05 Dec 2019 Vayeitzei – The Influence of the Righteous
As this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayeitzei, opens, we meet Yaakov Avinu on the run. Fleeing the wrath of his brother Eisav over the contested blessings, Yaakov is running to the home of Lavan, his uncle, where he will marry his wives and establish his family, ultimately fathering the twelve tribes, along with his daughter, Dina, born to Leah.
The very first pasuk of the parsha tells us: וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב, מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע; וַיֵּלֶךְ, חָרָנָה, and Yaakov left Beer Sheva and he went to Charan (Bereishis 28:10).
Rashi (ibid) asks, why does it need to say “and he left Beer Sheva”? Isn’t it sufficient to tell us that he went to Charan, as we have already been told (28:5) of his departure? However, it comes to teach us: שֶׁיְּצִיאַת צַדִּיק מִן הַמָּקוֹם עוֹשָׂה רֹשֶׁם, שֶׁבִּזְמַן שֶׁהַצַּדִּיק בָּעִיר, הוּא הוֹדָהּ הוּא זִיוָהּ הוּא הֲדָרָהּ; יָצָא מִשָּׁם, פָּנָה הוֹדָהּ פָּנָה זִיוָהּ פָּנָה הֲדָרָהּ – that the departure of a righteous person from a place makes an impression, for while the tzadik is in a city, he is its magnificence, he is its splendor, he is its grandeur. Once he departs from the place, its magnificence has gone away, its splendor has gone away, and its grandeur has gone away.
How do we define the meaning (not translation) of hod, ziv and hadar, the parameters by which a tzadik is defined, and through which he leaves his mark on the place where he resides?
R’ Yitzchok Zilberstein writes, “An object is considered to be hadar if it is flawless. When searching for an esrog – also known as pri eitz hadar – we make every effort to find one that belongs to the category of hadar, meaning: without blemish. Similarly, a person’s character should be without flaw or blemish, like that of Yaakov Avinu.
“The quality of hod is that which gives a person the ability to influence others, even if he has no direct connection with them in actuality. The essence of hod is a widespread influence on one’s surroundings, which comes about when others gaze on the magnificence of the perfected individual – that is, on his good deeds and his greatness in Torah and mitzvos…
“Ziv is the quality of the sun, which warms everything it touches and spreads its glow throughout the world.
“Yaakov Avinu was not a nobleman or the holder of grand titles. He was a man who sat in tents and studied Torah. And yet, the Sages tells us that he was the city’s hod, hadar and ziv.
“In fact, a Torah scholar who does not excel in these traits cannot be considered a true talmid chacham. This is his essence and his supreme value: his influence on others” (Aleinu L’Shabei’ach, Bereishis, p.380-381).
The Torah is not simply telling us that Yaakov left, for we have already been informed of his departure from his home, upon instruction by his parents to flee. The Torah is teaching us that when a tzadik is in a place, his flawlessness, his influence on others, and his warmth, are the essence and vitality of a place.
Reb Yaakov Moshe HaKohen Kastonowitz, was Luban’s shochet, mohel and head of the Jewish community, and father-in-law of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l.
Once, a boy in Reb Yaakov Moshe’s town strayed from the path of Torah and became an outcast in the community. Later, this boy was stricken with tuberculosis. The only known treatment at that time was a regimen of medicines that were very expensive. In similar situations, the entire community had donated to the cause and the necessary funds were provided. However, in this boy’s case, many people – who were already impoverished – did not want to contribute funds.
R’ Yaakov Moshe vehemently disagreed. He said that a Jew is a Jew; regardless of his level of religious observance, there was an obligation to save the boy’s life. Single-handedly, R’ Yaakov Moshe managed to raise the necessary funds and the boy received the medicines and his life was saved.
Years later, when Rav Moshe (Feinstein) zt’l was Rav of Luban, the Communists planned to seize all gold rubles and American dollars from private citizens. A number of Luban’s Jews were arrested and thrown into a crowded prison pending their interrogation and compliance with the authorities.
Rav Moshe himself was summoned for questioning. When he stated his name, the Jewish commissar in charge of the investigation exclaimed, ‘Wait! I recognize that name! This man’s father-in-law is one of the greatest men in all of Russia. When my brother – who like myself is not religious – was deathly ill, this man’s father-in-law provided him with the medicines that saved his life. Let the rabbi go, and grant him whatever he wants!” (Reb Moshe, Artscroll, 25th Yarzheit Edition, p.57).
Through striving to be blemish-free (hadar), through positively influencing others (hod) with our Torah, mitzos and middos tovos, and through warmth (ziv) that radiates to each and every Jew, we can emulate (but a fraction of) the ways of the righteous, and we too – simple people – can positively influence and impact the places where we live, and the people amongst whom we live.
R’ Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson zt’l (6th rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, also known as the Frierdiker Rebbe, 1880-1950), used to say, “The true tzaddik is one who influences his generation. One who has influence must be like a funnel. The top end has an opening that is large and wide. The bottom end is narrow, as a thin pipe, so that he may pour his ideas even onto small heads” (Tales of the Righteous, p.195).
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,