Cornerstones

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Vayeitzei
Cornerstones

The Tanchumah (Vayeitzei, chapter 1) compares Ya'akov's running away from home to the running away of a person who killed accidentally. An accidental killer must leave his home and run to one of the Arei Miklat (cities of refuge). Similarly, Ya'akov had to run away from his home to Charan which had the status of an Ir Miklat (a city of refuge).

This seems strange because nowhere do we find that Ya'akov killed anybody accidentally. How can the Tanchumah make this comparison?

The Imrei Noam cites the Megaleh Amukos who makes another perplexing statement. He says that the name of our parsha, Vayeitzei, is spelled with four Hebrew letters. They are: vov, yud, tzadi, and aleph. Those four letters serve as the acronym for, "Vayar Ya'akov Tzuras Aleph" (and Ya'akov saw the shape of an aleph).

This code teaches us that when Ya'akov fled to Charan, Hashem showed him a vision of a letter aleph. What is the depth behind this teaching? Why did Hashem show him an aleph? Why did Hashem show an aleph to him specifically now?

Let us begin by sharing a behind the scenes teaching. The Zohar (Bereishis, pg. 35b), Arizal (Sha'ar Hapesukim, Parshas Vayigash), and Reb Chaim Vital (Derech Emes) say that Ya'akov Avinu was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Adam Harishon (Adam, the first person). This connection between Ya'akov and Adam is supported by the Gemara (Baba Metzia, chap. 7, "Hasocher Es Hapoalim", pg. 84a) which says that the beauty of Ya'akov was likened to the beauty of Adam." The Talmudic sages were not so interested in physical beauty. Obviously, they were talking about spiritual beauty. Therefore, they meant to say that Ya'akov's beautiful soul was the same as Adam's beautiful soul.

Because of this, we find similarities between their lives. After sinning with the Eitz Hada'as (Tree of Knowledge), Adam afflicted himself for 130 years by fasting, separating himself from his wife, and by covering himself with cloths made of fig leaves (Eiruvin, chap. 2, "Osin Pasin", pg. 18b). Parenthetically, covering himself with fig leaves would fit in with Rebbi Nechemia who says that the Eitz Hada'as was the fig tree (Sanhedrin, chap. 8, "Ben Sorer Umoreh", pg. 70b). Since Adam sinned with the fig tree, the tikkun (fixing) had to come from that very tree. It was specifically fig leaves that had to cover his shame of nakedness.

Just as Adam suffered for 130 years, so did Ya'akov Avinu. Because of his suffering, Ya'akov looked much older than he really was. Therefore, when Pharaoh saw Ya'akov for the first time, he asked, "Man, how old are you?" Ya'akov responded by saying, "The days of the years of my journeys have been 130 years, few and bad have been the days of the years of my life" (Parshas Vayigash, 47:9). Ya'akov testified that his first 130 years were filled with pain and affliction.

Moreover, Adam's clothes eventually made their way to Ya'akov. A long time after Adam died, King Nimrod got a hold of Adam's clothes. Nimrod would wear those clothes to hunt with. They had designs of animals on them. These clothes magically drew animals to its wearer, and subdued them. This made a hunter's life so much easier.

One day, Eisav went out to the field and saw Nimrod in those clothes. Eisav witnessed their power. Being a hunter himself, Eisav wanted those clothes. However, they weren't for sale. So, Eisav battled Nimrod for them. Eisav killed Nimrod and took those clothes for himself. This is why Eisav came home exhausted that day (Parshas Toldos, 25:29).

When he wasn't hunting, Eisav deposited those clothes by his mother, Rivka. When Rivka wanted Ya'akov to receive Yitzchak's blessings, she told Ya'akov to disguise himself as Eisav by putting those very clothes on (Parshas Toldos, 27:15). When Ya'akov put them on, the fragrance of Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) returned to them. Now that Ya'akov possessed those clothes, it was a case of a lost object returning to its owner. This is because Ya'akov was Adam's gilgul (Zohar Toldos, pg. 142b).

By the sweet fragrance of Gan Eden returning to the clothes when Ya'akov donned them, was Hashem's way of hinting to Ya'akov that he was going to rectify his mistake of eating from the Eitz Hada'as.

