blessing to do, then we can make every detail of the world, even a rock, into a House of G-d (28:22) and transform every mundane instant into a miraculous blessing.
This was why Yaakov took so long and why the exile has taken so long. But it was all a preparation to Moshiach who will bring all the Jews back to Torah all the gentiles to the Seven Noahide Commandments and make the entire world; every place, every person and even every past moment of the exile to be meaningful, blessed and holy!
It all depends on us. We can make it happen even one second earlier; even ONE MORE good deed, word or even thought can tilt the balance, change the entire world and bring …..
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