This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayeitzei (5762)
This week we find Jacob (Yaakov) the ‘Patriarch of Judaism’ on his way to his Uncle, Lavan's house in order to find a wife and establish the Jewish people. But it wouldn't be easy.
Jacob was aware of the challenges before him. He would be a stranger in a strange hostile land, his uncle was a known swindler, and he was fleeing from his brother Eisav, who wanted to kill him.
So the Torah tells us that to prepare himself for this awesome task, before arriving at his destination, he put rocks around his head, lay down to sleep, got a vision of G-d, and upon awakening, declared that the rock (the rocks united to form one rock) will be "the House of G-d".
Rashi (28:11) explains that Yaakov put these rocks around his head to protect him from wild animals and that's why he called them (or rather it) G-d’s house.
What is going on here? Why did Yaakov surround just his head with rocks, why not his entire body? Why did the rocks unite? How can one rock be a house? And even more important; all this happened over 3,500 years ago to one Jew in the middle of nowhere …. what does it mean to us?
I would like to explain with a story.
December 1700. It was a cold winter in Poland and a blanket of snow covered the entire country. The city streets were bustling with rosy-cheeked people bundled up in fur coats and the countryside peasants were busy warming their homes with wood, and themselves with vodka. The holiday season was approaching, and everyone was in good spirits.
But in the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow gloom and fear filled the air and moaned from every corner; a smallpox epidemic was beginning and tens of children were already on the verge of death. Their main source of joy, their children, were being taken from them.
The doctors were helpless to stop it and the various home remedies did nothing. Every day the town was visited with more heartbreaking tragedies. The only one they could rely on, as usual, was their Father in Heaven, and He didn't seem to be helping much either.
The Rabbi of the community had declared a day of fasting and prayer, then another, then three days of prayer and repentance. But nothing seemed to work. A week of supplication and public psalm reading was announced, but before it began, the thirty elders of the community decided they had to first make a "Shaalas Chalom" (a dream request) to see if, perhaps, there was a heavenly solution.
It was a drastic move, but they had no other choice. They purified themselves, fasted, said Psalms non-stop, immersed in a Mikva, and then prayed to G-d according to ancient Kabalistic formulas, to receive some sort of sign or message that night in their sleep.
Early the next morning they met in the Shul (synagogue) to relate the results of their nocturnal efforts and the results were frightening; the previous night they all had the same, identical dream!
They all dreamt that an ancient bearded Jew in a long white robe appeared to them and said: "SHLOMO THE BUTCHER MUST PRAY BEFORE THE CONGREGATION!!".
It was clear what they had to do. They all knew who the dream was referring to. Shlomo was one of the five or six butchers in the Jewish quarter. He was a simple, honest man that no one ever paid much attention to, but now it would be different.
The thirty of them solemnly walked to Shlomo's home and knocked on the door. When his wife opened, she almost fainted at the awesomely sight of so many serious Rabbis.
"Ye..yes?" She stammered, pushing her loose hair under the kerchief on her head.
"We want to speak to your husband. Is he home?" said one of them as pleasantly as possible. "May we come in?" asked another.
She told them to wait and in a few moments Shlomo himself came to the door, shook everyone's hands and invited them in. He ran around for a few minutes looking for chairs and when he found enough and everyone was seated one of them began.
"Shlomo, you know the children are sick right? Well, last night we made a Dream Request, We asked G-d to tell us what to do about the epidemic and last night we all had the same dream. We dreamed that you have to lead the prayers today."
Shlomo was dumbfounded. If it weren't such a serious matter he would think it was a joke.
"I...should lead the prayers?” stammered Shlomo “ Why I....I can't even read properly. I can't…. I mean, what good will it possibly do?"
The elders looked at poor Shlomo, then at each other and then took turns trying to convince him. "Listen Shlomo, just come and do what you can. You don't have to really lead, just pray in front of everyone. Maybe there will be a miracle, maybe you will begin to read. We don’t understand it either but…. just come and give it a try. Everyone is in the Shul (synagogue) waiting. Just come and say a few words. Anything is better than what we have now. After all, that is the answer that we all got. What do you say?"
