Rabbi Yossi Slotnick
Former Rosh Kollel in Cape Town (1997-1998)
Currently Ra”m in Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa
“And Yaakov came Shalem to the city of Shechem”- the simple explanation seems to me like the Rashbams’ interpretation which says that Yaakov came to the city named Shalem. However, many interpreters see the word Shalem as a definition of Yaakovs’ state when he arrived in Shechem. If the Torah makes the effort to write that Yaakov is complete it is probable that there is a reason for him not to be so. Therefore, there are many interpretations for what was supposed to effect Yaakovs’ completeness-beginning with Lavan and Eisav and ending with Dinah’s abduction which is upcoming. The Midrash also takes this approach and I would like to explain two different views the Midrash states regarding this issue.
The first one (Bereshit Rabah Parasha 79 ot 2) is:
And Yaakov came Shalem, (Psalms 129) A Song of Ascents. ‘Much have they afflicted me from my youth up’, let Israel now say; Hashem asked him could they overcome you and he answered they could not overcome me, And Yaakov came Shalem, (Psalms 34) Many are the ills of the righteous etc., many are the ills’ that is Eisav and his chiefs, righteous’ is Yaakov, but Hashem will deliver him out of them all.
The Midrash finds the conversation between Yaakov (Yirael) and Hashem in this chapter. In order to understand the meaning of the Midrash we will study the chapter mentioned.
Psalms chapter 129
1 A Song of Ascents. ‘Much have they afflicted me from my youth up’, let Israel now say;
2 ‘Much have they afflicted me from my youth up; but they have not prevailed against me.
3 The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.
4 Hashem is righteous; He hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.’
5 Let them be ashamed and turned backward, all they that hate Zion.
6 Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it springeth up;
7 Wherewith the reaper filleth not his hand, nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom.
8 Neither do they that go by say: ‘The blessing of Hashem be upon you; we bless you in the name of Hashem.’
We are not going to interpret the chapter in depth, but even from a first reading we can see the clear picture-the man is suffering a great deal from his enemies, “Much have they afflicted me from my youth up”, “The plowers plowed upon my back”, he is dealing with wicked people, with people who hate Zion. The entire second half of the chapter is an appeal to Hashem that they should be “as the grass upon the housetops”. Without pasuk 4 we would not understand how this man survives. Pasuk 4 comes and tells us that there actually were evil people but Hashem sundered their cords. After pasuk 4 we also understand how the man succeeded in standing up in face of the evil ones and how they could not overcome him (as is mentioned in pasuk 2)-Hashem saved him from their hands.
This chapter is a chapter of praise and gratefulness for saving the man. The Midrash sees Yaakovs’ story in this chapter. Yaakov says “Much have they afflicted me from my youth up” and as we see, from his early childhood he struggles with Eisav and Lavan and Eisav again – he does not have rest. At each stage we do not know how he will be rescued until Hashem interferes and rescues him. Hashem answers him “Hashem asked him could they overcome you and he answered they could not overcome me, And Yaakov came Shalem”. Indeed if you were alone they could overcome you but they can not overcome Me. The reason for which Yaakov comes complete is not due to his personal abilities, it is due to the fact that Hashem watches over him.
This Midrash connects well with the simple biblical commentary throughout the book of Genesis and also with the commentary I mentioned above. It is interesting to quote the following section of the Midrash which offers an alternative to the Midrash that we learned.
And Yaakov came Shalem, (Psalms 121) Hashem shall guard thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth and for ever, guard thy going, Yaakov departed, and thy coming in, and Yaakov came Shalem.
The pasuk that the Midrash quotes in order to explain the word Shalem appears in one of the Songs of Ascents:
Psalms chapter 121
1 A Song of Ascents. I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: from whence shall my help come?
2 My help comes from Hashem, who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; He that keepeth thee will not slumber.
4 Behold, He that keepeth Israel doth neither slumber nor sleep.
5 Hashem is thy keeper; Hashem is thy shade upon thy right hand.
6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
7 Hashem shall keep thee from all evil; He shall keep thy soul.
8 Hashem shall guard thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth and for ever.
This chapter really emphasizes the great protection of Hashem towards man. Hashem is known as a guard who makes sure no trouble will come upon man. The root Shin-Mem-Reish (to guard) appears 6 times in this short chapter which gives a great feeling of confidence. This man, apposed to the man spoken about in chapter 129 is not bothered from the danger, he does not have enemies, he is secure because he is confident that Hashem is guarding him. This idea does not seem at all appropriate to Yaakovs’ life. The irony reaches the peak in pasuk 6 where it says “The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night” while Yaakov says specifically (Breishit 31;40)”By day scorching heat consumed me, and frost by night” this is not a description of Yaakovs’ life at all!
It seems that the Midrash does not see this chapter as a description of reality but as a description of a mental state. There are people who live their lives by hurling from good to bad and from bad to good. They actually have enemies and they thank Hashem for rescuing them. However, this chapter deals with a different type of person. He lives with complete confidence in Hashem and therefore does not feel the chasing of the enemies or the hatred of the people who hate Zion. At all times he is absolutely certain that hashem is guarding him and he is not afraid of the future because “My help comes from Hashem.” The first man (from chapter 129) is indeed saved but during his entire life he keeps thinking about the danger and about the moment he was rescued. This man is not complete; he is hurt, not necessarily physically. If Yaakov came complete to shechem it means that he did not feel all of his hardships.
Yaakov who left his home young and was concerned about having food to eat and clothes to wear returns with such a great feeling of confidence that all his hardships with Eisav and Lavan are forgotten because he is confident in Hashem.