Ritual Wisdom

Ritual Wisdom 12-6-19

In this week’s Torah reading, Vayeitzei, we find the importance of work over idleness.

Yaakov, after living twenty years by his father-in-law, Lavan, decided to take his family (four wives and twelve children) and return to his parents. He fears that Lavan will not let him leave, so he leaves while Lavan was away. When Lavan learns that they left, he chases after them with the intention of harming Yaakov. G-d appears to Lavan in a dream and warns him not to hurt Yaakov and his family.

The Torah relates the dialogue between Yaakov and his father-in-law, Lavan, when they meet. Yaakov complains to his father-in-law that if not for G-d’s protection he would not have survived the mistreatment and cheating he experienced at Lavan’s house for the past 20 years. Yaakov concludes, “My affliction and the labor of my hands G-d has seen…” Yaakov credits G-d’s coming to his rescue to the “labor of my hands.”

The Midrash says, this teaches us the importance of work: “A person shall not say, ‘I will eat, drink and enjoy what is good but I will not bother to work, for I will rely on G-d to take care of me.’ A man must toil and work with both his hands; only then will the Holy One send His blessings.”

The Talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar explains the importance of work as follows, “When Adam was put in the Garden of Eden, although everything was prepared for him, G-d told him first, “to work it and tend to it.” Only after this did G-d permit him to eat from the fruits of the garden.

Rabbi Tarfon says: “G-d did not make His presence rest among Israel until they worked, as it says, Let them make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.”

The sage, Rabbi Yossi, says in the Talmud, “Man doesn’t die from work only out of idleness.

It is explained with the following parable: A farmer had a colt, a donkey and a pig. Every day, he measured the amount of barley he fed the donkey and colt, but would let the pig eat as much as it wanted. The colt complained to the donkey, “What is our boss doing? We do all the work for the master, yet he rations our food. The pig does nothing, yet it gets to eat as much as it wants!”

The donkey replied, “The time will come when you will see the pig’s downfall, for it is not for its benefit that our master stuffs it with food, but rather for its harm.” Soon afterwards a Roman holiday occurred. The farmer slaughtered the pig and served it for the feast.

The next day, when the owner fed barley to the donkey and colt, after seeing what happened to the pig, the colt refused to eat the barley. The donkey said to him, “Do not be afraid to eat. It is the idleness, not the eating, which led the pig to be slaughtered.”

At the end of last week’s Torah reading, Toldot, we read that after Yaakov received his father’s blessings, his brother, Esau, wanted to kill him. Yaakov is encouraged by his father and mother, Yitzchak and Rivkah, to run away from Esau and go to his uncle, Lavan, who lived in Charan. They suggest that while there he should marry one of Lavan’s daughters.

This week’s Torah reading, Vayeitzei, begins, “And Yaakov went out from Be’er Sheva and he went to Charan.” Upon arriving in Charan, Yaakov stopped at a well and there he met his cousin, Rachel, who would later become his wife.

Q.  We know from the previous Torah reading that Yaakov lived in Be’er Sheva. The Torah should have told us only that, “Yaakov went to Charan.” We would already know that he left from Be’er Sheva?

A.  Our sages reply: Yaakov left his parents for two reasons: 1) To run away from his brother, Esau who wanted to kill him. 2) Yitzchak urged Yaakov to go find a wife from the daughters of Lavan.

Here, the Torah alludes to the two reasons: 1) “And Yaakov went out from Be’er Sheva” – was to flee from Esau; 2) “And he went to Charan” – was in order to find a wife from Lavan’s daughters.

Q. How old was Yaakov when he received his blessings from his father and left Be’er Sheva? How old was he when he arrived in Charan? How old was he when he got married?

A. Yaakov was 63years old when he got his blessings and left Be’er Sheva. On the way he stopped at the Yeshiva of Ever, where he spent 14 years studying. He came to his uncle, Lavan, when he was 77. He worked seven years for Lavan, in order to marry his daughter, Rachel. In the end, Lavan fooled him and gave him Leah instead.

A week after marrying Leah he also married her sister, Rachel, and worked for his father-in-law another seven years. Thus, Yaakov was 84 when he married Leah and Rachel.

Q. What was the significance of waiting a week after marrying Leah before marrying also Rachel?

A. The seven days after a marriage ceremony are called “Shiva’at Yemei Hamishte” – “seven days of feast and rejoicing.” These are seven joyous days for the bride and groom. Seven blessings are recited each of the seven days over a cup of wine at the conclusion of the Grace-after-meal. Thus, the reason Yaakov waited seven days was to complete the seven days of celebration for marrying Leah, before he could marry Rachel.

Isaac, Jacob and Moshe found their soul-mates near water. Water is a sign of blessing. The Baal Shem Tov when seeing a water-carrier carrying water, would say, “Water is a sign of blessing.

In this week’s Torah reading, Vayeitzei, the Torah relates the following episode which took place with our forefather Yaakov (Jacob).

On his way to Charan, as he is running away from his brother, Esau, Yaakov prays that G-d should watch and protect him. Knowing that his uncle, Lavan, is a liar and cheater he is scared of the unknown.

G-d appears to him in a dream and says, “I am the G-d of Abraham and Isaac, I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be as many as the dust of the earth; and you will spread out to the west, to the east, the north and the south. All the families will be blessed by you and your descendants. I am with you and I will guard you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not abandon you until I have carried out what I have spoken to you.”

When Yaakov woke up he made the following vow, “If G-d will be with me and he will guard me on this route in which I am going; and He will give me bread to eat and garments to wear; and I will return in peace to my father’s house; and G-d will be my G-d; This stone which I have placed as a monument will be a house of G-d and I will give tithes from everything which You give to me.”

Indeed, on this very place where Yaakov slept that night and placed the monument is where the Holy Temple was built many years later.

Q. Why does Yaakov specify in his prayer, “bread to eat and garments to wear”? Wouldn’t it be enough if he asked for bread and garments, without specifying “to eat” and “to wear?” What else would he do with bread if not to eat; and garments, if not to wear?

A. There is a very profound lesson in this for everyone. Sometimes we tend to forget the purpose of our work. Many people too many times become so involved in their work and business day and night to the point that instead of eating the bread, the bread eats them! Instead of clothing to wear, the clothing business or the expensive designer clothing, wears them down! Many people become so consumed chasing after money and more money even at the expense of family and health.

Until now Yaakov was immersed in the study of Torah. Now that he was on his way to build a home, a family and financial success, Yaakov was worried that he may be completely consumed with his physical welfare at the expense of forgetting the spiritual purpose of it all.

So he prayed that G-d give him, “bread to eat and garments to wear.” That he should have whatever he needs and be successful in his work, but always remember that they are a means to an end – for a higher spiritual purpose. He asked for bread to eat and not be eaten by it; for clothing to wear and not that it should wear him down. The lesson of it is obvious, especially in today’s hustle bustle business world, to be focused on the purpose.


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