Tuesday, November 28, 2006

VaYeitzei 5632 First Ma'amar

וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּלֶך חָרָנָה/Ya’akov left Be’er Sheva; he went towards Charan.” (Breishis 28:10) The immediate question that arises, the question the Midrash asks and which Rashi quotes is that the beginning of this pasuk seems extraneous. We know where Ya’akov Avinu lived. Unless there is an indication otherwise, we can assume that his point of departure was Be’er Sheva, his hometown. Why does the Torah make a point of telling us the place from which he left?

Going to Charan was a drastic step for Ya’akov Avinu. He was leaving his father’s house and the Yeshiva of Ever – holy places – for Charan an impure place far from the holiness to which he was accustomed. Such a trip required preparation. The pasuk is making exactly this point. Be’er Sheva is a metaphor. Be’er/Well represents the spiritual and Sheva/Seven represents the physical Creation (e.g. seven days of creation, seven days of the week.) Be’er Sheva, then, represents the spiritual within the physical. It represents that point of spiritual force which gives sustenance and existence to the physical Creation. The pasuk is telling us that Ya’akov Avinu was able to journey to Charan only because he was coming from Be’er Sheva. He was able to journey to the impure city of Charan because his point of departure was a total and complete connection to the spiritual force represented by Be’er Sheva.

The first Midrash on the parsha alludes to this idea. The Midrash cites a pasuk in Mishlei (3:23), “אָז תֵּלֵךְ לָבֶטַח דַּרְכֶּךָ .../Then you shall go securely on your way …” The Midrash says that this pasuk is referring to Ya’akov Avinu’s journey from Be’er Sheva to Charan as it states in the Torah, “וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע .../Yaakov left Be’er Sheva …” What compelled the Midrash to give this interpretation? Furthermore, what proof is the Midrash bringing from the first pasuk in our parsha?

The Sfas Emes explains that the first word of the pasuk אָז/Then is the clue. The gematria of the word אָז is 8. As we’ve noted, seven denotes nature while eight denotes that which is beyond nature. The Midrash understands that this pasuk is referring to Ya’akov because he was on a level beyond nature. It is hinting that the reason Ya’akov Avinu was able to journey securely to Charan was because he first subjugated himself completely to God. Because he was connected completely to that which was beyond nature, he would not be affected by the impurity that would soon surround him. The Midrash knows this because the Torah makes a point of telling us that Ya’akov left from Be’er Sheva. Ya’akov was able to journey securely because his point of departure was that spiritual level represented by Be’er Sheva.

The first pasuk of the parsha is actually imparting good advice. The Torah is teaching us that we can grow spiritually even through the most mundane activities. The key is to prepare before the activity. First realize that there is more to the physical Creation than meets the eye. There is an underlying spiritual force that gives life, existence and meaning to the physical world. Following Ya’akov Avinu’s example, by submitting completely to God, by wanting to connect to the spiritual within the physical, we grow spiritually even from our most mundane activities. The key is to prepare beforehand and remember during the activity.

By the same token, this advice applies to the Exile. The Torah is teaching us that just as Ya’akov prepared himself and was therefore able to grow even in Charan, we, too, can improve ourselves and grow even while outside of the land of Israel.

The same idea applies to Shabbos and the days of the week as well. On Shabbos we can all receive a spiritual revelation if only we are open to experiencing it. Experiencing this revelation actually draws spirituality into the following week. The key here, too, is to remember the spiritual during the days of the week when we are involved in mundane apparently non-spiritual activities. This is also alluded to in the first pasuk of the parsha. Be’er Sheva represents an aspect of Shabbos - Be’er Sheva: lit. the Well of Seven alludes to Shabbos, the seventh day of the week - and Charan represents an aspect of the days of the week. By preparing on Shabbos we can grow spiritually during the days of the week as well.

The Sfas Emes explains that this idea is the deeper meaning of the first Rashi in the parsha. Rashi, in answer to the question first posed above, quotes the answer given by the first Midrash of the parsha. The Midrash says that the pasuk starts with, “וַיֵּצֵא/He left” in order to teach us that when a righteous person leaves a city it is noticed. When the righteous person is in the city, he is the city’s glory, brilliance and splendor. When the righteous person leaves the city, the glory, brilliance and splendor leave with him.

The Sfas Emes explains that the righteous person in the city is an analogy for the spiritual within everything physical. When we remember this during our daily activities, we bring out the spiritual meaning inherent in those activities. This is the hidden glory, brilliance and splendor that we are able to unveil. However, when we go about our daily activities without contemplating the underlying spirituality inherent in everything we do, then our activities really are just mundane. The glory, brilliance and splendor are gone.

Our challenge is to prepare for each day’s activities. We have the ability to transform our mundane activities into meaningful spiritual events which shine. The key is in the preparation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

YaSheR KoaCH! Thank you for bringing sfas emes to those of us who are still on the way to the actual hebrew text! CHoDeSH TOV!