So Shlomo, with no other choice, put on his coat, left his house and accompanied them. But no sooner had they entered the crowded Synagogue that Shlomo suddenly broke away, ran back outside and by the time they realized what happened and ran out to look for him he was nowhere to be seen.
What could they do? He disappeared. They didn't even know where to look. They had no choice other than to wait.
About half an hour later the door opened and in came Shlomo pushing a wheelbarrow covered with a cloth.
All eyes were on him as he pulled the wheelbarrow up to the podium, pulled off the cloth, and lifted an old set of scales out of the barrow. He had brought his butcher's scales into the Shul!
They were heavy but he lifted them up over his head and although his face was red and contorted with the effort, it was obvious that he was crying.
"Here" he yelled out, face to the ceiling. "Here, G-d! Take them! Take the scales! That must be why you want me to lead the prayers, right? So take the scales and heal the children! Just heal the children. Okay?!!"
He was crying pretty loudly by then and so was most of the congregation. A few men rushed over to help him put the scales on a table on the podium and the congregation began praying.
The next day all the children got better.
You can imagine the joy and festivities that followed. The elders even ordered that a nice glass case be made for the scales and left there, on the podium, permanently for all to see.
But after a few days when the excitement died down, the elders had to admit that they couldn't figure it out. What was so special about Shomo’s scales? After all, there were tens of shops of all sorts in the Ghetto that had scales and all of them were owned by G-d fearing Jews. What could be so special about THESE scales?
The answer was soon in coming. When they went around checking all the other scales, they discovered that every one of them without exception was a bit off, certainly never enough to constitute bad business, but inaccurate nevertheless.
It seems that Shlomo would check his scales twice every day, "That’s what G-d wants" he explained, "I just check and don't ask questions", while the others checked only occasionally.
The legend has it that these scales remained proudly displayed in that Shul for over two hundred years until the Germans destroyed everything in WWII.
That answers our questions.
Yaakov was founding the Jewish people. He knew that the essence of Judaism is Avoda; hard work. And the goal is sanctifying ourselves and the world around us; bringing meaning, blessing and joy into the creation through devotion to HaShem in even the most mundane matters and despite all obstacles.
But he also knew that crooked Lavan was a seasoned charlatan and master of worldly affairs that would try his best to make him compromise this goal.
Therefore he surrounded his head with rocks; he protected his thoughts and ideals with unquestioning (like a rock) service of G-d (as did Shlomo the butcher in our story), and that was sufficient protection to enable him to UNIFY all that he would do (signified by all the rocks becoming one) to the Creator of the Universe and cure the world (like Shlomo in our story was the conduit for G-d's healing of the children).
But that isn't all. Yaakov's goal was for the Jews in generations to come! That they too would have the ability to reveal G-d down here, first of all on Mount Sinai, then in the first two Holy Temples, and finally in its most complete form, with the arrival of Moshiach, the building of the Third Temple and gathering of all Jews in Israel.
Then the entire world will see the manifestation of what we Jews have been saying twice daily for over three thousand years "Listen Israel (referring also to Jacob our forefather whose name was also Israel) G-d is our G-d, G-d is ONE" (Deut.6:4 see Rashi's commentary there)
Namely that, while all the other religions have worshiped other powers as well and the Creator has only been ‘our’ G-d, with the arrival of Moshiach, the goal Yaakov was working for, the entire world will see and feel the goodness, blessing and unconditional love of the Creator of the Universe. That G_d is creating all being constantly and there is nothing but Him. G-d will be ONE.
What it means today is that it all depends on us! Each of us! Today, more than ever before, we need unquestioning and uncompromising faith that brings to action and even ONE person can do it! Just one more good deed, word, or even thought, can tilt the scales, fulfill Yaakov's dream, save the entire world and bring....
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