top of page

Inside - Outside

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Vayishlach
Inside - Outside

How long has it been now? When am I going to start? Where will I go? What will it be like? How will I interact with them? Will I really be able to make a living? These were just a few of the questions that were swirling around Marty's head.

Since he was a senior in Yeshiva high school, Marty knew that, one day, he wanted to go out and teach those who never had the luxury of a solid Jewish education. The thrill of getting a person excited about Torah and Judaism really appealed to him. Marty felt that this was his calling in life.

But the questions lingered on. When do I make the move? I've already been in a Beis Midrash (post high school) program for some time now. Should I leave now or stay a little longer? He was torn. The uncertainty was killing him.

Suddenly, it dawned upon him. Why am I torturing myself so much? I have great Torah scholars right here at my disposal. They are older, experienced, and are filled with so much knowledge. It would be a shame not to take advantage of their sage advice. I cannot possibly be the first person to have these queries. Let me hear what they have to say.

"Rebbe, I've been toying with an idea for some time now. What do you think about me going out to introduce the beauty of God and Torah to others? There's this place I heard of in the Midwest which has many unaffiliated Jews. There's nothing Jewish available to them in that area. I could open an outreach center and do work on the college campus. We'll have programs, classes, Shabbos meals, trips to Israel, and more!"

The Rebbe lifted his head and looked deep into Marty's eyes and soul. He could see that spark of enthusiasm and commitment in his disciple. Marty was a solid guy. Actually, one of the best in the kollel. Yet, this was no small matter. The course of a person's entire life can be shaped by the answer to this question. This is not something to be taken lightly.

Feeling the weight of the burden of the Jewish people on his shoulders, the Rebbe opened his mouth and spoke slowly. This is what he said, "Marty, your question must be approached with the same logic and seriousness as any Talmudic difficulty. We must first explore and present the different conflicting possibilities. Then, we must resolve the issue."

The Rebbe's depth and breadth allowed him to articulate Marty's question in the following way. "There are two ways of looking at this, Marty. You're basically asking if it's better to leave the spiritually secure walls of the yeshiva in order to go out and attempt to bring those who have drifted far from God closer to Him, or is it better to stay within the spiritually sheltered environment of the yeshiva and distance yourself from any negative forces which are prevalent out there that may influence you in a harmful way."

Marty sat in awe. How did his Rebbe explain the question so eloquently? In one swooping sentence the Rebbe nailed it. This was the crux of the issue. This is what had been gnawing away at Marty for months. Marty himself wasn't even aware of what was bothering him. The Rebbe helped Marty clarify what it was that he was actually troubled by.

The Rebbe continued. "Your question is an excellent one, Marty. However, its resolution will be crystalized by the following parable."

"Once upon a time, Reuven was walking down a path by a river when, unexpectedly, he noticed that Shimon was drowning. The adrenalin rush caused Reuven to panic. Reuven wanted to jump in and save Shimon's life. He even has an obligation to do so. However, Reuven may only jump in on one condition. That is, he must be certain that he is stronger than Shimon. Then Reuven will be able to pull Shimon out of the water. But, if Shimon is stronger, instead of Reuven saving Shimon, Shimon will pull Reuven down with him. They will both drown. That would be even more tragic.

This is analogous to reaching out to save those who are spiritually drowning. Yes, Reuven has a responsibility to save Shimon spiritually. However, there is one condition that must first be met. That is, Reuven must be positive that he is stronger than the person he is trying to help. In other words, Reuven must be more committed to the service of God than Shimon is to his pursuit of materialism. Because if the "drowning" person is more committed to physicality than Reuven is to spirituality, then, instead of Reuven bringing Shimon closer to God, Shimon will wind up taking Reuven further away from God (Toldos Ya'akov Yosef, Beha'alosechah, citing the Ba'al Shem Tov).

The Maggid of Koznitz (Avodas Yisrael; Rabbi Yisrael Haupstein, 1737-1814) finds this same consideration echoed in a law with respect to lighting Channukah candles. The Gemara (Shabbos, chap. 2, "Bameh Madlikin", pg. 21b) says that, preferably, one should light Channukah candles outside the front door of his home. However, in dangerous times, one may light the candles on a table inside of his house.

