"And Yaakov (Jacob) went out from Beer Sheva" (Bereishit 28:10).
Last weeks parsha, Parshat Toldot, completed the story of Yitzchak (Isaac), which concluded with Yitzchak's giving the blessings to Yaakov and sending him away from home to find his wife. In our present parsha, Parshat Vayeitzei, Yaakov, the "perfect" or "compete" patriarch (since he incorporated the best of both Avraham [Abraham] and Yitzchak) now takes center stage, and the story of his life and that of his twelve sons occupies the remainder of the book of Bereishit (Genesis).
Yaakov's departure from his parental home into exile in Padan Aram and his return from there with a complete family and laden with wealth are paradigmatic for the subsequent history of Yaakov's descendants, Israel and the Jewish people. Historically the Israelites were repeatedly forced to leave the ancestral Land of Israel, yet always returned in increased numbers, together with the wealth acquired in exile: the souls of the proselytes and actual material wealth.
"And he came to the place" (Bereishit 28:11).
While Yaakov's journey of exile to Padan Aram is paradigmatic of all later Jewish exile, his detour on the way there to "The place" (Bereishit 28:11) -- Mount Moriah, "The place that God said to Avraham" (Bereishit 22:9), that same field where Yitzchak went to pray -- is paradigmatic of the giving of the Torah. Thus the numerical value of the Hebrew letters of SuLaM, the "ladder" of Yaakov's dream (Samech 60, Lamed 30, Mem 40) = 130 = SINaI, where the Torah was given (Samech 60, Yud 10, Nun 50, Yud 10). The Torah itself was given "in exile", in the wilderness. The dream of the ladder and Yaakov's actions in response to God's promise of protection -- his laying the Temple foundation and his vow to tithe all he acquires for God -- are Torah. They are the very essence of the Torah, the giving of the Torah for all Yaakov's descendants. Yaakov's eventual return to this place where he "received the Torah" (see next week's parsha, Bereishit chapter 35) is paradigmatic of the return of the Jewish people after the exile to build the Holy Temple. The Temple and the Giving of the Torah are one concept.
The place that Yaakov "hit" (like you hit a target with an arrow or with a prayer) while on his way to Padan Aram was none other than the spot from which Adam was created: the place destined to bring atonement to all the Children of Adam in all generations through the sacrificial altar that is to stand there in the House of Prayer for all the Nations. This was the place where Noah sacrificed after the flood and this was where Avraham bound Yitzchak on the Altar. This was the field to which Yitzchak would return to pray. This place is alluded to in the opening word of the Torah, BeREiSHIS, the Hebrew letters of which can be rearranged to form the words BAYIS ROSH, "the House that is the Head". As discussed in connection with the parshiyot of the last two weeks, Avraham had conceived of this place as a lofty -- and almost daunting -- mountain of spiritual achievement. Yitzchak had brought the idea nearer to ordinary people by conceiving of it as a field of regular endeavor. It was the innovation of Yaakov, the "perfect patriarch", to bring the idea within reach of everyone (for fields, in which Yaakov was expert, are still not accessible to everyone): Yaakov conceived of the place as a house. "This is none other than the house of God" (Bereishit 28:17; see Likutey Moharan I, 10).
In the words of the Talmud (Pesachim 88a): Said Rabbi Elazar: What does Yeshayahu (Isaiah) mean when he says, "And many peoples will go and say, 'Come let us go up to the Mountain of God to the house of the God of Yaakov!'" ? Why the God of Yaakov and not the God of Avraham and Yitzchak? The answer is: Not like Avraham, who saw it as a Mountain ("as it is said this day, On the Mountain HaVaYaH is seen" -- Bereishit 22:14). And not like Yitzchak, for whom it was a Field ("And Yitzchak went out to meditate in the Field" -- Bereishit 24:63). But like Yaakov, who called it a House: "And he called the name of that place Beth El, the House of God" (Bereishit 28:19).
