This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayeitzei (5761)
This week’s section speaks in detail of the births of the children of Yaakov, after whom would be named the future tribes of Israel. Strangely, at each birth the Torah repeats the phrase: “She became pregnant and she gave birth”, and then gives a reason behind the name chosen for each child.
What is the purpose of all this detail?
G-d could have just listed them with their mother’s names in their order of birth, and put the details in the Midrash or the Talmud (for instance as it does with the story of Avraham being thrown in the fiery furnace)? It can’t be because the sons of Yaakov were so special; except for Yehuda and Yosef, most of them either play very minor roles in the Torah or are not mentioned again at all.
And why does it repeat so many times: “She became pregnant and gave birth”?
I would like to answer with a personal story.
One afternoon, about ten years ago, I entered the office of our Yeshiva and checked the voice mail on our telephone. The first message was, “My name is Zahava and my phone number is 9876544.” She obviously had the wrong number, so I decided I’d do her a favor and call her back. I called the number she left, and when Zahava answered I tried to explain to her that she had made a mistake. “One minute” she said, “This is Kfar Chabad, right? I want to speak to Kfar Chabad.”
When I answered in the affirmative, she continued, “Good! Well, I have a friend called Sara. She’s pregnant and says she can’t afford another child, she already has three and her husband doesn’t earn much, so she decided she wants to make an abortion. I tried to talk her out of it, even sent Rabbis and experts, they talked to her for hours but nothing worked. Now she says that the only thing that will change her mind is if the Rebbe of Chabad himself calls her and personally tells her not to do it.
And that is why I called you. You’re Chabad, right?”
I explained to Zahava that the Rebbe is very busy, that he prays, learns and teaches Torah non-stop and also answers about one thousand letters and requests each day, so it’s unreasonable to expect him to call people back on the phone.
I suggested that I was willing to send a fax to the Rebbe explaining Sara’s situation and ask for a blessing that the next person that speaks with her should succeed in convincing her to have the baby.
Zahava agreed, I sent the fax, and in just one hour later I received a call from the Rebbe’s office that the Rebbe gave an answer!
The Rebbe wrote, “Is it true that people spoke to her seriously and did not succeed? I will pray for her.” I immediately called Zahava and excitedly read her the Rebbe’s answer. For a moment she was silent and then she slowly said, “Is the Rebbe saying that I’m lying?! That no one ever spoke to Sara!?”
I really hadn’t thought about it but I realized that she had a point. I tried to make up another possible explanation but she cut me off.
“The Rebbe sits over there in New York, how can he know if I’m telling the truth or not.”
There was silence for a minute; I didn’t know what to answer.
Finally she said, “Well Rabbi, I want you to know that there is no Zahava…. I am Sara. And no one ever spoke to me about not having the abortion. I don’t know how the Rebbe knew!
But one thing for sure … I just got the answer, in person, from the Rebbe I was waiting for. Please tell him that I’m not going to do the abortion. Tell him that I decided to have the baby and HaShem will help.”
I faxed in what she said and three hours later I received yet another reply: “Thank you for the good news. It is written in a Mishna of Tractate Sanhedrin that anyone who saves one Jewish soul it is as though he saved the entire world. Please tell her that she has just saved the entire world. And with that merit, G-d will send her blessings of success, health and Nachas.”
The Rebbe stopped everything he was doing and did a miracle to save an unborn child.
So it is in our case: The sons of Yaakov are called 'Bnei Yisroel'; they represent all the Jewish people.
They were all born in the most adverse conditions; in a hostile land ruled by the evil, dishonest idolater, Lavan. No normal person would want to have children in such a terrible environment. But the Torah informs us that Yaakov and his wives were not normal people; they were Tzadikim, and they knew that the future of the world depends solely on the Jewish people.
That is why (excepting Zilpa) it repeats, seemingly redundantly; “She became pregnant and gave birth”.
To them, every pregnancy and every birth was a miracle. Each and every child was a new and unique way to benefit the entire creation. (And because a name indicates something of a person’s personality and special job in the world, therefore the reason for each of their names is written in the Torah.)
This also explains the saying of the Chabad Chassidim “As much as we exalt and adore the Rebbe, the Rebbe infinitely more so values and idolizes each Jew”(As our story about Zahava shows). Because we do not know what a Rebbe is (we can only guess) but the Rebbe does know how infinitely precious each Jew is.
And, like Yaakov ‘Avinu’ in our parsha, it is the Rebbe’s goal to arouse (to make ‘pregnant’) and reveal (‘give birth’to) the Jewishness latent in every Jew.
The Rebbe explains that this is the reason that Yaakov surrounded his head with rocks when he lay down to sleep on his way to Charan (In the beginning of our section).
Yaakov was protecting his ‘head’ i.e. his thoughts, ideas and goals from becoming ‘natural’.
And the only way to do this is with Rocks; surrounding one’s understanding with complete, unquestioning, stubborn devotion to doing what G-d wants; making this world into a holy place (something like it was in the Holy Temple) without reckoning with any obstacles.
It all depends on us, Jew and gentile alike, to do all we can to assist the Rebbe in this holy goal. Only we can arouse the Jewish people to be what Yaakov dreamed of; a ladder connecting the heavens and the earth, and perfect the entire world with the arrival of (see end of Rashi on 33:14)
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