Our Annual Chanukah Party! Sunday, December 13, 2:30-5:30PM Featuring: Giant 6ft Lego Menorah assembled by the children!
If you or anyone you know would like a Chanukah Kit (Which Includes Menorah & Candles) please reply to this email with name and address, and a Chanukah Kit will be made available free of charge.
Make sure you visit our Beautiful Menorah display with its unique glowing candles at the Prospect Heights Underhill Children’s Playground & Atlantic Terminal Mall for the duration of Chanukah.
Our parshah of VaYetzei opens as Jacob fled his brother Esau’s wrath and came to live with his uncle Laban. After staying with him for a month, Laban says to Jacob: “Just because you are my brother (meaning, relative) shall you work for me for nothing?” In the end Jacob works for Laban for seven years. His pay was not monetary, but the ability to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel.
Or Hachaim, one of the great Sephardic commentators, asks two questions: First, who says Jacob was not planning to ask him for remuneration for his work? Second, why did Laban so dislike the prospect of Jacob working for free? After all, Laban was a scoundrel who had no qualms about stealing Jacob’s hard earned possessions. Why would he be so reluctant to accept Jacob’s gift?
A third question can be asked: If Laban did not want Jacob to work for free, why did he wait a month before offering to pay Jacob?
Fourth, why did Laban not ask simply, “How much do you want to get paid for your work?” Why did he have to throw in the words: “Just because you are my brother shall you work for me for nothing?”
The following explanation is based on the Hungarian Chassidic work, Rav Tov, who addresses some of these questions.
When Jacob arrived, Laban said to him: “You are my bone and my flesh (my blood relative).” With these words he invited Jacob to stay with him. However, in the course of the first month of Jacob’s stay with Laban, he discovered something about Jacob he did not know previously.
When Jacob arrived, he thought he was a person no different from himself; someone who had basically the same material interests. Thus, Laban said to Jacob “you are my bones and flesh.” We both share the same physical properties. We are genetically related.
After staying with him for a month, however, Laban realized that he was not his “brother” in the true sense of the word. While he was a blood relative of Jacob—he was his uncle—in terms of their upbringing, goals and aspirations, they could not be further apart. Laban was a materialist, opportunist and the “ends justify the means” type of person, while Jacob was a thoroughly spiritual person. Laban realized that there was a huge, unbridgeable gulf that separated them.
Thus, Laban declared to Jacob, “Are you my brother?”
These words do not mean that despite the fact that he was his brother he still must pay him. On the contrary, he was disabusing himself from the notion that they were brothers. Laban therefore tells Jacob: “Are you my brother? You are as far apart from me temperamentally and spiritually as one could possibly be! How then will you fit into my business? How can we coexist, when we have such disparate interests and goals in life? What can I possibly pay you to make you a contributing partner to my less than holy enterprises?”
Jacob would not feel comfortable working for Laban no matter how much he would pay him. The sole form of remuneration that would suit Jacob, Laban came to realize, had to be one that was of an ethereal nature and not ephemeral. It had to involve a Mitzvah. If Jacob were to become rich without it contributing to his service of G-d and humanity (which is also a service to G-d) he could never feel comfortable with his gain. When one receives something for nothing, it is referred to as “shameful bread.” One cannot enjoy a handout. Human nature is such that we have to earn what we get. And for a person of Jacob’s caliber, earning means doing a Mitzvah.
Laban, in effect, said to Jacob, “since you are obviously not my soul-brother, you will not want to work for me for all the money in the world, because for you it will be considered as if you had received nothing.”
Indeed, the term “for nothing-chinam” employed by Laban here is also found elsewhere in the Torah. When the Jews were in the wilderness they complained abut the manna. They fondly remembered the food they ate in Egypt—“chinam.” What does the word chinam mean there? It cannot possibly mean that they did not have to pay for their food, since they were slaves and broke their backs for the measly rations they received. It was hardly gratis!
