Parshas Vayeitzei: Divine Promises, Divine Land

This week’s parsha, Parshas Vayeitzei, opens with Yaakov running away from Be’er Sheva, headed to Charan, where he will spend the next twenty years at the home of his uncle, Lavan.  Fleeing the wrath of his brother Eisav, it is in Lavan’s home that Yaakov will marry his wives: Leah and her handmaid, Zilpah, and Rachel, and her handmaid Bilhah.  There he will father eleven sons (Binyamin isn’t born yet) and Dina, born to Leah.  

Prior to his arrival in Charan, where he meets Rachel by the well, Yaakov finds himself alone in Luz (or at Har Ha’Moriah), where he has his famous dream.  He sees a ladder reaching to the heavens, with angels ascending and descending the ladder.  In the dream/prophecy, G-d reveals Himself to the third patriarch for the first time.  

G-d promises him the land of Israel, the gift of children, and Divine protection wherever he may be.  

What deeper message is embedded in this prophetic dream, and what lesson does it carry for us, Jews in every generation who find themselves – like Yaakov – sojourning in exile?  

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin writes, “Put yourself, for a moment, in Yaakov’s place during the moments before his vision.  

“Bedding down in the darkness of the night, you are terribly fearful – fearful of the unknown, of your aloneness and of the threat posed by your brother… You harbor, however, an even deeper fear.  You live at a time when gods are considered territorial.  If you leave your land, you leave your G-d behind.  

“And now, you stand poised, for the first time, to run from the land that your family has not left for over a generation, the land to which  your grandfather has been commanded to journey.  What will become of your relationship with G-d?  

“In response to your fears, G-d grants you a majestic vision of a ladder stretching heavenward upon which angels are ascending and descending.  True, the angels who have watched over you until now are leaving; but other angels, other emissaries of your G-d, are descending to accompany you on your journey.

“G-d appears to you in your dream with promises: that the land upon which you lie will be given to you and your children; that your children will be as numerous as the dust of the earth and will spread to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south; that the nations of the world will be blessed through you and your descendants.  But then G-d says something truly astonishing: ‘And behold I will be with you and I will guard you wherever you may go’ (28:15).  Suddenly you realize that  your G-d is different – for there is only one G-d, Who is not tied to any land, Who is omnipresent.  You are no longer afraid… for now you know that by leaving the land you will not leave your G-d behind.  He will be with you always. 

“This realization, however, potentially makes you think: If G-d will be with me wherever I go; if I can be successful anywhere; then, perhaps, I need no longer be tied to a specific land or place.  Further, if my task is to spread G-d’s word, won’t that be best accomplished by living in the world?  Perhaps my family has developed past the need for a homeland.

“To this, G-d continues, ‘And I will return you to this soil; for I will not leave you until I have done all that I have promised to you’ (ibid).  And you realize the fullness of your challenge.  For while G-d will be with you wherever you may go; His constant presence does not release you from the obligation to return to your own land.  There, and only there, will your relationship with G-d be complete; there and only there can you truly fulfill your destiny.

“Your relationship with your Creator will be defined by a constant tension.  You will live under His protection wherever you may be but you will fully relate to Him only within your land.  You may succeed in exile but your destiny waits for you in your homeland” (Unlocking the Torah Text, Bereishit, p.160-161). 

While it is indeed true that Hashem is with us wherever we are and to whichever lands we will go, the Torah itself is very clear that Eretz Yisrael is where we can fulfill our ultimate destiny as a nation.  The Land itself is saturated with holiness that no other place in the entire world can duplicate.  אֶרֶץ, אֲשֶׁרהאֱלֹקיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ: תָּמִיד, עֵינֵי האֱלֹקיךָ בָּהּמֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה, וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה  it is a land that Hashem your G-d seeks out; Hashem’s eyes are continuously upon the land, from the beginning of the year to the end of (the) year (Devarim 11:12). 

It is well known that Rav Avraham Yitzchak ha’Kohen Kook zt’l had a burning love for the land of Israel, as well as for all members of Am Yisrael, religious and secular alike.  He especially embraced and encouraged the pioneers who were working and settling the land in the early-mid 1900’s.  

On one visit to a number of kibbutzim, the following story occurred:  As the rabbis approached one of the kibbutzim in the fields of Merchavyah, a group of youngsters (secular pioneers) called out to them: ‘Don’t waste your efforts and breath on us.  We are set in our ways and have no intention or desire to be influenced by outsiders.’

‘On the contrary,’ Rav Kook calmly replied.  ‘We have not come to influence you, but to be influenced by you… We want to be influenced by your great self-sacrifice for the Holy Land.  Only people with grand souls can attain such a level of selfless devotion to the land of Israel” (An Angel Among Men, by Simcha Raz, p.419-420).  

May we merit the great day when Hashem will return our captivity to Tzion and we – like Yaakov Avinu – will be like dreamers, as our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with song (cf. Ps.126).  

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום, 


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