Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Yaakov's Staff Of Selflessness

Dear Friends,

This is in honor of Yud Tes Kislev. With Hashem's help, I hope to have another one for Shabbos.

In parshas Vayishlach, Yaakov heard that Eisav was coming towards him with 400 armed men, intending to destroy him. Yaakov was afraid of what Eisav might do, so he divided everything he had into two camps, thinking that if Eisav attacks one, the other will be able to be saved. He then turn to Hashem in prayer, asking Hashem to save him from Eisav.

In parshas Vayeitzei, Yaakov had a dream, in which Hashem told him that He would be with him and protect him. Why did he feel that Hashem wouldn't protect him now? Yaakov answers the question in his prayer, he says, "(Katonti) I (my merits) have become diminished, because of all of the acts of kindness and trustworthiness you have done for your servant, (ki b'makli) for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps." Yaakov was afraid that with all Hashem has already done for him, he used up his merit, and therefore, perhaps he lost his protection.

Yaakov mentions two events in this verse, as reasons that he felt, used up his merit. First, "(ki b'makli) for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan," and second, "now I have become two camps." The second one, "now I have become two camps," is clearly understood to mean, that he attained great wealth. But our sages give two explanations as to what, "for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan," means.

The first explanation, cited by Rashi, is that Yaakov was saying how poor he was when he first crossed the Jordan 20 years earlier, on his way down to Charan. This explanation brings out the meaning of the second half of the verse, because in contrast to his poverty the last time he crossed the Jordan, you can understand the tremendous kindness Hashem showed him by giving him this great wealth.

The Midrash gives a second explanation. That, "for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan," means that on his way down to Charan, he stuck his staff into the Jordan and it split for him to cross on dry land. According to this explanation, the verse is mentioning two unrelated kindnesses that happened to Yaakov, the splitting of the Jordan and his great wealth.

Whenever there are different explanations on a word, verse or concept in the Torah, there has to be a common thread that they share. The problem here is that they are opposites, the first is a negative, that he was poor, and the second is positive, that Hashem split the Jordan for him. What could possibly be the common link between the two?

The 19th of Kislev always falls in the week before or after Shabbos Parshas Vayishlach, and is celebrated around the world as the Rosh Hashanah of chassidus. One of the reasons for this holiday, is that on this day, the Alter Rebbe, the first Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the author of the Tanya and the Shulchan Aruch Harav), was released from prison. He was incarcerated on false charges regarding his book, the Tanya, which is known as the written Torah of chassidic thought. His imprisonment was seen as a referendum on the teachings of chassidus, and especially the book of Tanya. It was understood, that a battle was taking place above, over whether or not these teachings should be allowed to be spread and taught openly. When the Rebbe was freed, it was an indication that the war above was over and the side for allowing them to be taught was victorious.

After he was freed, he penned a letter to the community, starting with the word katonti. In it he writes, "Yaakov felt very very small in his own eyes, because of the many kindnesses, '(ki b'makli) for with my Staff . . .'" He ends with "ki b'makli" and he doesn't continue with the rest of the verse.

This is difficult to understand, because "ki b'makli, for with my staff," doesn't point to any kindness that Hashem did for Yaakov. If he wanted to cite the kindnesses he was referring to, it would make sense to write the latter part of the verse, "I have crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps." Or at the very least, add one more word, "avarti, I have crossed," then it would of at least hinted to Hashem splitting the Jordan for him.

We have to conclude, within the words, "ki b'makli," is found Hashem's kindness to Yaakov, and explaining this, will also help us understand the connection between the two explanations of, "for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan."

The Tzemach Tzedek (the third Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch), brings the words of the Shaloh Hakadosh, who says that the letters of the words, "ki b'makli," make up the first letters of the words, "Baruch kvod Hashem mimkomo," "Lishuascha kivisi Hashem." ("Blessed is Hashem's honor from His place," "For Your salvation I hope Hashem.") The Tzemach Tzedek continues to explain, that this is similar to what is found in Torah Ohr (also by the Alter Rebbe) on the verse, "You do justice and tzedakah in Yaakov," that there has to be both justice and tzedakah, and these are the same as, "Blessed is Hashem's honor from His place," and " For Your salvation I hope Hashem."

To explain. There are two ways our relationship with Hashem could manifest itself. For someone who is righteous, he could ask Hashem for his needs out of justice, meaning, he has rightfully earned it, and because of that, he can outright ask for it. These people connect to Hashem at the highest levels, symbolized by the verse, "Blessed is Hashem's honor from His place." Then there are those of us that are not at that level, when we ask of Hashem, we are like asking for tzedakah, because perhaps we don't exactly deserve it. This is symbolized by the verse, "For Your salvation I hope Hashem." Because we don't think we deserve it, we ask for it as a salvation.

Seemingly, justice and tzedakah are opposites, either you are asking for tzedakah or demanding justice. How can you have both together?

The answer is that there is a third level, the level of Yaakov, where both justice and tzedakah are employed simultaneously. He certainly deserves it, but because of his great humility, he sees himself as undeserving, and asks for his needs as a tzedakah. This is the greatest and truest nullification of one's ego, and draws Hashem's kindness from the highest place, "from His place."

Now we can understand how the two seemingly opposite explanations on the words, "for with my staff I have crossed this Jordan," connect. Because Yaakov embodied both of these ideas simultaneously. He deserved great miracles, such as the splitting of the Jordan, and at the same time he was humble as a poor person having only a staff would be. And specifically because his ego was so nullified, that he merited such a great kindness from Hashem.

Being that each and every one of us are the children of Yaakov, we inherited from him these virtues, to have justice and tzedakah simultaneously. And because we are considered "children of Kings," even the lightest work is considered hard labor, and because we have all put in at least that much effort, we are all deserving, and we are all able to ask for our needs out right, out of justice. This means that we have a tremendous opportunity, if we can nullify our egos before Hashem, we will draw down the greatest blessings of nachas, good health and abundance, and especially the blessing of all blessings, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

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