For the week ending 28 November 2020 / 12 Kislev 5781

Parashat Vayeitzei

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Fleeing from Esav, Yaakov leaves Be’er Sheva and sets out for Charan, the home of his mother's family. After a 14-year stint in the Torah Academy of Shem and Ever, he resumes his journey and comes to Mount Moriah, the place where his father Yitzchak was brought as an offering, and the future site of the Beit Hamikdash. He sleeps there and dreams of angels going up and down a ladder between Heaven and Earth. G-d promises him the Land of Israel, that he will found a great nation and that he will enjoy Divine protection. Yaakov wakes and vows to build an altar there and tithe all that he will receive.

Then he travels to Charan and meets his cousin Rachel at the well. He arranges with her father, Lavan, to work seven years for her hand in marriage, but Lavan fools Yaakov, substituting Rachel’s older sister, Leah. Yaakov commits himself to work another seven years in order to also marry Rachel. Leah bears four sons: Reuven, Shimon, Levi and Yehuda, the first Tribes of Israel. Rachel is barren, and in an attempt to give Yaakov children, she gives her handmaiden Bilhah to Yaakov as a wife. Bilhah bears Dan and Naftali. Leah also gives Yaakov her handmaiden Zilpah, who bears Gad and Asher. Leah then bears Yissaschar, Zevulun, and a daughter, Dina. Hashem finally blesses Rachel with a son, Yosef.

Yaakov decides to leave Lavan, but Lavan, aware of the wealth Yaakov has made for him, is reluctant to let him go, and concludes a contract of employment with him. Lavan tries to swindle Yaakov, but Yaakov becomes extremely wealthy. Six years later, Yaakov, aware that Lavan has become dangerously resentful of his wealth, flees with his family. Lavan pursues them but is warned by G-d not to harm them. Yaakov and Lavan agree to a covenant and Lavan returns home. Yaakov continues on his way to face his brother Esav.


“Two Torahs”

“And Yaakov departed…” (28:10)

My daughter is studying for a Master’s degree at arguably the best university in Israel for her particular subject. Nearly all of the other students there are from Tel Aviv and Hod HaSharon and she is one of less than a handful of Orthoodox women there. When asked to speak about herself, she said, “I am married to an avreich who immerses himself in Torah night and day, and I have no interest in changing who I am.” She said, “I am ‘different’ than you. I respect you. I respect what you have to teach me here, but I have no interest in becoming like you. And if I do become like you, then we will both have ‘lost.’ Because I treasure my religious values and way of life, and you need skilled Orthodox women professionals in this particular field.”

Later, she told me that she would never have even thought of doing this Master’s in such an environment had it not been for the chinuch (education) of her home. Our house, thank G-d, has always seen a procession of Shabbat guests of all shapes, sizes, and persuasions — especially when we used to live across the street from Ohr Somayach.

You can bring your children up in one of two ways. One alternative is that you can try to ‘insulate’ them totally and cut yourself off to the maximum degree from any negative lures of the secular world. But even this might not be hermetic enough. I once heard a parable from Rabbi Yaakov Hillel shlit’a about a king who was so concerned for his son’s purity that he locked him up in a tower with the windows shuttered so he could not see the street. One day, the shutters flew open by mistake, and, there in the street was a lady of questionable morals. The prince said to his father, “Father! What is that?” “Ech! It’s a dog, my son!” To which the son said, “Daddy, get me a dog, please!” Ivory towers are not foolproof.

Alternatively, you can face the challenges of the modern world and give your children a pride and a love of Torah Judaism that you hope and pray very hard will inoculate them against the cesspools of society at large. There’s no guarantee in either choice.

We chose the second route, but, to be honest, I don’t think we had much choice. Maybe if I’d been younger when I became observant, I could have attempted to do a major personality graft, learned Yiddish, as well as Hebrew, diminished interaction with secular relatives, and started a completely new identity (and changed my name back to my father’s original name of Spivack). As it was, we opened our house pretty much to everyone on Shabbat, and my children grew up understanding that we were Torah Jews, and there were other people, including their grandparents, who were not as observant.

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky zatzal comments on this week’s Torah portion that Yaakov learned “two Torahs,” so to speak. One was the teaching of his father Yitzchak, which he learned in his first sixty-three years. This was a Torah where father and son learned together in an atmosphere hermetically sealed from the corruption of Canaan. However, to survive the spiritually toxic environment of Haran in the company of Lavan and his cohorts, Yaakov needed the Torah of Shem and Ever. For Shem had lived together with the generation of the Flood, and Ever had lived with those who had built the Tower of Bavel. Yaakov’s sojourn of fourteen years with them inured him to the spiritual dangers of Haran.

To be a parent in today’s world is an unprecedented challenge. To succeed we also need these two aspects of Torahs. We need the unshakeable commitment and faith in the Torah of truth that was given to us at Mount Sinai. And that we continue to study nowadays, and try to fulfill its mitzvahs, down to the finest detail. But we also need to remember that the Torah is a Torah of love, tolerance and compassion. With these two together, with the help of Hashem, we can protect our nearest and dearest from the worst that the world has to offer.

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