Shabbat Shalom Weekly

Torah Portion:  Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10 – 32:3)

Kislev 12, 5781

Language of Tomorrow

The Importance of Having a Vision
by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein
Everyone needs a vision. We all need a vision to give us direction and inspiration in life. Life can’t just be about surviving. It has to be about the goals and the aspirations and the big picture that we are striving for. There are too many challenges and opportunities in the path of life not to have clarity of vision. In this week’s parsha, Vayeitzei, we read about a great vision that was given to our forefather, Yaakov (Jacob), and it is a vision which sustains us to this very day.
Yaakov was embarking on a journey, leaving home and venturing out into a hostile world, with many dangerous challenges lying in wait. He was fleeing from the vengeful anger of his brother, Eisav (Esau), and his destination was Avraham’s family, who lived in Haran — a family led by Lavan, a man known for his deceptive and unscrupulous behavior. And so Yaakov encountered many different and difficult challenges throughout his life, but in this week’s portion, he is given a gift from God — the gift of a vision that sustained him throughout his life.
One night, on his journey to Haran, he lay down and had the famous prophetic vision we call “Jacob’s Ladder”. The ladder rests on the ground and reaches into the heavens, and there are angels ascending and descending. God appears to Yaakov in the vision and promises to look after him on his journey ahead, and to return him back to the land of Israel, and to his heritage.
The commentators on the Chumash share different perspectives on what the ladder and the angels going up and down signify. Common to all of them, however, is the idea that the ladder is a bridge between heaven and earth. And this is the great Divine vision of the Torah and the mission statement of the Jewish people – to connect heaven and earth, to infuse the physical world with holiness and spirituality, and so elevate all of creation.
Rashi says the angels represented God’s Divine protection. The angels going up the ladder were the angels that had protected Yaakov within the land of Israel, and the angels coming down the ladder were their replacements now that Yaakov was leaving Israel and the first set of angels had completed their task.
Angels are bursts of spiritual energy that God has created so He can interact with the world. They are not independent beings. They do not have free choice. They are mere extensions of God’s will being expressed in this world. What emerges from Rashi is the idea that throughout our life’s journey, we are accompanied by angels, emissaries of God, and that God is looking after us in everything that we do.
A key message being relayed to Yaakov was that he was not venturing out into the world on his own — that, though he was likely wracked with fear and anxiety about what lay ahead, God would accompany him every step of the way.
And, of course, the fear and anxiety wasn’t unfounded. Yaakov underwent tremendous pain and hardship: the deception of Lavan; the loss of his beloved wife, Rachel; the separation from his beloved son, Yosef; and many other severely challenging experiences. And yet, throughout, this vision — this pledge that God would be with him at all times — sustained him, and gave him the strength to withstand all of the difficulties and challenges that lay ahead.
This vision can sustain us through our own difficulties and challenges. As King David famously said: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.” (Psalm 23) He does not say: “I fear no evil because no harm can befall me,” but rather: “I fear no evil because You are with me.” Everything that happens to us is from God and is therefore ultimately for the good, even if we cannot see it at the time, and there is great comfort in knowing that God is with us and looking after us throughout our life’s journey.
This is all from a personal perspective. The Midrash of Rav Eliezer ben Hurkenus, on the other hand, probes the national significance of the angels on the ladder. He teaches that the ascending and descending angels symbolize the rise and fall of the great empires of the world that would oppress and seek to destroy the nation of Israel. Yaakov was being shown that the Jewish people would undergo great challenges and distress, as one kingdom after another – the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, and others – came to subjugate them. And yet, somehow, through the incredible Divine miracles of Jewish history, we survived, and that was the message to Yaakov – that no matter what forces of destruction would come against his descendants, God would be with them and would ensure the survival of the Jewish people.
Indeed, this is one of the great miracles of human history. No other nation in history has endured as much hardship through exile, dispersion and persecution as the Jewish people. And what has sustained us throughout is this vision of ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ — God’s pledge that He would be with us, always.
There is another Midrash that explains that the ladder symbolized Mount Sinai. In fact, the gematria — the numerological value — of the Hebrew word for ‘ladder’ and ‘Sinai’ are identical. The Midrash says the angels themselves symbolize Moshe (Moses) and Aharon (Aaron), who ascended and descended Mount Sinai at the time of the giving of the Torah.
This further reinforces the idea of the ladder as a bridge between heaven and earth. Many of the mitzvahs of the Torah relate to the physical world. There’s the famous Midrash that describes how “God looked into the Torah and created the world”, that the Torah is the blueprint of creation. Indeed, most of the precepts of the Torah are fulfilled through the physical world — lulav and etrog, tefillin, challahs — these are all physical objects. Simply by utilizing them within the framework of the Torah’s instructions, we infuse them with a cosmic significance. We elevate the physical world and connect it with the upper world, God’s eternal world.
Similarly, the Torah is also about elevating our physical lives, our physical bodies, and transforming them into vessels of Godliness and spirituality. The relationship between a man and a woman, for example, or the act of raising children, or the process of eating. All of these are governed by Divine parameters laid out in the Torah that enable us to elevate them beyond the biological and transform them into something truly transcendent. To connect heaven and earth.
There’s a third Midrash that says the ladder represents the altar in the Temple, and the angels going up and down represent the Kohanim, the priests, who would serve in the Temple (and ascend and descend the altar). In other words, the ladder represents the service of God — through prayer and mitzvot and the daily activities we dedicate to our Creator — so our lives themselves become an active act of service.
These last two Midrashim are connected. It’s about receiving the Torah, which connects heaven and earth, and living a life that connects heaven and earth. Through the Torah and through acts of service, our lives become filled with meaning. We become more than physical beings eking out an existence, we become elevated, spiritual beings, connected to our Creator.
So this then becomes the overarching vision that sustained Yaakov and has continued to sustain us through all of our generations — that God is with us every step of the way, and there is a way to uplift our lives and connect heaven and earth. What is so powerful is that, according to our sages, Yaakov was shown this vision after he’d already arrived in Haran. The Talmud explains that Yaakov had mistakenly passed over the holy place where Avraham had brought his son Yitzchak on the altar, and that he hadn’t stopped to pray. Yaakov felt such a yearning, such a sense of lost opportunity, that a great miracle was performed, and that holy site was miraculously transported to Yaakov, whereupon he had his vision.
Rav Moshe Feinstein says the message here is that even though he had left the holiness of his parents’ home and was now in a place of spiritual desolation, through maintaining a loyalty and a devotion to the vision that was given to him, he would be able to achieve that holiness and that connection. The holy place came to him — and so the message was that he could take the vision with him and implement it wherever he went.
People often believe themselves to be limited by their circumstances. But what we see here is that having a vision — a great, lofty Divine vision that we dedicate ourselves to — can enable us to transcend those circumstances. It can inspire us and guide us and transform the world in which we find ourselves.

