Monday, 5 December 2016

The Departure of a Righteous Person Leaves Behind an Impression

Parshat Vayeitze begins by telling us the Yaakov left Be'er Sheva in order to make his journey to Charan. Yaakov was beginning a new phase of his life. He was about to embark on the journey to find a woman whom he could marry. Life had become unpleasant for Yaakov. 

His father Yitzchak had prepared himself to bless his eldest son Eisav. Eisav - of course - had already forfeited his blessings by handing over the rights of the first-born to his younger brother Yaakov many years before this moment! In truth - as Rashi points out, Yaakov was indeed conceived first - much like the concept of placing a ball into a thin container and thereafter placing another one into the same container. The first in - is the last out! Though the first ball placed into the tube is placed first, it actually comes out last. So too, Yaakov was conceived first, and by rights should also have been born first - but due to the rule of FILA - first-in-last-out, Yaakov was born only after his brother Eisav. Yaakov grabs Eisav's heal at birth, because it is in a certain respect his way of trying to hold back Eisav so that he can be born first - as things should have been.

When Eisav grows up - he has no interest - in any case - of any first-born rights. Life as a first-born can be filled with myriads of tests and unwanted useless things! The eldest will be required to serve in the Temple. Doing things wrong there could end up causing a variety of problems for this first-born - with his standing to lose his opportunity to continue living! Of course, the first-born should also take a certain amount of care for his younger siblings too. He should act as the example in life! Eisav wants fun! He wants to hunt. He wants a good deal of "feminine companionship." He wants as much of the physical world as he can have. Yaakov - on the other hand, wants nothing more than to sit and study Torah in the Tents of Torah. He wants to grow close to the Creator of life. He wants to meditate. He wants the quiet of the world - if it is possible! Indeed if only he had been the first born - he would have delighted in reflecting all these values to his younger sibling - so that he could follow in these ways too. But alas - in the end, Eisav was indeed born first.

Many years before this moment of blessing... Eisav returns home from an exhausting hunt to find Yaakov preparing some cooked lentils. It was the mourning period for his grandfather Avraham - who had just died - and as is the custom - Yaakov (the other grandson) was cooking a food item which has no mouth - much like the mourner who too, "lacks a mouth." Eisav was still a young teenager - but certainly old enough to know that what lay in front of him was something meaningful. He was only interested in the actual taste of the food - that it should fill him up and give him enough energy to continue his day filled with adventure - rather than sitting with the rest of the family, mourning the sad passing of their grandfather. Eisav demands his share of the prepared lentils - and Yaakov agrees - provided he sell him the birthright! Eisav has no interest in this "burdensome" birthright - and is really only too happy to let it go.

Years later, when Yitzchak - his father, is about to bless him, Eisav suddenly wakes up, realizing the importance of the blessings from his righteous father. But Rivkah - his mother, overhears a conversation with Yitzchak telling Eisav to find some animals and prepare them for his father so that his father will feel sated, and be able to best bless his eldest son - before he himself dies. Eisav goes off to attend to obeying his father, and fulfilling the Mitzvah of honoring his father. Rivkah - realizing the dangers involved, immediately informs Yaakov that he must prepare himself to receive the blessings. He will need to "trick" his father into thinking that he is his brother - a hairy man! His mother tells him he will need to wear the fur coat of his brother, so that he feels more like him. Yitzchak was of course blind at this time - and had no idea who would be in front of him.

Yaakov enters and though Yitzchak is confused (wondering if indeed it was Eisav in front on him,) he ends up giving the blessings to the younger son Yaakov. Eisav enters the room to find that Yitzchak has already given over the first-born blessings (to his younger brother no-less!) - and breaks down! Eisav plots to kill his brother in revenge - when his father Yitzchak dies (after all, it would certainly not be honourable to kill his brother in his father's lifetime!)

Rivkah is notified about Eisav's plan through Ruach HaKodesh - Divine inspiration - and immediately notifies her son to flee for his life - at least until his brother's anger cools down! She tells him he must get on with his life now - he must go to find a wife for himself from her own brother's family and stay there until Eisav cools down.

So Yaakov left... He left Be'er Sheva and went to Charan! This is how our story unfolds! The Midrash asks - however - why did the Torah need to tell us this?! Surely we already knew that he was in Be'er Sheva - at the very least! It could just as easily have told us that he went to Charan. Why the need to emphasize that he had left Be'er Sheva to go to Charan?!

Indeed, many people involved in merchandise activities would enter and leave the city every day! Here, the Torah makes no mention of these people entering and leaving. Does it really seem relevant to tell us that Yaakov left Be'er Sheva?! Did not anybody else leave? Our verse seems to indicate that it was only Yaakov who made his way out of the city... as if to say that nobody else had done so.

The expression seems to tell us that the entire city felt some sort of feeling as Yaakov left... as if to say - while there was a constant buzz of activity of people moving in and out of the city - it was this particular thing - that was felt by all... Yaakov has left Be'er Sheva!

