Parshat Vayetze- Divine Kindness

(והנה סלם מצב ארצה… והנה מלאכי אלקים עלים וירדים בו” (בראשית כ”ח:י”ג”

At the beginning of this week’s פרשה, our forefather יעקב runs away from home after he receives יצחק’s ברכה. On his  way out of ארץ כנען, Yaakov spends the night on הר המוריה and has a very interesting vision: “והנה סולם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע שמימה והנה מלאכי אלקים עלים וירדים בו- There was a ladder standing on the ground with its top touching the sky and angels were climbing and descending it.” Things take an even more interesting turn as G-d himself makes an appearance and promises to יעקב that the land will be his one day and, “ושמרתיך בכל אשר תלך והשיבותיך אל האדמה הזאת- I will guard you wherever you go and I will return you to this land.” To יעקב, who is now homeless and very alone, this is a very reassuring reminder of what it means to be the bearer of ברכת אברהם (which יצחק had given him at the end of the previous פרשה), to be the chosen one of G-d, and Yaakov awakens the next day, and, re-inspired about his mission, sets off for חרן.

While G-d’s message to יעקב has a lot of significance, a lot of the commentators find the imagery of first part of the dream to be very curious. The Torah is usually very conservative in its usage of words- why would it go out of its way to describe the ladder and the angels in such detail? A few מפורשים break down the details of the dream to learn out a different lesson from each part:

  • The מדרש learns out an allusion to מתן תורה from the dream, since the גמטריה of “סלם” equals 130, the same as “סיני.” Using this perspective, we see that the angels going up the ladder represent משה and אהרון going up הר סיני to receive the לוחות. This teaches us that the תורה, given at סיני (the סולם) and taught by משה and אהרון (the מלאכים), is a connection (סולם) between the heavens and earth.
  • רמב”ם teaches that this dream can be interpreted as an allusion to the גלות. The angels that יעקב sees are the guardian angels of each of the four nations that would exiled us throughout history climbing an amount of rungs that corresponds to the years of their dominance: The מלאך of בבל, representing the Bablyonian Exile, climbed 70 rungs, then went back down. The מלאך of מדי went up 52, then descended. Next came Greece’s מלאך, which climbed 130 rungs, then what back down. Lastly came the מלאך of עשו/אדום, representing our current and final exile, which started climbing… then kept on climbing and climbing indefinitely. יעקב became very frightened by this idea that his descendants would be in exile for a very long time, possibly forever. G-d reassures him that “ושמרתיך בכל אשר תלך והשיבותיך אל האדמה הזאת.”
  • In a similar vein, אברבנאל teaches that the dream teaches us of the greatness of ארץ ישראל. At the time of this dream, יעקב was on his way out of ארץ ישראל into גלות- he has no idea what he will find there, but he knew that his father יצחק never left the land, and he knows that his grandfather left the land twice, and each time it almost led to his grandmother being abducted. יעקב clearly had no illusions that חו”ל is as good as ארץ ישראל. Abarbanel’s interpretation of the dream reinforces this, as he learns that in the dream, G-d shows יעקב that the angels that protected him in ארץ ישראל are going up to be replaced by lesser protective angels who would accompany him into his exile, and would stay with him until יעקב returns to ארץ ישראל at the end of the פרשה, and “ויפגעו בו מלאכי אלקים- He encountered there (as he entered Canaan) G-dly angels” (ל”ג:ב’). We see from here that ארץ ישראל has a higher level of holiness and protection, and once one leaves ארץ ישראל, their holiness and divine protection is on a lesser level.

