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10.12.2014 13:51    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah shabbat parashat vayeshev  

“Jacob sought to dwell in tranquillity.”

The principle that “our ancestors’ deeds presage our own” is not just addressed to the

individual, prodding him to ask, “When shall my own deeds equal those of my ancestors,

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?” Rather, and perhaps chiefly, they are addressed to the whole

Jewish People down through the generations. As Ramban wrote (Genesis 12:6):

“I shall set forth a general rule for you to apply regarding all the upcoming sections of

the Torah dealing with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I have in mind a profound principle which

our sages concisely summarized as: Whatever happens to the patriarchs holds a sign for their

descendants... All the [events of their lives] serve to teach about the future.”

Through their lives, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob represent the pattern of Jewish history.

This matter can be explained in various ways. One of them is that Abraham parallels the

Jewish People in the Egyptian exodus. Both Abraham and the Israelites go down to Egypt

due to a famine. In both cases, Pharaoh gets control over them, and only after G-d besets

Pharaoh with severe plagues does he send them out of Egypt. Both Abraham and the

Israelites leave Egypt with great wealth.

Isaac, by contrast, who all his life never left the Land, represents the Israelites’ life in

the Land during the First Temple period. Both Isaac and the Israelites were in a constant

confrontation with the Philistines.

As for Jacob, last of the patriarchs, he parallels the last chapter in Jewish history,

stretching from the Second Temple period until the future redemption. As S’forno wrote in

his introduction to Genesis:

“The events of the First Temple period resembled those of Isaac’s life. Isaac built one

solitary altar. The Second Temple, our exile and the future redemption, during which time a

Temple was built, and will be rebuilt in the future, correspond to Jacob, who built two altars

and ultimately enjoyed contentment after suffering despair.”

According to S’forno, Jacob’s life parallels a period which includes our own time.

Therefore, even if we just ponder the general outline of his life, we will be able to learn

lessons regarding how to conduct ourselves in the reality that we face today.

Jacob, on his return to Eretz Yisrael, was armed with an explicit divine promise: “I am

with you. I will protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this soil. I will not turn

aside from you until I have fully kept this promise to you” (Genesis 28:15); “I will give to

you and to your descendants the land upon which you are lying” (28:12). Jacob believed

not one word of G-d’s promise would go unfulfilled. He therefore confidently returned, in

hopes of opening a new chapter and of living in tranquillity in the Land of his forefathers.

Things did not turn out that way, however. Jacob’s path was strewn with obstacles and

suffering. As he approached Eretz Yisrael, Esau’s angelic prince attacked him and tried to

destroy him. As Ramban wrote, “Amongst Jacob’s descendants there will be a generation

that Esau will overcome to the point of near annihilation.” Finally Jacob arrived in the Land

and he sought to live in tranquillity. Here as well, however, matters did not proceed

according to his expectations. Rather, they deteriorated from one calamity to the next, until

Jacob’s patience waned and he lashed out at his sons, “Why have you done such a terrible

thing to me?” (43:6). The Midrash comments (Bereshit Rabbah 91):

“Jacob never said anything untrue except here. G-d said: I am busy making his son

king of Egypt and he asks, ‘Why have you done such a terrible thing?’ Thus Scripture states:

‘Why do you say, O Jacob, why do you speak, O Israel: My way is hidden from the L-rd; my

judgment is passed over from my G-d’ (Isaiah 40:27).”

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (Da’at Tevunot) therefore writes, “Here is a rule of

thumb: Whenever G-d wishes to bring something good upon a man or upon the world, He

will only bring it, in His profound, hidden wisdom, after He first causes suffering to occur.”

As an example, he quotes the Rabbinic utterance that “Eretz Yisrael is acquired through


We, as well, following a prolonged exile, have returned home. Prior to the Jewish

State’s establishment, we, as well, were attacked by Esau’s angelic prince, in the form of the

Nazi beast, seeking to exterminate the Jewish People. And when that people returned, broken

and battered, to their ancestral homeland, and sought, finally, to dwell in tranquillity, here as

well matters did not go as anticipated.

We, too, are beset by tragedies, and many ask, “What will be?” -- the modern version

of Jacob’s question, “Why have you done such a terrible thing?” And like then, so, too, now,

the answer seems to be, “I am busy making his son king.” We believe that G-d is restoring

His Presence to Zion, and that that restoration is occurring in hidden, marvelous ways.

Therefore, we beseech G-d three times each day, “May our eyes see Your return to Zion,”

and our lips express the pray that that return should occur “mercifully.”

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