The Maggid of Koznitz explains this passage in the following way. Channukah candles represent the light of Torah. Preferably, one should light outside, meaning, one should reach out and illuminate people on the streets who have fallen to the darkest of places. However, in times of danger, such as a threat to one's own spirituality when exposed to the outside forces of evil, it would be better to stay indoors and work at illuminating oneself with the light of Torah.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that these two views can be seen by the reaction of two Talmudic students who responded to their master's question. When they were little boys, Abaye and Rava studied under the tutelage of Rabba. Rabba asked them, "To Whom do we recite blessings?" They responded, "To the Merciful One." Rabba asked, "And where is the Merciful One." Rava pointed to the roof of the Beis Midrash (academy), whereas Abaye ran outside and pointed to the sky. Rabba said that they would both become Rabbinic scholars one day. Just as one can tell if turnips will be good from the time that they are small, one could also tell that Abaye and Rava were to become great Torah scholars from the time that they were young (Berachos, chap. 7, "Shlosha Sheachlu", pg. 48a).

One approach to understanding this story is as follows. When Rabba asked, "Where is the Merciful One?" he meant, "Which approach to God is best. Is it better to shelter oneself in a yeshiva to learn Torah or is it better to leave the yeshiva and reach out to others in an attempt to rescue those who have lost their way?"

Rava responded first by pointing to the roof of the Beis Midrash, indicating that in the beginning one should concentrate on strengthening himself. Abaye, who responded second, added that afterwards one must go out to help others. Abaye and Rava were not arguing, they were complimenting each other. They both agreed that at first one must focus on making himself strong in Torah. They also agreed that afterwards one must go out to rescue others.

This teaching will help us differentiate between tzaddikim (righteous people) like Chanoch and Noach versus a tzaddik like Avraham. Chanoch was a tzaddik, but we do not find him trying to save the world. This is because Chanoch was concerned that if he left the holiness of his home to save others, they might ruin him by convincing him to join them. It reached a point where even staying at home was becoming exceedingly dangerous for Chanoch and so God took him up alive to Heaven at a relatively young age (Just 365 years old! Much less than the average life span of 800-900 years in those days) before he would have been spiritually damaged by the decadent society that surrounded him (Rashi, Gn. 5:24, Bereishis Rabba, 25:1, Rebbi Aivo).

Noach was also a tzaddik, but we do not find him going out there to save the world. Rather, Noach concentrated on his Ark (his private beis midrash) and on his family (Gn. 6:22; 7:7). Once again, it is because Noach felt vulnerable to the temptations that were rampant in his time. Any attempt to rescue others might result in his own ruination.

Shem and Eiver were also tzaddikim, but they preferred to stay in their batei midrashos (study halls; Bereishis Rabba, 63:9) because venturing outside to bring people close to Hashem might back-fire, causing them to go OTD (Off the Derech).

None of those tzaddikim merited to be the Avos (Patriarchs) of the Jewish people. Only Avraham, who was strong, merited to be our forefather. This is because Avraham was solid enough to go out and save the world (Gn. 12:5). He was not concerned that they would influence him in an undesirable way because he knew that he was more committed to God than they were to their lustful passions.

Now, the Shvilei Pinchas says that the two approaches that were stressed by Abaye and Rava above, can be boiled down to just two Hebrew words. They are "Lecha" (to you) and "Kol" (everything). Let us analyze each word.

The word "Lecha" is spelled lamed chuf. The letter lamed of "Lecha" is spelled lamed, mem, dalet. When the vowels of lamed, mem, dalet are changed around just a bit, they can spell the word "Lomed" (learn). Therefore, the letter lamed represents the study of Torah.

However, the letter chuf of "Lecha" is an ending chuf which is called a "chuf peshutah" (a strait or long chuf). The chuf peshutah stretches itself passed the line which is underneath it. This represents reaching out to others beyond the borders of our Torah communities, even if it means going to the lowest of places. Moreover, the letter chuf is spelled chuf phey. The letters chuf phey can spell the word "Kaf" (the palm of a hand). Don't forget that an ending chuf is called a "chuf peshutah." The word "peshutah" also means to stretch out. Therefore, a "chuf peshutah" describes a person who takes his hand (kaf) and stretches (peshutah) it out to help others.

Therefore, the word "Lecha" represents a person who first "Lomeds" (learns) to strengthen himself and then "chufs" (stretches his hand out) to assist others. As we mentioned above, Avraham was this type of person. Therefore, it is not surprising for God to have commanded him, "Lech Lecha Meiartzechah" (leave for yourself from your land). On a deeper level, Hashem told Avraham, "Lech" - go on to become "Lecha", meaning, go on to become yourself, go on to become a person who, after learning (lamed - lomed), reaches out (kaf peshutah) to help others.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds a twist. Avraham was willing to rescue others even if it meant that he would lose out slightly with respect to his own personal growth. This is why he was called a "Ba'al Chesed" (a master of kindness). It is because he was willing to make small compromises in his own spiritual accomplishments in order to save the lives of others. This is the essence of "Lecha."