In תהלים פרק פ”ט, David Hamelech teaches “כי אמרתי עולם חסד יבנה תוכן אמונתך בהם- For I have said, forever kindness builds the world, and your faith establishes it”. While this פסוק has been used as an inspiration to create many צדקה organizations worldwide, I think it has a deeper meaning: When a person suffers a tragedy, whether they lose a loved one, lose a job, or another major loss, it feels as if their world has fallen apart. I believe the משורר is teaching us here that the only way to rebuild their world is through חסד. By helping support them emotionally, spiritually, and financially, we can help rebuild their world and truly show that “עולם חסד יבנה.” Yaakov Avinu, who had to run away for fear of his brother’s anger, had his world completely torn apart. He left his home in באר שבע, where we learned previously that the שכינה always rested, where he was able to be an איש תם יושב אהלים and learn Torah all day with his father all day. He left this all behind and felt very alone and empty. Seeing Yaakov in this state of brokeness, Hashem performed a חסד for Yaakov by showing him a dream of the future, when his descendants would receive the תורה on הר סיני and return to their homeland once and for all. Yaakov, realizing his nation would still be alive and thriving thousands of years later, was given a new sense of purpose, and his world was re-built through G-d kindess.

During my time on the home front of מבצע עמוד הענן (Operation Defensive Pillar), I have seen this idea truly play out. All around me, Jews, religious and non-religious alike, have done their best to help out, keep morale high, and help those who suffered losses. I would like to share one special story of חסד on the home front which truly inspired me:

After having rockets falling on their city for the past few weeks, with a major air operation taking place less than 10 km away from them, last week, the Jews of Sderot, Ashdod, and Ashkelon were definitely not in for a relaxing shabbat. They heard warplanes overhead, they knew that at any time they might have to run for cover with only 15 seconds notice. Would you be looking forward to a relaxing shabbat?! To help rebuild their world, people all around the country opened their homes to the Southern Jews, welcoming complete strangers into their home to enjoy a peaceful and relaxing shabbat, where they could experience 25 hours of “מעין עולם הבא” without having to worry about missiles and aircraft flying overhead. Laura Ben David, a social media coordinator for Nefesh B’Nefesh, undertook the huge task of helping relocate over 500 olim from the south to a more quiet place for Shabbat. While trying to find places for them to stay, she noted that “I’ve been coordinating the collection of names of anyone — not just olim – who are willing to offer their homes. The response has been unbelievable.” Only in the Jewish state, in our ancestral homeland, could such חסד be commonplace, and through this, we can be zoche to the extra protection that Hashem promises us through Yaakov’s dream.

Earlier this week, Yeshivat Lev Hatorah, my alma mater yeshiva, promoted a new and interesting type of chesed for those in the South: Pizza Chesed. In the words of Leora Packer, the initiator of this movement, We can help support both businesses in Israel’s south and boost the morale of the citizens taking the brunt of Hamas’s missiles by ordering pizzas from local southern vendors to be delivered to families and soldiers in the region.  After one delivery earlier today, the owner of Pizza Roma in Ashdod called me back to say: He decided to deliver the pie to a family who he thought needed it… After he delivered the pizza, the family was so uplifted to know that someone in America had thought to order them pizza, so he himself decided to send a pizza to a different random family.  As the mishna in Avot says “מצוה גוררת מצוה” – ‘one mitzvah leads to another.'” This is another way we can help spread kindness to those in the south who are still recovering from the attacks, and help rebuild their world with חסד. If anyone is interested in doing this tremendous, yet simple chesed, and would like the list of pizza stores in the south participating in Pizza Chesed, please let me know.

As the Jews of the diaspora celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend, it’s important to take a minute and think about what we must be thankful for. We just succeeded in a major aerial and naval operation in Gaza, destroying most of the Hamas infrastructure while the number of deaths was remarkably low, though painful nonetheless. Besides for being an obvious נס, this is also a fulfilment of אברבנאל’s interpretation of יעקב’s dream- that the Jewish people have extra protection in ארץ ישראל. We should be זוכה to continue to have השם’s extra protection in ארץ ישראל, and with His help we should see the Jews of Diaspora continue to move to Israel in fulfilment of G-d’s promise to יעקב that”והשיבותיך אל האדמה הזאת,” and through this, we can merit the geulah במהרה בימינו. Shabbat Shalom.