This week’s portion of the law sees Yaakov avinu run from the Land of Israel to find refuge in the house of Lavan, and, after many years of work, he marries Leah and Rochel respectively, and has many children. Finally, at the end of the sedra he returns to the Land of Israel. There is one episode at the very start of the sedra which perhaps, in picture form, has become the symbol of vayeitzei – the ladder. The story goes as follows…on the way to Charan, Yaakov lays down to rest and dreams of a ladder whose feet are on the ground and whose head is in the heavens, with angels ascending and descending this ladder.
HaShem then blesses Yaakov and his future offspring. Yaakov then wakes up and notices/recognises that the place he has slept on is one of great kedusha, etc
Why were there angels both going up and going down the ladder? Rashi tells us (28;12) that the angels of Eretz Yisrael were going up, [since Yaakov was on his way out of the land], and the angels of Chutz L’aretz were descending the ladder to accompany Yaakov out into Chutz L’aretz. There is a question which can (and has!) be asked here; Yaakov was either at the site of the Beis Hamikdash or at Be’er Sheva at this point. Neither of these places are at the border of Eretz Yisrael, so why did the angels of the Land of Israel leave and let those of Chutz l’Aretz take over if Yaakov hadn’t left the land yet?
There are (at least) 2 answers to this question; the second of which we shall build upon pG. One answer is that we are told (rashi 28;13 quoting the gemarra) that HaShem folded up all of the Land of Israel underneath Yaakov, and thus he was on the borders of the land. This ’folding’ point requires full explanation, and I am not the one to provide it! The second answer is that since Yaakov was already on his way out of the land, the angels of Chutz l’Aretz were appropriate to take charge of him. Why is this second answer so?
Let’s introduce the theme which will answer this question via something said by Rav Shalom Schwadron in the name of his father-in-law, Rav Chaim Leib Auerbach (father of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach). He asks why it is that at kol nidrei/maariv at the start of Yom Kippur, when we are most full of food and least into the purity of the day, we say baruch shem kevod malchuso…out loud in resemblance of the angels, whilst at the maariv immediately after Yom Kippur is out, when we have been through 5 tefillos and have thoroughly woven the purity of the day into ourselves and made solid commitments to better ourselves, we stop being like angels and thus say baruch shem… quietly? Shouldn’t it be the other way round? He answers that at the start of Yom Kippur our thoughts, aims, and attentions are directed towards the awe of the day and to sincere teshuva, whilst at the very end – maariv on motzei yom kippur – we are looking towards the food we shall be breaking our fasts on. Thus, even though at the start of Yom Kippur we have not yet become part of the day’s kedusha, since that is our mental focal point and destination, we are like angels. Whilst, since at the end of Yom Kippur our direction is towards food and material thoughts, we have lost that angelic level and thus return to whispering the baruch shem….
This is the idea and theme pertinent to the question raised above about the angels of Yaakov’s dream. Likewise, since the destination of Yaakov Avinu was towards Chutz l’Aretz, the angels of Eretz Yisrael were no longer appropriate to be the ones to accompany him.
A similar idea is espoused by the Vilna Gaon regarding a gemarra in brachos (8a.). The gemarra recounts that Rav Yochanan was surprised to hear that there exist old people in Bavel. Why? For he read the pasuk that we say in shema (end of 2nd paragraph) ‘so that you will increase your days…in the land that I promised to your forefathers…,’ and thus learnt that only in the land promised to us (the Land of Israel) shall you have lengthy days, and not in Chutz l’Aretz. The gemarra continues that when they told Rav Yochanan that the people of Bavel spent long times in the shul, he understood why they had been granted a long life. But, the Vilna Gaon points out, the question remains; the pasuk that Rav Yochanan originally darshened (and it doesn’t seem that he changed his mind) seems to suggest that only in the promised land will we be granted a a long life; the fact that people had a long life in Bavel contravenes this; even if they spent long times in shul? He answers that since the gemarra (megillah 29a) says that in the future the shuls and batei medrash of Bavel will be fixed in Eretz Yisrael, this means that their point of destination is the Land of Israel, and thus they already have properties and facets of the kedusha of the Land of Israel. And the maharsha goes even further (megillah 29a ‘attidim‘) in saying that since all shuls will be connected to the beis hamikdash in the future, then standing in one shul even in Chutz l’Aretz is an aspect of standing in the midkash itself. [It is interesting to note of multitudes of shuls and yeshivos which were previously in Chutz l’Aretz and are now fixed in Eretz Yisrael, in all too familiar proximity of the gemarra megillah’s forecast; Mir, Ponovezh, Belz, etc]
Thus, again we see the theme that one’s current level is defined by where they are heading. This is one of the reasons why sorting out and defining one’s spiritual aims are so important; for the fact that one is progressing on the way to one of these goals will define his entire personality.
Lastly, there is one other place where this theme is mentioned (I heard this from R’ Speir of Or Sameyach). A question has been asked in comparing two seemingly opposite characters in Tanach; the spies (at the time of Moshe) and Rachav (at the start of sefer Yehoshua).
The spies were great spiritual men of their generation who had personally witnessed HaShem’s miracles for Bnei Yisrael, whilst Rachav was a harlot in the city of Jericho. However, whilst the spies sin in their report of the land, Rachav shelters Pinchas and Calev and admits her faith in HaShem and the Jewish people, and is ultimately saved. In fact, the gemarra tells that she went on to marry Yehoshua himself. How could such great people make such a sin, whilst such a seemingly lowly woman not only avoids sin, but finds the ability to raise herself up so much?
Rav Yerucham, former mashkiach of mir, answers that the difference is that Rachav was heading towards a spiritual ’up’ whilst the spies were on a ‘down,’ and that made all the difference. This made them more susceptible to sinning and her more prone to spiritual growth and further progression. Again, the point is one of destination; vayeitzei.
Thus, in summary, a theme which is brought out of our sedra this week is that one can be defined via where they are heading in life.
HaShem should help us selecting a correct direction and help us get there,
Have a great Shabbes