Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
For the “Yeadim Nifgashim” for Shabbat Vayetze
Yaakov Returned to the Beit Midrash of Shem and Ever.
The Midrash Rabbah on the Parsha tells us that while Yaakov was on his way to Haran, he returned to the Beit Midrash of Shem and Ever for another fourteen years, and only afterwards Yaakov proceeded to Haran. Our sages teach us that Yaakov had already studied there in his youth, as the previous Parsha says: "The boys grew up and Esav became a hunter, a man of the field. And Yaakov an honest man, a dweller of tents." The Midrash Rabba explains: Two tents-the Beit Midrash of Shem and the Beit Midrash of Ever. So the question arises: Why did Yaakov return to the Beit Midrash of Shem and Ever? And why just now?
Yitzchak and Rivka sent Yaakov to his uncle Lavan to marry one of his daughters and start his own family. And not just any family, but the family that will be the foundation for Am Israel!
The Midrash calculates that Yaakov was sixty-three years old at the time. So why didn't he go straight to Lavan?
There is someone who would like to explain that Yaakov's reason for going to the Beit Midrash of Shem an Ever was to hide from Esav. But in our Beit Midrash we explain this differently.
Yaakov had a great, far-reaching purpose to return to the Beit Midrash of Shem and Ever. Yaakov went to Haran in order to turn the family of Avraham and Yitzchak into a nation. The Chosen People is entering a new era and is starting on a new path. For this, we have to undergo a transformation in our form of leadership: from the leadership of a family to the leadership of a nation. Every time Am Israel reaches a new stage in its national life, we have to clarify our direction: what we must do and how must we do it. For Am Israel, this clarification comes from one source: from the Torah. This requires deep, intensive and comprehensive Torah study. For this purpose Yaakov returned to the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever for another fourteen years – to learn the Torah of the nation.
In our yeshiva, we learn from this the strategic role of Torah study and its clarifications, as the starting point for mapping out our steps as a nation, our steps toward the future. Our goal in our Beit Midrash is for our students to build themselves in Torah, not only as individuals but also knowing what Am Israel needs as a nation and a State. This is a very special kind of Torah study.
Yaakov's prophetic vision.
We also learn about Yaakov's special journey from his prophetic dream, about "Jacob's ladder."
After Yaakov left the Beit Midrash of Shem and Ever, he continued to Beit El, where he had the dream of the ladder that reaches the sky, and angels going up and down.
This dream is actually Yaakov's prophetic vision: for the near and distant future; for himself, for Am Israel end for the world. This is Yaakov's strategic vision - his plan of action for the future.
Some of our sages explain the vision of the ladder as predicting that Yaakov will be the third father, completing thetrilogy of the "Avot".
There are those who explain that Yaakov foresaw Moshe, G-d's angel, ascending and descending Mount Sinai.
Others interpret the vision as the altar of Beit Hamikdash, where the Kohanim ascend and descend.
Still others say that Yaakov foresaw the future of Beit Hamikdash – that it will be built and destroyed.
There is an explanation that Yaakov foresaw the history of the world – that the nations and their leaders will go up on the center stage of history, make their mark, and then sink into oblivion. And only Am Israel will rise up and never descend.
The Rambam and Rabbeinu Nissim– explained that the angels are actually prophets and lofty men who ascend to heaven to the spiritual world, but have to descend to this world in order to radiate their positive influence. And this way they connect heaven and earth, the spiritual world with the physical world.
What the fathers did is a sign for the sons. We have to learn from Yaakov to develop a strategic vision, and not see only the here and now.
The Need for a Forward-Looking Strategic Approach.
Authentic leadership, generally, and in the national-religious community specifically, must develop its own forward-looking strategic view; a long-term vision. The Jewish ideal is grand and long-term, and we must ask where we wish to see ourselves and Israeli society as a whole, in ten years or more. This strategic conclusion must be translated into initiatives – an operational plan, detailing what must be done directly and indirectly in order to achieve the goal. Otherwise, we will continue to find ourselves on the defensive, constantly involved in creating bulwarks and putting out fires, in response to challenges and directives initiated by others, and in attempts, at damage control.
We will not list here our past and current failures caused by a lack of any long-term strategic vision, or by allocating resources in the wrong direction, distracting us from obvious needs.
We were privileged to witness an example of strategic vision when our teacher, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, zt”l, focused attention on the consequences of the settlement enterprise for the future of the State of Israel. Or when Rabbi Neriya, zt”l, founded the network of yeshivas and ulpanot as a future infrastructure for the spiritual-moral underpinnings of religious-Zionism in the Land of Israel. Or in the strategic vision of Rabbi Soloveitchik, zt”l, when he created the model for combining religion and modernity in the United States.
“It was an act of charity for the world when the Holy One, blessed be He, did not allocate all skills to one place or to one nation….” (Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Orot, 152)
We are called upon to develop a religious-Zionist strategic dialogue to address the challenges of the future. And the sooner, the better.