December 09, 2016
The following Dvar Torah is from a colleague and friend, Rav Shalom Rosner, rav of the Nofei Hashemesh community in Beit Shemesh and a rebbe at Reishit Yerushalayim. Hope you enjoy and have a great Shabbos.
The beginning of the Parsha describes that Yaakov Avinu was traveling to Lavan’s home and that he “slept in that place” along the way. Rashi quotes our Sages who teach that this indicates that he had not slept until that point in the journey. Yaakov stopped in the yeshiva of Shem and Aiver for 14 years during which he never actually lay down to go to sleep.
A few questions emerge from this story. Yaakov’s father, Yitzchak, told him to go to Lavan’s house to go find a wife. How could Yaakov stop for 14 years along the way to study in yeshiva? This would be like a parent asking a child to go buy milk and the child leaves home, goes out with his friends all day, and then returns with the milk at the end of the day. What terrible disrespect! How could Yaakov do this? Furthermore, we are taught that Yaakov was punished and lost Yosef for 22 years because of the 22 years that he stayed away from Yitzchak while with Lavan. Why wasn’t he punished for the additional 14 years in which he studied which brought his total years away to 36? Weren’t these years away even worse than the years he spent with Lavan? Finally, what “Torah” did Yaakov learn at the yeshiva of Sheim and Aiver? There was no Torah yet so what did they do there?
Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky explains that Sheim and Aiver were two special people who were able to remain monotheists in the face of strong pressures against this lifestyle. Sheim lived amidst the corruption of the generation of the flood and Aiver was surrounded by non believers in the time of the Tower of Bavel and the Dispersion. Their institution helped prepare people for the challenges of remaining monotheistic and true to God’s values and morals while living among those who did not share such values and who sought to corrupt others. Yaakov Avinu was leaving his insular life where he was the “simple person dwelling in tents” and was going to have to deal with Lavan, the most evil and corrupt person at the time. He needed to spend time preparing himself for this challenge and understood that Yitzchak would want him to do this. Rav Yaakov compares this to a scenario where a father asked his son to go buy a lulav and etrog for him , not simply some milk. The son could easily justify spending time in a Beit Midrash first to learn the laws of lulav and etrog to make sure he was buying his father what he would want. This stopover would not only be not disobeying his father but would be in consonance with what his father wanted. Based on this understanding, Yaakov’s stop in yeshiva fulfilled his father’s wishes and, therefore, he was not punished for those extra 14 years away from home.
It is critical for all of us to internalize the lesson of Yaakov stopping at this yeshiva prior to his encounter and years with Lavan. He understood that we must prepare for spiritual challenges in order to succeed in the spiritual realm. All of us live with constant spiritual challenges – at school, at work, and just in general while functioning in the world. We must continue to update and renew our spiritual standing through learning, davening, and other spiritual experiences to enable us to succeed regardless of the many challenges which come our way.