Now we will be able to understand where we find Ya'akov killing somebody accidentally. Adam was guilty of murder by eating from the Eitz Hada'as because Hashem told him that death will come into the world on the day that he eats from it (Parshas Bereishis, 2:17).

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba, Parshas Masei, 23:13) says that the reason why Adam was driven out of Gan Eden (Parshas Bereishis, 3:24) after he sinned, was because according to the letter of the law, Adam should have died after eating from the Eitz Hada'as. After all, he brought death to all people throughout the generations. Adam knew what he was doing. His sin was intentional. Such a crime carries the death penalty.

However, Hashem had compassion on him and reduced his sentence and judged him as one who only killed accidentally. The penalty for killing accidentally is to be driven out of one's home into exile. This is why Hashem drove Adam out of Gan Eden. This was the punishment which fit his sentence.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is where we find Ya'akov killing someone accidentally. Ya'akov was a gilgul of Adam. Adam sinned intentionally, but, he was considered to have only killed accidentally. Since Ya'akov was Adam's gilgul, Ya'akov was also liable for killing accidentally. Just as Adam had to flee his home into exile, so did Ya'akov have to flee his home and go into exile.

Perhaps we could add that this was the reason why Eisav wanted to kill Ya'akov. It wasn't just because Ya'akov stole the blessings and got the birthright. Growing up, Eisav learned with Ya'akov side by side. Eisav was extremely knowledgeable in the Torah. Eisav knew that Ya'akov was Adam's gilgul. Eisav realized that Ya'akov was responsible for the worlds death toll. Eisav knew that Hashem reduced Ya'akov's sin and considered him to have killed only accidentally. Eisav also knew the halacha (law) about a Goel Hadam (literally the redeemer of blood).

A Goel Hadam is the relative of the person who was killed accidentally. The relative is allowed to kill the accidental killer. But, he can only do so before the accidental killer gets to an Ir Miklat. Once the accidental killer gets to an Ir Miklat, the Goel Hadam may not touch him.

This is why Eisav wanted to kill Ya'akov. Eisav reasoned that since all people die on account of Ya'akov, Eisav is a relative at least to some of those people. Therefore, he appointed himself as the Goel Hadam and tried to kill Ya'akov before Ya'akov reached Charan which had the constitution of an Ir miklat. The race was on!

As we mentioned, when Ya'akov was Adam, he began to repair the damage that was done by his sin through afflicting himself for 130 years. However, the Megaleh Amukos says that that attempt was not sufficient because during those 130 years, Adam was warmed by Lilith and fathered spirits, demons, and Lilith type of monsters (Eiruvin, chap. 2, "Osin Pasin", pg. 18b, Reb Yirmiya ben Elazar).

This is why Adam had to return as Ya'akov to finish the tikkun that he began. Hashem hinted this to Ya'akov in the dream he had of the ladder. The ladder had its feet planted on the ground, with its top reaching into the Heavens (Parshas Vayeitzei, 28:12). This ladder represented Adam Harishon who was created so tall that his feet stood on ground while his head reached into the Heavens (Chagiga, chap. 2, "Ein Dorshin", pg. 12a, Rebbi Elazar).

Furthermore, the Hebrew word for ladder is "sulam." In the verse, "sulam" is spelled with three letters: samech, lamed, and mem. The numerical value of those letters is 130, hinting to Ya'akov that he needs another 130 years of tikkun for what he did when he was Adam.

In the end, Ya'akov rectified his part of the Eitz Hada'as. Therefore, the decree of death that came down to the world because of that sin, was lifted off of Ya'akov. This explains why Rebbi Yochanan says that Ya'akov Avinu did not die (Ta'anis, chap. 1, "M'eimasai", pg. 5b). He didn't have to die because he was no longer guilty of the sin which caused death (Rama M'Pano, Asara Ma'amaros, vol. 3, chap. 11).

Although Ya'akov Avinu was embalmed, eulogized, and buried, it was all a façade. In actuality, he did not die. Rather, he is alive and well and kicking in the Machpeila Cave, filling his days with Torah and Tefillah.