Our Sages therefore explain that they meant to say that in Egyptthey did not have to perform any Mitzvot in order to get their food. They had no spiritual obligations. They complained that when they followed Moses into the wilderness everything was quid pro quo. Their needs were provided for them, it would seem, as payment for their commitment to G-d’s commandments. This was a radical departure from their lives in Egypt, to which they were accustomed.
And so Laban sensed that Jacob would not want to work for nothing – without truly earning his right to work and live off this work. in other words, Jacob needed a spiritual connection.
What Mitzvah could Laban possibly give Jacob? If there was a mitzvah that could be observed at that time, one could be sure that Jacob was already engaged in its performance.
There was one Mitzvah, however, that he had not yet performed. He was still single and could not establish a home and a family that would become the nucleus of the Jewish nation, to whom the Torah would be entrusted.
For Jacob, marriage was the Mitzvah par excellence. His love and passion for Rachel was was motivated by his passion to be the one to forge another link in the chain that started with Abraham and Isaac, and would end with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinaito a Jewish nation. Jacob’s greatest passion was to be an integral link in that chain; a link and a chain that exists to this day.
This analysis can shed some light on the rather puzzling statement made by Jacob when he had to work for seven years to be married to Rachel: Jacob’s hard work for seven years, the Torah teaches us, “felt like a few days because of his love for her.” Isn’t that sentiment counterintuitive? If someone is in love with another, every minute should feel like a year. Yet here seven years felt like a few days.
The answer is that Jacob’s physical passion was an expression of his spiritual passion. In the spiritual world, every minute of preparation for the goal is no less a Mitzvah and source of fulfillment and bliss than the attainment of the goal itself. The journey to the Promised Land is as much the fulfillment of G-d’s will as the actual entry into the land. Thus every day that Jacob was working for the goal of marrying Rachel was creating the mechanism for the future. It was therefore so gratifying and fulfilling because he was becoming a conduit for G-d’s plan.
The lesson from the above is twofold:
First, in order for any of our activities or pursuits to be truly fulfilling it must ultimately be connected with a higher purpose. It must contribute to the betterment of ourselves and the world around us. In short, it must revolve around a Mitzvah.
Second, even when we are engaged in the prefatory stages of a Mitzvah, our joy and enthusiasm should not be any less than it is when we do the Mitzvah itself.
At this point one could raise a question. Why is there is such a clamor for Moshiach and Redemption, especially in the last few decades? As long as we are on the road towards that end, we are doing G-d’s will and we are part of the process. What difference should it make to us that we are not there yet? Isn’t every step along the way part of G-d’s plan and design.
The answer is that there is one fundamental difference between Jacob’s waiting to marry Rachel and our waiting for Moshiach and Redemption.
While Jacob knew that he was destined to raise the family that will forge ahead towards Sinai, he knew that the final outcome of his labor would not be realized in his lifetime. The final outcome was not his mission and challenge. Moving the process along was. He knew that he was but one pivotal link in that chain of events. As such he cherished every moment of it, not only because he knew that in each and every ensuing moment he was one step closer to that end, but also because each step possesses intrinsic value and meaning. In short, it was not his role to complete the process; just to be a part of it.
By contrast, we are now at the “tail end” of the process. All of the Biblical, Talmudic, Kabbalisitc etc. signs point to that which we have been told by the Rebbe on countless occasions that ours is the last generation of exile and the first of Redemption. We cannot be content with the knowledge that we are a crucial link in the chain. Because when one reaches the end of the journey, just “treading water” and not moving forward is not an option. Our generation has been endowed with an unprecedented mission to complete the process, which we hope, pray and trust we are about to do.
To be sure, every moment that we are still here in exile must be filled with meaning, good and therefore cherished. But the focus of our deeds should be to prepare ourselves to greet Moshiach, and internalize the Redemption—thereby completing the process begun by our forbears; crowning their efforts with success.