This is the vision that Jacob took with him on all his journeys; the same lofty, life-affirming, transformative vision that has accompanied the Jewish people on all of our journeys, both national and personal. It is the vision that makes us who we are, and has held us all together throughout the generations.

Kindness Hacks

Rachel’s Ultimate Sacrifice and Hidden Love
by Shoshanna Dresner
The anniversary of the death of the Matriarch Rachel brings to mind the famous story of her delayed marriage, and selfless sacrifice.
Rachel is engaged to marry her soulmate Jacob, waiting for him for 7 years as he works for her father, Lavan, to earn her hand. Knowing the dishonest nature of her father, Rachel and Jacob arrange secret signs between them, so that should some other veiled lady be brought to Jacob in Rachel’s stead, he would know that it was not the right woman. Their caution is not misplaced, and Rachel realizes that her father plans on leading her sister Leah to the wedding canopy, rather than herself.
She faces a life altering choice, and makes a mind-blowing decision. She gives over the secret signs to her sister before she is led to Jacob, sparing her the mortification of being discovered to be the wrong bride in public.
Not knowing at the time that she would go on to marry Jacob one week later, Rachel was fully prepared to give up her entire future and dreams, solely for the sake of her sister’s dignity.  An incredible act of selflessness.
But this just scratches the surface of what Rachel did. Looking at later interactions between the two sisters, we discover more beauty and depth to her actions.
Both now married to Jacob, Rachel faces the challenge of waiting to conceive. Rachel asks Leah to give her some of her ‘Dudaim,’ a plant known to bring fertility. Leah surprisingly responds by saying ‘Isn’t it enough that you took my husband…?’ (Genesis 30:15). A strange reply considering it was really the other way round!
The answer to this question brings to light the extent of Rachel’s incredible kindness. Her entire life, Rachel never actually told Leah what she had done for her and was unaware of the sacrifice that Rachel had made on her behalf!
The Daat Zekenim explains that the secret signs between Rachel and Jacob were actually Jewish laws. The plan was that when he would question her on these and she would respond correctly, he would know that he was marrying the correct woman. Rav Shalom Shwadron explains that Rachel taught these laws to Leah and never told her why. Not only did Rachel make a life-changing sacrifice, she did it with complete modesty and sensitivity, sparing her sister any feelings of guilt.
According to this approach, Rachel’s act of kindness was not a one-off act, it was an act of continuous hidden love, selflessness, coming from the purest of motivations.
Perhaps the more obvious lesson in Rachel’s story is the importance of never embarrassing another human being. Embarrassing another person is considered to be one of the most severe prohibitions in the Torah, compared to the seriousness of shedding blood (Bava metzia 58b).
But the insights into Rachel’s secrecy, convey another powerful lesson in addition to this, and demonstrate how we can bring acts of kindness to the next level.
Kindness is not always a convenience. In fact, more often than not, it involves going out of our way, giving up time, energy, or comfort. This is the greatness of the act. However, even greater is to not disclose the inconvenience involved. To preserve the dignity of the recipient, perhaps through anonymity, or concealing the difficulty of the action.
Like Rachel, we must try and keep people’s feelings at the forefront of our minds.
It’s not just about what we do, but about how we do it.