We can all achieve the same goal. All we have to do is fix our part of the Eitz Hada'as. We were all part of Adam Harishon (Arizal, Sha'ar hagilgulim, preface 32). All of our souls were part of Adam's all encompassing soul. We were all faced with the temptation of the Eitz Hada'as. We all had opinions. If Adam ate from the tree, it either means that we all said, "Let's eat from it," or it means that we did not protest strong enough. Therefore, we are all responsible for that sin. We were all supposed to die because of that sin. However, Hashem reduced our crime to that of an accidental murderer. Just as Ya'akov fixed his part of the sin, so can we. Once we do, we will no longer have to die. Suffering certainly helps cleanse ourselves from the spiritual filth we carry around from that sin. But, there is also something else that we can do in order to atone for that sin.

Ya'akov was responsible for instituting the mitzvah of Kriyas Shema (the recitation of the Shema Yisrael). Before Ya'akov left this world, he called for his twelve sons. They surrounded his bed. Ya'akov asked them if they had any complaints about God. They responded, "Shema Yisrael Avinu (listen Yisrael, our father), just as you have no complaints on God, neither do we. Rather, Hashem our God, Hashem is One."

When Ya'akov heard that he responded, "Baruch Shem K'vod Malchuso L'olam Vaed (blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity)." This is why Jews rise early each morning and go to sleep each night with the recitation of the Shema by saying, "Shema Yisrael." We are talking to Yisrael Avinu who is in the Machpeila Cave. We are saying to him, "The very thing that you commanded us to do (the recitation of the Shema), we are still practicing. Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad (Hashem our God, Hashem is One; Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayechi, 98:3, Elazar ben Achoi)."

The reason why Ya'akov arranged for us to recite the Shema daily is as follows. Hashem said to the holy tribe Levi that they would not receive any "Inheritance or portion in the Land of Israel, because I am your portion and your inheritance" (Parshas Korach, 18:20). That's great, but where are the Levites supposed to go to sleep at night? If they were to set up home in any part of the Land, they would be trespassing.

Therefore, Hashem commanded the other tribes, "The cities that you will give to the Levites are the six cities of refuge, and in addition to them you must give forty-two cities" (Parshas Masei, 35:6). Not only did the six cities absorb an accidental killer, but so did the other forty-two cities (Makkos, chap. 2, "Eilu Hen Hagolin", pg. 13a). This means that there were forty-eight cities of refuge in all.

The Apter Rebbe (Ohev Yisrael, Parshas Masei) says that this mitzvah of cities of refuge apply even today. They have to because the Torah is eternal and must have application in every generation. Back in the day, if a person killed accidentally, he had to run away to a city of refuge. By doing so, he would atone for his sin. Today, if a person sins accidentally, he winds up accidentally killing a piece of himself. It's like a spiritual suicide. What can a person do to atone for this death that he caused accidentally?

He must run to our modern-day cities of refuge. What are they? Where are they? The Apter Rebbe says that Kriyas Shema is today's cities of refuge. We can see this in the text of the Shema. The first verse of Shema has six words in it (Parshas Vaeschanan, 6:4). Those six words correspond to the six cities of refuge. The next paragraph known as "V'ahavtah" (Vaeschanan 6:5-9) has forty-two words in it, corresponding to the other forty-two cities of refuge.

When a Jew runs to recite the Shema, he is running to today's cities of refuge. If we accept God's sovereignty upon us with love and with self-sacrifice while reciting the Shema, it has the same effect on us that the actual cities of refuge had on those that killed accidentally. Just like the cities atoned for the accidental murder, so does the Shema atone for accidental sin.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why it was specifically Ya'akov Avinu who instituted the recitation of Shema. It is because he knew that he needed this substitute of the cities of refuge for his own tikkun to fix the sin of accidental murder that he was guilty of when he was Adam Harishon.

But, not only did Ya'akov care for his own tikkun, he was concerned about the tikkun of all Jews. He knew that we all participated in the sin of the Eitz Hada'as. Therefore, we were all judged as accidental murderers. Therefore, Ya'akov instituted the Shema so that we could all achieve atonement through it, not just for the accidental murder that was committed by the Eitz Hada'as, but also for any other accidental sins we might be guilty of.

