Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk 


The non-Torah world has three areas which I can't resist. The first is Boston based sports franchises. and, for me, the Pats are still the Boston Patriots. The other two are science fiction and really good acting. The latter two items converged in a recently aired TV series, called Counterpart. It describes how our world separated into two separate realities about 39 years ago. In the series JK Simmons plays the same person on both sides of the divide. He was truly amazing. These two sides of the same coin, same parents, same DNA, became two distinct personalities based on the experiences of the past four decades. He played the two flawlessly. Just from his facial expressions and body language you knew immediately which personality was on screen. It was a remarkable performance. I felt like buying Farmers Insurance. Bum ba-dum, bum, bum, bum. Something similar happens to Ya'akov in this week's Torah reading. 

Our parsha begins with Ya'akov on the run from his brother and arch nemesis, Esav. The mild mannered Ya'akov has been instructed by his parents to seek shelter and a bride in the ancestral home, Padan Aram. You know the plot. He meets the beautiful Rachel at the ancient world's version of Starbuck's, the well. He is played by wily Uncle Lavan, and ends up with two wives, two concubines and a dozen children. That total includes Dinah, but excludes Binyamin, born back in Israel. Then something amazing happens. This stay-at-home scholar becomes the best shepherd in history (Baba Metzia, chapter 8). He grows the flocks at an extraordinary rate. Plus, he breeds the flocks so expertly that he controls the appearance of the offspring, enriching his own flock at the expense of his father-in-law's bottom line. What a transformation. 

The Torah wants us to be very cognizant of this make over. When leaving Yitzchak and Rivka's home in Beer Sheva, he experiences a wondrous dream. 'And he dreamed, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground, its top reached heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it. Behold, the Lord was standing over him, and said, "I am the Lord, the God of Avraham your father, and the God of Yitzchak; the land upon which you are lying to you I will give it and to your seed. And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall gain strength westward and eastward and northward and southward; and through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth and through your seed. Behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have fully kept this promise to you (Breishit 28:12-14).' A truly inspirational vision for this zadik leaving the warm confines of his parents' home. 

This vision is about great spiritual potential. There's an argument in the Midrash over whether the ladder represents Mt Sinai (SULAM and SINAI have the same Gematria) or the Temple Mount. In either case, whether we conclude that connection to Heaven comes from Torah study or Temple offerings, he's dreaming about the Holy of Holy ideas. Isn't religion and spirituality about how to remain in constant contact with the celestial spheres? Ya'akov is in a very good place, spiritually speaking.   

However, after twenty odd years in the totally different spiritual environment of his father-in-law's home he has a different dream: And an angel of God said to me in a dream, 'Jacob!' And I said, 'Here I am.' And he said, 'Now lift your eyes and see that all the he goats mounting the animals are ringed, speckled, and striped, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Beit El, where you anointed a monument, where you made a vow to Me. Now, arise, leave this land and return to the land of your birth (31:11-13). Very different content and message. 

Way before Freud, the Talmud teaches, 'A person is shown in dreams only that which one has given great thought (Berachot 55b).' If dreams reflect one's innermost thoughts and personality, we're seeing two very different Ya'akovs. One of whom might have had difficulty becoming the Yisrael, who fathers the Jewish nation. Ya'akov has the rare opportunity of being shown his alternative self. If he doesn't change his venue, he will be known forever as the great breeder of sheep, not Ya'akov Avinu the breeder of God's people. 

Ya'akov had always been aware of this danger. After his first dream in Beit El, he made a vow, 'If God remains with me, and protect me on my journey...and if I return in peace to my father's home, then I will dedicate myself totally to God (28:20 & 21).' This oath was made out of trepidation that his commitment to righteousness would be in peril outside the protective environment of his parents' home. 

Before Ya'akov set out for Egypt towards the end of his life, God appears again telling him, 'Don't be afraid!' (46:4), because there was reason to be afraid of the powerful Egyptian Empire. However, when Ya'akov leaves home on his way to Padan Aram, there's no advice about fear. God gives our Great Grandfather assurances of protection, but no injunction to be fearless. I think the younger Ya'akov needed to maintain a healthy fear of the dangers to his soul in Lavan's house. The 130-year-old Ya'akov, going down to Egypt, had no such reason to fear for his spiritual fate. He had seen it all. 

The Padan Aram period in Ya'akov's life should frighten us all. If Ya'akov could be in spiritual danger, what about us? We must learn from this gift given to Ya'akov. The insight into what could have been, must give us pause. When we observe that many lose their battle against earthly temptations, we must redouble our efforts to escape the clutches of our Lavans