By contrast, we do not find Yitzchak venturing out to assist others. This is because he was a man of "din" (strictness). Yitzchak realized that by going out to help others, one must compromise a little bit with respect his own spiritual accomplishments. The "din" of Yitzchak did not allow him to tolerate even a slight deviation from 100% unadulterated Avodas Hashem. This is the essence of "Kol."

However, Ya'akov's trait was "tiferes" (splendor, beauty). Tiferes is a combination of chesed and din. This means that, on the one hand, Ya'akov knew when to be "Lecha" by reaching out to others, and on the other hand, he knew when to implement "Kol" and protect himself from outside influences.

When Ya'akov sent gifts to Eisav, it was in order to reach out to him and hopefully bring him back to the fold. This was Ya'akov exercising "Lechaness." Yet, when Eisav requested to live next to Ya'akov, Ya'akov sensed the danger to himself, his wives, and children, and flatly refused. This was exercising "Kolness."

This will help us understand the dialogue between Ya'akov and Eisav when they were reunited. Based on how Ya'akov behaved, Eisav realized that Ya'akov was proficient in both approaches of "Lecha" and "Kol." Therefore, Eisav asks Ya'akov, "Mi Leaha kol hamachaneh haze hasher pagashti" (What did you intend by that whole camp that I met; Gn. 33:8). A deeper read into the words reveals to us a more profound question. The words, Mi Lecha kol, actually mean, "From where did you obtain your proficiency in both approaches of "Lecha" and "Kol."

Ya'akov responded by saying, "To gain favor in my lord's eyes" (ibid). This does not just mean to find favor in Eisav's eyes, but it means that Ya'akov worked on perfecting both approaches in order to find favor in the eyes of the Lord Hashem. Ya'akov wanted to fulfil God's will. Sometimes that would mean to stay indoors and sometimes that would mean to go out.

Eisav continued, "I have plenty my brother, Yehi Lecha Asher Lach" (Let what you have remain yours; Gn.33:9). Eisav was trying to say that he had plenty of money and could support Ya'akov for the rest of his life. Therefore, Eisav said that he was interested in Ya'akov's offer to help bring Eisav back to a life of religiosity. Eisav was saying, OK, be mikarev me (Bring me close to Hashem). This is hinted to in the words, "Yehi Lecha Asher Lach." Eisav was saying that you should only adopt the role of "Lach." Forget about "Kol." Let's live side by side and I will support you. Deep down, Eisav intended on ruining Ya'akov, his wives, and children. Eisav wanted to enroll in Ya'akov's yeshiva so that he would be able to corrupt them from the inside.

Ya'akov sensed the danger and responded, "Please accept my gift that was brought Lach (to you; Gn. 33:11)." Meaning, I was only prepared to act with "Lachness" towards you from a distance. Ya'akov wanted only marginal contact with Eisav, hoping that the Kiddush Hashem he would make by staying in touch with him from time to time would bring Eisav around. But Ya'akov never intended that Eisav move in to live on campus. Therefore, Ya'akov concluded, "Yesh Li Kol" (I have everything; ibid). On a deeper level, Ya'akov meant that he would have to switch back to "Kol" and shelter himself from Eisav by distancing himself from him.

Perhaps we could suggest a novel interpretation which will enhance everything that we have just shared. Since Ya'akov was meant to strike a happy balance between "Lecha" and "Kol", he had to marry both Rochel and Leah. The Zohar (Vaeira, pg. 29b) makes a cryptic statement with respect to these two Matriarchs. It says that Leah represents the world of concealment, whereas Rochel represents the revealed world. What does this mean?

Maybe the Zohar is trying to say that Leah represents the approach that Rava stressed, which was to stay in a shielded environment in order to build oneself into a spiritually strong person. However, Rochel represents the approach that Abaye stressed, which was to then go out into the world and try to help others spiritually.

The Zohar continues its puzzling statement by pointing out that Leah was buried in the Machpeilah Cave, whereas Rochel was not. This could support the belief that Leah, who represented concealment, had to be buried in an enclosed place, stressing the importance of hiding away in order to strengthen oneself spiritually. However, Rochel, who represented revelation, had to be buried at the side of a highway, which is a public domain, indicating the importance of reaching out to others who are on the streets.