The Shvilei Pinchas points out that we should pay attention to our accidental sins. They should not be taken lightly. This is because Ben Azai says in Pirkei Avos (chap. 4, "Ben Zoma", Mishnah 2), "One sin leads to another." This means that sinning accidentally can lead to sinning intentionally. Sinning accidentally always comes with a certain level of negligence. Had we been more cautious, the accidental sin would have never occurred. Once a person is careless with accidental sins, it can volcano into committing intentional ones.

Not only did Ya'akov arrange for the Shema to be recited, but he also helped with regard to the building of the Mishkan (Sanctuary). Hashem commanded Moshe to make "Hakerashim" (The beams) of the Mishkan from Acacia wood (Parshas Terumah, 26:15). Moshe could have responded, "That's great, but where am I supposed to get wood from? There are no trees in this desert for hundreds of miles in each direction."

This is why Hashem specified "Hakerashim" (The beams), and not just plain old "Kerashim" (beams). With respect to the other items Hashem commanded Moshe to use, there is no letter hey before the word. But, with the beams, there is an additional hey. This makes it sound like there are some famous beams that God was referring to. There were.

When Ya'akov came to Egypt, he planted Cedar trees there. Before he left this world, Ya'akov said to his sons that they were going to leave Egypt in a few hundred years. Ya'akov instructed them to chop down those Cedar tree before they left, and take them out of Egypt. Ya'akov informed them, that Hashem was going to command them in the building of a Mishkan, whose walls would be made out of Acacia wood. Ya'akov said that they should take these trees with them so that they will have the material necessary to fulfil Hashem's command (Rashi ibid, citing Tanchumah 9).

The Shvilei Pinchas says that the reason why Ya'akov specifically prepared the Kerashim and not any of the other materials necessary for the Mishkan is because there were specifically forty-eight beams used as the walls of the Mishkan (Parsahs Terumah 26:18-25). Those forty-eight planks corresponded to the forty-eight cities of refuge. This means that the Mishkan was like a city of refuge.

This explains the nature of the Avodah (service) that was done in the Mishkan. That is where korbanos (offerings) were brought. The korbanos atoned for accidental sins. Therefore, if somebody sinned accidentally, thereby killing a piece of himself accidentally, what was he to do? He had to run to the City of Refuge, the Mishkan, and atone for his sin by bringing a korban.

This is why Ya'akov only prepared the wood for the Mishkan, and not anything else. It is because in the wood we can see the connection between the Mishkan and the cities of refuge by counting the forty-eight beams which corresponded the forty-eight cities. Ya'akov prepared this material for the Mishkan because the Mishkan was likened to an Ir Miklat. Ya'akov needed this for his own tikkun for his sin of accidental murder when he was Adam Harishon.

But, Ya'akov was not only concerned about himself, he was also concerned about everybody else's participation in the Eitz Hada'as which made them liable for accidental murder. He also cared about everybody else's other accidental sins. Therefore, Ya'akov prepared materials for the Mishkan which would atone for those accidental sins just like the Arei Miklat could atone for an accidental murderer.

The Shvilei Pinchas explains that this is why Torah Sheba'al Peh (The Oral Law) begins by talking about the Mitzvah of Kriyas Shema (Berachos, chap. 1, "M'eimasai", Mishnah 1). Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi (Rabbi Judah the Prince) compiled and edited the Mishnah (the first body of Jewish Law that was committed to writing). The Ben Yehoyada (ibid) cites the Arizal (Likkutei Hashas, Avos, chap. 2) who says that Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi was a gilgul of Ya'akov Avinu.

This information might strike some people as being difficult because last week we wrote about Rebbi Akiva being a gilgul of Ya'akov Avinu. This seems contradictory. The answer to such seeming tensions is, "Yes." Both are true. Last week we said that a spark shot off of Ya'akov Avinu's soul and became Rebbi Akiva, and this week we are adding that another spark shot off of Ya'akov Avinu's soul and became Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi.

