Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thursday's Parsha Tidbits - Parshas Vayishlach

The following is a brief summary of a thought said over by R' Frand in his shiur this evening. I have attempted to reproduce this vort to the best of my ability. Any perceived inconsistency is the result of my efforts to transcribe the shiur and should not be attributed to R' Frand.

In Vayishlach (33:16-18) we read about the parting of Ya'akov and Esav and the two travelling off on their respective paths. In relation to Ya'akov, the Torah writes that he travelled to the city of Sukkos and built a house there, and sukkos (translated as shelters) for his animals, therefore he called the place Sukkos.

Rabbi Frand asked two questions on these pesukim. The first question was why does the Torah say that Ya'akov travelled to Sukkos and then later write that he called it Sukkos because of the shelters he built for the animals. If he had not yet built the sukkos and decided to name the city after the sukkos which he built, how could he have travelled to the city called Sukkos?

The second question that Rabbi Frand asked was why did Ya'akov call the city Sukkos after the animal shelters? It seems to be an odd choice of naming rights for the city.

Rabbi Frand answered the questions by quoting to the sefer Milchemes Yehuda (I did not catch the name of the author) who writes that we learn from this story that Sukkos was not only the name of the city, but it was a state of mind for Ya'akov. Ya'akov had previously lived with his parents, then learned in the yeshiva of Shem V'aiver, then lived in his father in law's house and now finally had "settled down." In so doing, Ya'akov stated " I see that the world itself chases the material things - money, homes, honor - but the world itself is merely a temporary dwelling like a sukkah which we live in for a short time before moving on." When a person knows that he will only be in a structure for a small amount of time, he is less particular about the house. That was the message of travelling to Sukkos, Ya'akov's realization that the physical things are merely temporary.

Ya'akov's lesson is also borne out by the following pasuk. The next pasuk states that Ya'akov travelled to Shechem "Vayichan es Pnei Ha'ir" - he encamped before the city. The gemara in Shabbos offers multiple explanations as to what Ya'akov did there, including that he was mis'saken coins, stores and bath houses. The Milchemes Yehuda asked - why did Ya'akov need to do these things for the people of Shechem. He answered that Ya'akov arrived in Shechem and saw that people were infatuated with the materials things - money, stores and physical pleasures. As such he tried to be mis'saken - to fix peoples views of those things based on his understanding that this world is merely a sukkah.

Rabbi Frand closed by talking about how the Torah also mentions that Ya'akov erected a matzevah for Rachel in this week's parsha. He asked - why do we mark graves with stone? He answered (again from the Milchemes Yehuda) that there are four forms in nature - the inanimate, the plant life, the animal and the one who speaks. It would appear that there is a great distance from top to bottom as one walks on stone, while speech is the height of communication. However, the two are more similar than one would expect.

A person who wants to create something that will last makes it from stone. The kotel is not poured concrete - it is stone which has lasted thousands of years. Yes, people can choose to walk on stone, but things made from stone can last for milennia.

A person lives for a very short time on this earth. If the person does great things then he can be remembered for many generations after he passes on. Or, the person can merely walk through life without attempting to make an impact on the lives of others.

By erecting a stone, we say about the deceased that she has made an impact in this world and that her legacy will last well beyond her finite years on this earth.

I recently heard from my mother's cousin about a speech given at a Chicago area dinner. The speech was given by an educator who said that he would not be Orthodox today (and certainly not an educator in a Jewish institution) if it were not for his after school teacher who taught him Torah after his public school day had ended. The speaker then mentioned my mother in law who had taught him so many years before. I never saw this side of her, as by the time I met my wife, my mother in law was already working in the catering business. Still she had already made her mark on this world by inspiring a young boy to become frum and eventually a teacher of young Jewish children. It is particularly ironic that I heard this story about her this week as her Hebrew name was Rachel and her tombstone was recently erected. Without a doubt, her legacy will be that of the stone - lasting well beyond her far too short years on this earth.

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