Rabbi Azaria in the name of Rabbi Yehuda the son of Rabbi Simon said that this comes to teach us that at the time a righteous individual (a Tzadik) stays in a city, he is the city's light(!), he is its beauty(!) and he is its praise(!) - because the light, beauty and praise of the city comes about only through this righteous individual! When this righteous individual leaves the city, its light departs, its beauty departs and its praise departs! This is what the verse was teaching... And Yaakov left from Be'er Sheva... the Tzadik had left!

We see this same pattern occurring later in the book of Ruth. Here we are told that Naomi, the wife of Elimelech (she was the mother-in-law of Ruth the Moadbite who would become the great-grandmother of King David) - that when she left the place of the field of Moav to return to the Land of Israel - as it says that "And she left the place where she had been... to return to the Land of Yehudah," where we had no need to learn where she had left but rather only where she was going to. All reading the story know clearly where she was - and had the verse just told us she returned to the Land of Yehudah - we would surely know she had left the place she had been at! The verse says that "she left," as if her leaving had created an impression as if she had left a place that was sealed - where no person had left before (yet she managed to do it!) Really, however, the verse was telling us something else... It was telling us that the entire city felt that her presence had left - she would be missed - all would know that she had gone... The city would change (and not for the good) with the loss of the righteous individual.

Again Rabbi Yehudah the son of Rabbi Simon as well as Rabbi Chanin in the name of Rabbi Shmuel the son of Rabbi Yitzchak teach, "this teaches us that when a Tzadik is in the city... but when the righteous person leaves... so too does its light, its beauty and its praise!" Here however they add - with regards to Naomi, it was quite correct to speak about her leaving. She was indeed the only righteous person to live in that city and then she left (with the city feeling the loss of her presence.) But what of our story when Yaakov left? Here, there was also Yitzchak and Rivkah - still another two righteous individuals. How could it be that Yaakov would be missed when indeed there were at least another two outstanding righteous people still supporting the city with its light, its beauty and its praise?

To this Rabbi Azaria in the name of Rabbi Yehuda the son of Rabbi Simon points out - one cannot compare the merit of one Tzadik who protects a city to the merit of two righteous individuals who protect the city, therefore even though these two righteous individuals still remained behind (i.e. Yitzchak and his wife Rivkah) still, the departure of the one righteous person made an impression.

When the world was created, the holy kabbalist known as the Arizal teaches that G-d constricted Himself in a way that He - so to speak - departed from a particular area (removed from the concept of space and time). It would be in this place of His departure that all the worlds of creation would be built up. How could it be - however, that His departure could occur leaving a void without His presence? The world would not be able to exist if the Creator would remove Himself (so to speak) from a particular place. Since He is present everywhere (albeit hidden), were He to remove Himself - this would be something impossible! So too do we learn here - when G-d departed - the exiting of a righteous individual creates an impression. Here too, G-d merely concealed His presence so to speak. The impression remains, because the force of the righteous continues to have an effect wherever they have been and to wherever they go...

Our lesson takes life much further however with its truest message. We live in a world where we take all for granted. We bump into each other, talk to each other as we wish - and often insult the other thinking little of who they are. Sometimes - however, we wake up when we realise what we have lost... When the righteous "leaves the city" - it is too late... suddenly, it is a time when we realise the impression that the other has made in the world - upon a city, upon us. When a friend or relative departs from our city - or from this very world - we suddenly wake up and see life differently. Now - we realise what we have lost... Things begin to happen as we suddenly realise the greatness of the other, his/her contribution to life - to ourselves. But it is too late. 

We must open our eyes to every person we interact with on a daily basis. We must realise their contribution to life - and to our own lives. We must realise that no matter what they have or no matter what they lack - they too make a contribution to someone's life at some point in time. When they leave the city - when the righteous one (the one who quietly attended to things without anybody really realising what he was doing) leaves the city (or this world), we will feel the impression that has been left behind. There is a part of that person there, though we cannot hold on to the tangibility of who they are any longer. Surely we have the space to now see just who they were, as the impression remains.

But what is more important than feeling impressions left behind - is in feeling the impressions they create upon us now. "Taking for granted..." Let these words never be an expression in our vocabulary. Seeing the other in need - let us be aware that they too provide someone with light, with beauty and with praise, and it is for us to perceive that beauty immediately - so that all will have the chance to continue to shine their lights wherever they are... before it is too late of course... and we are left with nothing more than just a painful impression...

And Yaakov left Be'er Sheva... because when a righteous person leaves a city, then its light departs, its beauty departs... and its praise departs... Eisav - the man of wickedness, has no idea just how much of an effect he had on an entire city. So too, must we be cautious in our plans against others - as we may not realise just how much we may stand to lose. Let us see the light. Let us bring it in, rather than await for it to leave...

Rabbi Eliyahu Shear
Co-Director Chessed Ve'Emet
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