The Megaleh Amukos says that this is hinted to in his title, "Hanasi (the prince)." The word "Nasi" is spelled: nun, sin, yud, and aleph. These four letters serve as the acronym for, "Nitzus Shel Ya'akov Avinu (a spark of Ya'akov our father). Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi was also nicknamed "Rabbenu Hakadosh" (Our holy master).

We find that Ya'akov was also called "Kadosh" (the holy one). In the Shemoneh Esrei (Silent Prayer with eighteen, and now, nineteen benedictions), the third bracha (blessing) is "Hakel Hakadosh (The Holy Almighty). This bracha was recited by the angels when Ya'akov arrived at the future site of the Beis Hamikdash (Temple) and sanctified God's Name there (Beis Yosef, Orach Chaim, 112:1, citing Shibolei Haleket, Hilchos Tefillah, chap. 18, citing Aggadah). Since the angels said "Hakadosh" in relation to Ya'akov, Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi, was also called "Hakadosh" to show that he was Ya'akov's gilgul.

May I just add that the Gemara (Megillah, chap. 2, "Hakorei L'mafreiyah", pg. 18a, based on Parshas Vayishlach 33:20) says that Ya'akov was also called "El" by Hashem. Therefore, the third bracha, "Hakel Hakadosh" further connects to Ya'akov Avinu who was called "El."

Therefore, Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi specifically began the Oral law with Kriyas Shema because he was a gilgul of Ya'akov Avinu. Although Ya'akov already achieved his own personal tikkun, he came back as Rabbenu Hakadosh to teach the rest of us a lesson. A person cannot learn Torah with the filth of sin still inside of his body. Mixing the holy Torah inside of a dirty vessel ruins that Torah, at least to a degree.

Therefore, Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi began Oral Law with the Shema to teach us that people should first run to the Arei Miklat of today and recite the Shema to atone for sin. Then we can go on to learn the rest of Torah Sheba'al Peh. We begin each day with the recitation of Shema so that we cleanse ourselves from sin. Then we can go about our day with the study of that Torah Sheba'al Peh.

Perhaps we could add further support to the connection between Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi and Ya'akov Avinu. Rebbi began the Oral Law with the mitzvah of reading Shema at night. Maybe he began with the nighttime Shema, not only because a Jewish day starts at night, but also because he was a gilgul of Ya'akov who instituted Ma'ariv (the evening service; Berachos, chap. 4, "Tefillas Hashachar, pg. 26b; Rebbi Yosi b'Rebbi Chaninah).

Finally, we can understand the deeper meaning behind Ya'akov seeing a vision of an aleph on the way to Charan. In Tikkunei Zohar (preface, pg. 7a), it says that the letter aleph can have the numerical value of 26. This is because the shape of an aleph is made up of three other letters, two yuds and a vov. Two yuds and a vov equal 26. This is the same numerical value of the Shem Havayah (God's Name spelled: yud, hey, vov, and hey).

The vov inside the shape of an aleph is on a slant. This crookedness only happened after Adam sinned. However, before the sin, the vov inside the letter aleph was straight (Megaleh Amukos, Vaeschanan).

The Shvilei Pinchas points out that the human face was shaped like the shape of a letter aleph. The two yuds look like two eyes, and the vov looks like a nose. Regarding the formation of man, the verse uses the word, "Vayitzer" (and He formed; Parshas Bereishis, 2:7). This word is spelled with two yuds. However, the common spelling of this word is only with one yud. The commentaries grapple with the seeming extra yud in this word.

However, if you divide this word in half, it spells, "vov, yud, yud - tzar" which means that Hashem fashioned (tzar) man's face with two eyes and a nose which is represented by the two yuds and vov.

The reason why specifically the vov inside the aleph got crooked after the sin is based on the Megaleh Amukos (citing the Arizal, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha'ar Kriyas Shema Sh'al Hamitah, chap. 9). There are four types of sins that deserve four types of capital punishment. When these four types of sins are committed, they ruin the four letters of God's Name Havayah (spelled yud, hey, vov, and hey). The four types of capital punishment atone for the sins and also fix the four letters in Havayah.