In our Parshah of Toldot, the Torah relates that Rebecca overheard Isaac asking Esau to bring him some venison so that he could bless him before his death. Rebecca then ordered Jacob to dress himself in Esau’s hairy clothing and present himself as his brother in order to receive these blessings. When Isaac, whose vision was impaired, heard Jacob’s voice and then felt his hands, he exclaimed: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”
These immortal words have been understood by our Sages as a description of the power of the Jewish nation versus its adversaries. While our adversaries rely on their hands, i.e., brute force, the Jewish nation has, historically, resorted to using their voices in prayer and Torah study.
After Jacob left with the blessings, Esau arrived and demanded that he too be given a blessing. Isaac’s response was that “You will live by the sword.” Here, Isaac does not use the metaphor, “the hands are the hands of Esau,” but states quite explicitly that he will live by the sword. We need to understand why prior to Jacob’s receiving of the blessings, Isaac used the metaphor of “the hands of Esau,” but subsequently, upon discovering Jacob’s ruse, he referred to Esau’s sword explicitly? Why didn’t Isaac use the metaphor then as well?
To answer this question we ought to reflect on the entire story of how Esau was so loved by Isaac. How could it be that Isaac preferred Esau, the gruff and uncouth outdoorsman, to the soft-spoken, reverent student, Jacob? How could Isaac have been so misled by Esau? To simply suggest that a man, the caliber of Isaac, could be duped by his own son, is incredulous. One answer is that Isaac foresaw a utopian world that would involve a holy partnership between Jacob and Esau. While Jacob would be better suited for Torah scholarship, meditation and in general, more spiritual pursuits, it was Esau that would eventually provide the support system-the “hands”-for Jacob’s endeavors.
Indeed, Kabbalah teaches us that one can discover even greater treasures of G-dly energy in the more mundane aspects of life. These treasures, however, can only be accessed when one uses the material matters to facilitate Torah study and other spiritual pursuits. This partnership-which will become a reality in the future Messianic Age, as has been prophesied in the Torah-was the ideal that Isaac hoped would have become reality millennia before the Messianic Age. By showing love and affection for Esau, and by preferring to give him his special blessings, Isaac hoped to actualize Esau’s role as a faithful partner to Jacob.
We can now appreciate the deeper meaning of the metaphor the “Hands of Esau,” that Isaac originally employed. When he heard Jacob’s gentle and refined voice combined with his hairy and rough hands, he felt vindicated. This synthesis was a confirmation of Isaac’s dream that the two could and would live together and complement one another. However, that utopian vision did not materialize the way Isaac envisioned it. Isaac subsequently realized that Esau was not suitable for the role of supporter and partner; Esau did not appreciate his own spiritual potential. He was then compelled to recast his prophecy concerning Esau, that his hands would not be supportive but antagonistic and violent. Tragically, Jews would be forced to express their own spirituality not with the help of the nations of the world but through adversity.
In the present day and age, Esau’s legacy was taken over by Western Civilization. At first, the Greeks and Romans-who bequeathed to us Western culture-served as adversaries. They employed every tactic available to them to crush us and to deter us from our Torah mission. The “hands of Esau” were brutal and destructive. But in the end, Isaac’s original vision will certainly come true. Indeed, we are already witnessing the beginning of that process. We are currently living in an age where most countries in the world do not stand in our way and certainly do not impose other religions on us. Moreover, they are supportive to one degree or another of Jewish life and observance. Even the former Soviet Empire that sought to extinguish every trace of the light of Judaism has been transformed into a society that warmly supports Jewish life in all of its manifestations. This radical transformation of “Esau” was what our patriarch Isaac had in mind when he sought to bless Esau. It is also a taste of what is to come with the imminent arrival of Moshiach and the future Redemption that we have been praying for close to 2,000 years. Now is surely the time to accentuate the other side of the equation, the “Voice of Jacob” with greater emphasis on Torah study, specifically the teachings of Torah that deal with the future Redemption.