Family Parsha

God is very Close
by Nesanel Yoel Safran
Where is God? Everywhere! In this week’s Torah portion (28:15), God tells Jacob that wherever he goes, God will be there watching over him. And He’s with us too — all the time, and everywhere.
“Close Encounters”
“Hey, who were you talking to?” Jan asked her friend, Rachel, as the two of them were walking home from school.
“What do you mean?” Rachel asked.
“I just saw you whispering something. Don’t tell me you have one of those micro-mini-in-the-ear phones and you’re having another conversation with someone more interesting, while talking with me!”
Rachel laughed. “No, I don’t have a phone in my ear and besides, Jan, there’s no person I could possibly know more interesting than you!”
“I happen to agree with you,” Jan smiled. “So then what’s up?”
“I was…” Rachel fumbled for the words “I was just having a little chat with God.”
“No. Tell me, really,” Jan persisted.
“That’s really it,” Rachel said. “Something was on my mind and I was just telling God about it.”
“You mean you were praying?”
“I guess you could call it that, but like I said, it was more like … chatting.”  They stopped at a crosswalk for the light to turn.
“I’m sorry to tell you, but God’s not someone you can just chat with,” Jan insisted, sounding a little annoyed.
“Why not?”
“Because … because we’re not like in a synagogue or anything. You know, places where you’re supposed to be able to send a message to God.”
“What difference does that make?” Rachel asked. “God’s everywhere.”
“What do you mean by that?” Jan said, now definitely annoyed. “Isn’t God supposed to be somewhere way up in the sky, like outer space or something?”
“Well, He is there also, but He’s also just as much right here with us right now, and inside of us, too. God is everywhere.”
By now, the girls were so wrapped up in their conversation that they weren’t even paying attention to where they were walking.
“So how come I can’t see Him?” Jan jousted.
“And the air, you can see?”
“Of course not. So what?”
“So I guess that means according to you there’s no air here. Oh, no! Help! Get the oxygen masks!” Rachel pretended to yell in panic.
“Shhh!” Jan said, giggling. “You’re going to attract attention from all the neighbors … hey, wait,” she said, suddenly concerned, “this isn’t even our neighborhood! Where are we?”
“Hey, you know, you’re right,” Rachel said “I think we’re really lost.”
“I don’t like the looks of this place at all,” Jan said tensely, starting to shake. “Please God, help us find our way back to our own neighborhood!” she said.
Just then, a car drove up to them, slowed down and honked. “Hey, what are you girls doing way out here?” It was Mrs. Jacobs, their neighbor.
“We’re kinda lost,” Rachel said.
“Well, both of you jump into my back seat. I’m on my way home right now.”
“Wow!” Rachel said to Jan, sitting next to her in the back seat. “Why was I wasting all that time telling you something you already know?”
“What are you talking about?” Jan asked.
“The way you called out to God just now when we were lost. You knew He was right there and ready to listen, after all!”
Jan, her teary eyes glowing with gratitude, thought for a moment and then smiled. “Gee, I guess I did know it … I just never knew I did.”
Discussion Questions
Ages 3-5
Q. How did Jan feel about God at first?
A. She felt that God was someone far away that you could only speak to from certain places.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She realized that God was with her, and everywhere.
Ages 6-9
Q. What life-lesson do you think Jan learned that day?
A. She’d thought of God as being something abstract and far away, but when she panicked and called out to Him, she realized that she knew deep down, it was just like her friend said – God was everywhere and right with her at every moment.
Q. Why do you think her attitude changed when she got scared?
A. Sometimes, we know things deep in our hearts, but somehow we forget about them and live our lives as if they weren’t so. But when we’re shocked into action by situations like Jan had, the things we know in our hearts come out and the real truth emerges.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages say that ‘the world is not God’s place, rather God is the world’s place.” What do you think that means?
A. God has always existed and is everywhere. The world (and the universe for that matter) are things He created ‘inside’ of Himself, so to speak. That means that God is the ‘place’ within which everyone and everything exists.
Q. In the famous ‘Shema Yisrael’ prayer, we say that ‘God is one.’ Does this have anything to do with the theme of our story?
A. It has everything to do with it. When we say God is one – we don’t just mean ‘and not two, or three.’ We are saying that everything in existence is really, at its deepest roots, a unified, infinite oneness. We call that oneness, God. This is the essence of the ‘Shema’ prayer and of monotheism.


*   *   *


“If you are not happy with what you have, you will not be happy with what you get”
                 — Rabbi Noah Weinberg 


*   *   *

Moishe was having some trouble in Hebrew class.
To encourage him, his teacher Morah Esther said, “You’ll know you’re really beginning to get it when you start dreaming in Hebrew.”
One day, Moishe ran into class all excited, saying, “Morah Esther! I had a dream last night and everyone was talking in Hebrew!”
“Great!” said Morah Esther. “What were they saying?”
“I don’t know,” Moishe replied; “I couldn’t understand them.”

*   *   *

Send a Tribute!

A great way to send a greeting and support Aish!  Send a mazel tov, condolence or simply show your appreciation to a relative or friend with an Aish Tribute. It’s easy  — just call the Aish office at
314-862-2474 or email us at Donate any sum (we suggest $18) and we will send a card to your designated recipient and publish it in our newsletter.