The four types of capital punishment, in descending order are: stoning, burning, guillotine, and strangulation. A murderer gets the guillotine, which is third on the list. This means that murder ruins the third letter of Havayah, which is the vov. Therefore, the guillotine is meant to fix the vov. Therefore, since the letter aleph is connected to the Name Havayah (because both equal 26 like we mentioned above), if the vov of Havayah gets ruined through murder, then the vov inside of the aleph also gets ruined by murder.

Therefore, when Ya'akov fled into exile, Hashem showed him a vision of a letter aleph with its crooked vov on the inside as an indication that his running away was part of the tikkun necessary in order to set things straight. Ya'akov had to atone for his old sin. When he does, the vov will once again be straight.

Before concluding, let's mention that Rivka was the one who set this whole story into motion by advising Ya'akov to get the blessings from Yitzchak. This angered Eisav so much that Ya'akov had to flee for his life.

The Megaleh Amukos (citing the Arizal, Likkutei Torah, Parshas Toldos) says that the reason why it was specifically Rivka who set this stage was because Rivka was a gilgul of Chava (Eve). A hint to this is found in the verse, "Vayetar Yitzchak LaHashem Linochach Ishto" (and Yitzchak prayed to God opposite his wife; Parshas Toldos, 25:21). If you take the three words, "LaHashem Linochach Ishto" and look at the last letter of each word, it spells "Chava."

This tells us that Yitzchak was not just praying that his wife should have children, but he was also praying that his wife should be able to fix her old sin of the Eitz Hada'as that she was guilty of when she was Chava.

Everything that Rivka did was meant to be a tikkun of her old mistake. Chava made Adam listen to her when he should not have, therefore, Rivka (alias Chava) made Ya'akov (alias Adam) listen to her when he was supposed to. Chava gave wine to Adam (Bereishis Rabba, 19:5, Reb Ivi; see Sanhedrin, chap. 8, "Ben Sorer Umoreh", pg. 70a, Rebbi Meir who says that the Eitz Hada'as was the vine), so Rivka gave wine to Ya'akov to be served to Yitzchak (Parshas Toldos 27:25). In fact, the wine that Rivka gave to Ya'akov was 0stored from the six days of creation. It was from the same batch of wine that Chava used (Yonasan be Uziel, Toldos 25:21). Now that's vintage wine! When Chava gave Adam to eat from the Eitz Hada'as, curses came into the world. When Rivka gave food to Ya'akov to be brought to Yitzchak, it was in order to bring blessings into the world, to the right person.

Rivka even testified that what she was doing was in order to fix her previous sin as Chava. Rivka said to Ya'akov, "Alai Kililasecha Bini" (your curse will be on me my son; Toldos, 27:13). An alternative translation would be, "My son, the curses (that came in to the world) are on me." Meaning, they were my fault. Therefore, I must be the one to bring the blessings into the world.

Practically speaking, this whole behind the scenes story teaches us about a very useful tool that we have at our disposal. We are all B'nei Adam Harishon. We are all guilty of the Eitz Hada'as. We were all judged as accidental murderers. We probably also have other accidental sins that we are guilty of. Therefore, we are guilty of killing a piece of ourselves accidentally.

Therefore, we must run to the Arei Miklat of today. Our suggestion is that every time we say the Shema, we think to ourselves that this is our modern day Arei Miklat. Let us accept God's sovereignty with love and self-sacrifice. Then, the Shema atones for us as the Arei Miklat did in the past. If we ever catch ourselves sinning accidentally, we could say the Shema with the intention that it atones for the sin. It is permissible to say the Shema throughout the day, time and again, even with the Name of God, since they are verses.

So, may we B'nei Adam Harishon all be blessed with the courage to climb the spiritual ladder of success by calling out to our father, Ya'akov, with a resounding "Shema Yisrael', and accept God's yoke upon ourselves with love and with self-sacrifice, in order that we atone for our participation in the Eitz Hada'as, and bring blessing and life back into this world, which will "Vayeitzei" us from exile permanently, and bring us into an eternal Gan Eden when God will look at us in the face and see that we are beautiful and straight as an arrow, which will be like a sweet savory smell to Hashem in our permanent Mishkan.