Wednesday, January 14, 2015

453 - Vayeitzei

When Yaakov awoke after his prophetic dream, he erected a mizbeiach and made a promise to Hashem: "If Hashem will be with me and protect me on the path I travel and He will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear. And if I will return "b'shalom" (safely) to the home of my father and Hashem will be for me a G-d. Then this stone which I have set as a monument will be for a me a house of G-d and all that You give me I will tithe for You" (Bereishis 28:20-22).

Rashi explains that when Yaakov entreated Hashem to assure his safe return, he was not merely asking to return home alive. Yaakov was worried lest he learn from Lavan's evil ways. Thus, he was asking Hashem to allow him to return from the house of Lavan "shaleim" (complete) i.e. free of sin without having learned from his corrupt behavior. 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Parashas Vayeitzei28:10, 21) points out that learning from another person's behavior generally starts with copying his mannerisms, and this form of imitation happens very quickly. Two people who reside together for even a few months almost automatically begin copying each other's mannerisms to a certain extent. Although Yaakov was already seventy seven years old and staunchly set in his ways and convictions, nevertheless, he was afraid that he would be negatively affected by his uncle, Lavan. It is only natural that he would in some way begin to mimic Lavan's behavior, and this worry prompted him to offer a prayer for assistance. 

Earlier in the parsha, Rav Wolbe points out that even mimicking the actions of tzaddikim might not be the most optimal behavior. Rashi on the first pasuk tells us that when Yaakov left his hometown, Be'er Sheva, a great void was created in the city. When he departed, "the splendor, glory, and majesty of the city departed along with him." Since Yitzchak was still in Be'er Sheva wasn't there still plenty of glory, splendor and majesty left in the city? The Medrash answers (Bereishis Rabba 68:6) that you cannot compare the power of one tzaddik to the power of two tzaddikim.

The presence of two tzaddikim doesn't just mean twice the amount of the identical positive spiritual force. Rather, every tzaddik offers a unique spiritual approach and mindset. We tend to think that a disciple should be an exact copy of his Rebbi. However, this is not the case. A Rebbi's job is to help his students discover and build upon their unique qualities. Although Yaakov certainly learned from Yitzchak, he had an original approach to avodas Hashem. Yitzchak's avodah revolved around the middahof din - strict judgment, while Yaakov's avodah revolved around the middah of emes - truth.

In the aftermath of the massacre that took the lives of four kedoshim in Har Nof, we are all looking for some area of avodas Hashem in which we can strengthen our performance. We have all heard amazing stories about the uniqueness of the avodas Hashem of these great individuals. Although we should seek to emulate their ways we should not simply imitate their actions. As with all aspects of avodas Hashem, one should first take a good look at himself and only then make a kabbalah that is hand tailored to his personal needs. Many gedolim have suggested that since the tragedy occurred while thesekedoshim were davening, one should take on somechizuk in the area of tefillah such as not to bring his cellphone into shul during davening. If one already is careful in this area, then he should find a different aspect of tefillah in which he feels he needs chizuk. Any chizukwill be a zechus both for the kedoshim who reached the pinnacle of kedusha, and for us as we strive to live our lives in a way that will ultimately bring us to our own pinnacle of kedusha.

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