Perhaps this is why Ya'akov locked Dina in a box right before they all met Eisav (Bereishis Rabba, 76:9). Ya'akov wanted to prevent Eisav from marrying Dina. Even though a good wife could have transformed Eisav into a tzaddik, nevertheless, this was not Dina's place. This is because Dina was her mother's daughter. Leah stood for sheltering oneself from hazardous influences. Dina had to continue that position. If anything, Ya'akov should have given one of Rochel's daughters to Eisav (since all the brothers were born with twin sisters; BereishisRabba, 82:8).

This could possibly explain the verse that says that Dina went out to see the daughters of the land (Gn. 34:1-2). Why did she go out to them? Did she want friends to go shopping with? Dina wanted to reach out to others and inspire them spiritually. Unfortunately, this story ended in tragedy as Dina was violated and taken captive by Shechem, the son of Chamor. Apparently, Ya'akov was right, Dina was not the right person for this type of job.

This also explains why Ya'akov had to marry Leah first and only then marry Rochel. Lavan thought that he would somehow ruin Ya'akov's family if he switched Rochel for Leah. However, you can't fool God. Ultimately, it was Hashem who orchestrated this to happen in order to teach us that first we have to do it the Leah way and focus on building ourselves spiritually. Only then do we do it the Rochel way by going out to assist others.

We even find this pattern with the sons of Rochel and Leah. Rochel had a Yosef, whereas Leah had a Yehudah. Yosef was sent to Egypt. One of the Divine purposes of Yosef's descent to Egypt was in order to lift Egyptian society spiritually. He succeeded to some extent because Yosef got them all to undergo circumcision. This was not in order to convert them but rather to diminish their drives for lust. Yosef was Rochel's son, stressing the importance of going out to help others.

However, when Ya'akov found out that Yosef was alive and realized that they all had to go down to live in Egypt, which son did Ya'akov send ahead to the district of Goshen in order to establish a yeshiva in which they would be able to study Torah? Yehudah! (Gn. 46:28, Rashi, Tanchumah 11; Bereishis Rabba, 95:3, Rebbi Chaninah). Yehuda was Leah's son, emphasizing the importance of shielding oneself from foreign negative influences.

Another son of Leah's was Levi. Where can he be found? In the Sanctuary and in the Temple. Once again, indoors, protected by a spiritual cocoon.

Ya'akov's two wives anchored him. They enabled him to maintain balance, helping him to constantly bounce back and forth between "Lecha" and "Kol."

This whole approach helped me to finally understand a Bereisa (Avos, chap. 6, Perek Kinyan Torah, Bereisa 9) that has been bothering me from the first day that I saw it. It tells of a story where Rebbi Yosi ben Kisma meets a fellow Jew on the street. They greet each other. Then, the Jew asks the Rabbi where he lives. The Rabbi says that he lives in a Torah thriving community, surrounded by Torah scholars. Then the Jew makes the Rabbi an offer. He is willing to pay him thousands of dollars if he would move to his hometown. The Rabbi refuses by saying that he would only live in a place filled with Torah. This is how the Bereisa ends.

This was very disturbing to me. What happened to kiruv? Are we never meant to go out to help others? Based on the aforementioned teaching, there could be two possible answers. Either Rebbi Yosi did not feel strong enough to withstand the temptations that were going on in that place like Noach and Chanoch felt or Rebbi Yosi was strong enough, but the distractions of that place were overwhelming even for a Ya'akov type person.

The answer to our original question, "What's better, to stay in the yeshiva or go out to do kiruv?" is, it depends. It depends on the person and it depends on the circumstances. We must consult with da'as Torah (a Torah authority) for guidance in these areas.

Practically speaking, we could suggest that when we find ourselves in synagogues, study halls, or inside homes listening to Torah lectures, we should say a catch phrase which is, "Yesh Li Kol" (I have everything). Concentrate on the word "Kol" and its meaning which is to strengthen ourselves spiritually. This will help us focus on what we are trying to accomplish in those environments.

However, when we find ourselves "outside" in less spiritually conducive environments, we should say a different catch phrase which is, "Lech Lecha Meiartzechah" (Go for you from your land). Concentrate on the word "Lecha" and its meaning which is to reach out and help others spiritually. This will help us focus on our mission when we are exposed to other elements.

In this way, we will wind up maintaining the desired balance between these two approaches.

So, may we all be blessed to glow like Channukah candles and strengthen ourselves in Torah and Avodas Hashem within "Kol" (all) of the batei midrashos, in order that we can then "lech" (go out) and make a difference in other people's lives without compromising our own standards whatsoever.

bottom of page