This passage comes to teach that at the consummation of human history, when "many peoples will go" in search of God's truth, the idea through which God will be understood by the peoples will be Yaakov's idea: the idea of the House -- the Holy Temple. The concept of the Temple as a House brings the idea of devotion to God right into the house and home. The Temple is the epitome of all houses. Thus it has a kitchen (the AZARA or central courtyard) and oven (the Altar), a "living room" (the Sanctuary), with its "lamp" (the Menorah) and table (the Showbread Table), and a "bedroom", the Holy of Holies, place of the marriage of the Holy One and the Shechinah (Divine Presence).
The Temple is the universal paradigm of what all of our homes should be; a place for the dwelling of the Divine Presence. At the very center of the Temple vision is the "ladder" that has angels "ascending and descending" on it. This is the ladder of devotion. Our prayers, blessings and simple, everyday "homely" mitzvot and acts of devotion send "angels" ascending upwards to realms that are beyond our comprehension. The ascending angels in turn elicit angels of blessing who descend into this world and into our very lives (such as the angels who accompany us from the synagogue to the home on Shabbat night and who, on seeing that we have made everything ready for Shabbat, bless our table, which is like the Temple altar.) The vow Yaakov made upon inaugurating the House of God is the paradigm of all the different "vows" or commitments we make involving some kind of self-restraint and sacrifice in order to elevate ourselves spiritually and elicit God's protection. These acts of self-sacrifice send up ascending angels, drawing down descending angels of blessing. The foundation of devotion is our commitment (but without making actual vows).
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Encounter with the World of Old
Given that Yaakov conceived of divine service using the metaphor of the house, it is fitting that the central focus of the story of his life is on how he built his house, namely the household of wives and children who made up the House of Yaakov, and how he faced all their subsequent domestic problems -- the kidnap of Dinah, the quarrels and hatred among the twelve brothers, the sale of Joseph and all that followed from it.
The building of Yaakov's House could be accomplished only through struggles of many kinds -- for truth, Yaakov's quality, is born out of struggle on all levels, material and spiritual. In order to build his House, Yaakov had to struggle with two major antagonists: Esav (Esau) and Lavan (Laban). Esav embodies the threat to the Holy House from the forces of excess and evil in the material world, asiyah. The encounter with Esav is a central theme in next week's parsha, Parshat Vayishlach. In this week's parsha, Parshat Vayeitzei, the focus is on Yaakov's encounter with Lavan, whose threat to the Holy House is from the forces of excess in the spiritual worlds. Thus while Esav is portrayed as a hunter-warrior, Lavan is portrayed as a priest (Rashi on Bereishit 24:21, Bereishit 31:30).
To build his House, Yaakov had to rescue the sparks of holiness that were still to be find in the land of the Sons of the East (Bereishit 29:19), literally the "Sons of old". These sparks of holiness were embodied in Rochel and Leah and their handmaidens, who were to mother the Souls of Israel. In order to rescue them, Yaakov had to struggle with Lavan, the High Priest of the "Old World", the unrectified World of tohu (confusion) created by God to spawn the realm of evil with which man has to struggle in order to attain his destiny. Lavan was the father of Be'or who was the father of Bilaam, also called Bela. Bela, the son of Be'or, is the first of the Seven Kings of Edom who ruled "before there was a king in Israel" (Bereishit 36:31). These "Seven Kings" allude to the seven sefirot in their "fallen" manifestation as a result of the "breaking of the vessels". In the Kabbalah, Bela corresponds to daat of the Sitra Achra, the evil consciousness that is the opposite of Godly knowledge and awareness, the root of all the other sefirot. The ARI states that Bilaam-Bela was the incarnation of Lavan, who is the very brain of the realm of evil, as indicated by his name, which consists of the letters Lamed (30) Beit (2) corresponding to the 32 Pathways of Wisdom, and Nun (50), which corresponds to the 50 Gates of Understanding. Yaakov's conflict with Lavan continued in Moshe's (Moses') fight against Bilaam and his pernicious spiritual influence.
