Rabbi Boaz Genut
Former Rosh Kollel in St. Louis
Former Executive Director of Torah Mitzion
Currently Director of the Department of Marriage and Community Affairs at Tzohar
Parshat Vayeitzei recounts the story of Yaakov’s escape to Charan and the beginning of his return to Eretz Yisrael with his family. This story is comprised of a number of brief episodes – including an unusual and rather surprising incident.
After many long years of exile, Hashem reveals Himself to Yaakov:
“And Hashem said to Yaakov, Return to the land of your fathers and to your birthplace, and I will be with you.” (Breishit 31:3)
One would have expected Yaakov to hasten to obey Hashem’s command – just as his grandfather Avraham did (when HaKadosh Baruch Hu commanded him to go to Eretz Canaan) and as his father Yitzchak did (when HaKadosh Baruch Hu commanded him to go to Eretz Plishtim). Yet, Yaakov first takes an unprecedented step. He involves his wives in the process. In fact, he seems to consult Rachel and Leah and even asks for their approval – or at least their opinion.
Yaakov’s rationales only strengthen this impression. He recalls that his father-in-law Lavan forced him to marry Leah and mentions Lavan’s attempts to cheat him out of the great wealth which resulted from the two men’s agreement. And only at the end, does he add:
“And an angel of God said to me… I am the God of Beit-El, where you anointed a monument, where you made me Me a vow; now, arise, leave this land and return to the land of your birth.” (Breishit 31:11-13)
Similarly, Rachel and Leah first describe the harsh treatment they received from their father and support Yaakov against Lavan and only then conclude:
“Now, all that God has said to you – do.” (Breishit 31:16)
Yet, at first glance, this conversation is hard to understand. After all, Hashem had issued a very clear directive. Indeed, we would have anticipated that a believer – and especially Yaakov Avinu, Rachel, and Leah – would heed a Divine command without question. Moreover, Yaakov’s tense relationship with his father-in-law is seemingly irrelevant. Even consulting his wives – a laudable approach under most circumstances – is highly problematic in this particular situation.
In Hilchot Temurah (4:13), the Rambam explains:
“Although all of the Torah’s statutes are decrees, as we explained at the end of Hilchot Me’ilah, it is appropriate to examine them. And wherever you can provide a reason, you should provide a reason… The Chachamim of the early generations said that ShlomoHaMelech understood most of the reasons for all of the Torah’s statutes… And most of the Torah’s laws are nothing other than counsel from afar from the One of Great Counsel to improve one’s character and make one’s conduct upright…”
The Rambam is teaching us an important lesson about tzav Hashem (Hashem’s command). Although tzav Hashem is absolute, we are nevertheless obligated to try and understand its nature. Of course, this is not a prerequisite for realizing and fulfilling the tzav. (See the Rambam at the end of Hilchot Me’ilah.) However, there is a considerable difference between someone who acts after having been given a reason and someone who acts without having been given a reason. Furthermore, attempting to find a reason enables us to identify more closely with the tzav itself.
When Yaakov Avinu receives a Divine tzav to return to Eretz Yisrael, he does not hesitate for a second. He immediately seeks – and finds – the underlying reasons for the tzav and its specific timing. However, these reasons do not take away from the tzav‘s urgency. Rather, they reinforce it and motivate Yaakov to carry it out.
In addition, when Yaakov consults his wives, he demonstrates his grasp of the tzav. Some people have a tendency to issue commands to the members of their households. But even if these commands are obeyed to some degree, they are not likely to generate identification or understanding. Yaakov realizes this. Yaakov knows that his wives will certainly carry out tzav Hashem to return to Eretz Yisrael, but Yaakov wants them to be able to identify with it as well.
A life based on faith, as directed by tzav Hashem in the Torah SheB’Chtav V’SheB’Al Peh (the Written Torah and the Oral Torah), should involve a search for underlying reasons in order to strengthen one’s identification with the tzav. And the way to achieve this goal is via Torah learning.
The staffs of Torah MiTzion’s North American kollels are spending this Shabbat in Memphis, where the local Jewish community is graciously hosting our annual convention. In the light of the aforementioned ideas, we can say that the goal of Torah MiTzion’sbatei midrash – in North America and around the world – is to strengthen their respective communities’ identification with tzav Hashem by providing reasons through Torah learning. The kollel members’ devotion and dedication to increasing Torah learning in their communities are deserving of our utmost praise. We wish them many years of continued success.