Lavan is the arch swindler and deceiver, symbolizing the force in creation that conceals Godliness through our quirks of false-consciousness that make evil seem like good and good seem like evil. Lavan translates one thing into another (we find an example of Lavan as a translator in Bereishit 31:47), distorting the entire meaning in the process. Time and time again, it turns out that Lavan actually means something entirely different from what he appears on the surface to be saying. White-appearing Lavan (Lavan in Hebrew = "white") is actually filthy black.
Since the devotions of Yaakov (the Children of Israel) are accomplished by using the homely objects of this world to create the House of God through which the Divine Presence may dwell in the world, it is essential to cleanse the world of the mental distortions (the deceptions of idolatrous Lavan) that could undermine the entire message of the Holy House.
Each one of us has the personal work of using Yaakov's honesty to cleanse ourselves of the inner Lavans that have us working for years chasing after phantoms, only to find ourselves sadly deceived...
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The Work Ethic
Yaakov followed the example of Avraham's servant Eliezer (Bereishit 24:11) in going to the well to find his soul-mate. As father of the people who were to bring the spiritual waters of Torah to all mankind, Yaakov expected to find the appropriate soul-mate at the place of the "water-drawers". There Yaakov saw his first love, Rochel, whose beauty was visible also on the exterior, as opposed to Leah, whose spiritual greatness was more concealed. The swindle by which Lavan motivated Yaakov to work for seven years for Rochel but actually gave him Leah, forcing him to work another seven years to get Rachel too, was a harsh lesson in how life may give us what we didn't bank on.
The implicit message in Yaakov's deals with Lavan, whereby Yaakov worked for everything he gained -- his wives, his children and his flocks -- is that honest work is good, even when swindlers lurk. The heavens and earth were made "to do" (Bereishit 2:3). "For six days, work shall be done..." (Shemot 35:2): Work is a good thing! Yaakov had received rich blessings from Yitzchak, but that did not mean he had what he gained through sitting back and doing nothing. It was his very conscientiousness in working to earn the promised good that made him deserve the blessings.
The repeated seven-fold cycles in our parsha (seven years of work for Rachel and Leah, the seven days of the marriage celebrations) are bound up with the underlying six-day/Shabbat cycle of creation which comes to rectify the seven fallen sefirot of the world of tohu spawned by Bilaam-Lavan. The holy sparks rescued by Yaakov through his "work" -- Rochel, Leah, the handmaidens, their children, and the "flocks", namely the holy souls -- are all reordered in the world of Tikkun (Rectification, the sefirot in their holy manifestation) in the House of Yaakov. Here Yaakov (corresponding to Zeir Anpin, the unity of God) is joined and unified with his wives, Rochel (the revealed world) and Leah (the concealed world).
Yaakov is the archetype of the faithful employee. He starts off with nothing (according to the Midrash, Yaakov was stripped of all his possessions by Esav's son Eliphaz as he set off for Padan Aram). He works conscientiously to benefit and enrich his employer, with scrupulous honesty and devotedness (as expressed in Yaakov's eloquent self-defense Bereishit 31:38). Yaakov is pitted against a slick liar who keeps on changing the terms of agreements, who sells his own daughters, who watches his nephew work for his wives, children and flocks for 20 years and still says, "They are all mine...."
The practical teaching about the work ethic that emerges from this section of our parsha telling of Yaakov's way of working applies to all mankind. It is an important aspect of the universal law against stealing:
"Just as the employer is cautioned not to steal or withhold the wages of the poor man, so the poor man (the employee) is cautioned not to steal the work of the employer by wasting a little time here and a little there so that he spends the entire day cheating his employer. The worker is obliged to be strict with himself in the time he devotes to his employer's work... and he is obliged to work with all his strength. For the righteous Yaakov said 'For WITH ALL MY STRENGTH I worked for your father...'. And therefore he took the reward for this even in this world..." (Rambam, Laws of Hiring 13:7)
Those who are inclined to pass the working hours drinking tea and coffee, chatting, making irrelevant phone calls, etc. should take note.