PARSHAS VAYATZAY – and he went out
The Parsha begins with the verse “and he went out…and he went…” Really it should just say he went. What is the meaning of the word Va’yay’tzay here. RASHI: to show us that when a spiritual, righteous person leaves a place, there is something missing – his influence is taken out of the mix and that affects the place. So Yaakov’s going was not just about his journey, it also affected the place he was leaving behind because they no longer were having his good influence.
Another possible reasoning from the Midrash of why it says “he went out” and then says “he went toward” is that he didn’t directly leave home and go to Charan. He actually made a detour of quite some years to go learn Torah with Shem and Ever. Before running toward his destiny of marriage, Yaakov took a detour and went to learn some more spirituality.
Now, you and I might be stumped as to why more time was spent learning. Yaakov had learned Torah under his father’s tutelage until the age of 63. Can you imagine sitting and learning with Yitzchok for so long – he must have known so much of the Torah — he must have been steeped in the highest of ideals and most profound of spirituality. Yitzchok was Gevurah — all the fire of devotion and worship. Why then did Yaakov think it so important to learn more Torah for 14 years elsewhere?
It was because Yitzchok was a Kadosh [fully holy] who had always been surrounded only by Kedusha [holiness]. The basis of Yaakov’s learning with his father was how to live a life in purity within a pure environment, how to capitalize upon greatness within a great society. Now that Yaakov was heading to Lavan, he realized he had to learn how to stay pure in a bad environment, something his father never had to do. He would be dealing with corruption, he would be dealing with twisted morals, he would be exposed to shmutz [smut] of the likes his father was unaware.
Yaakov realized the danger, and he figured there were two people in the world at that time who knew how to do just that, how to live a pure life even when immersed in a vile society. Shem was one of these people. He lived through the generation of the flood and stayed good. The second person was Ever who had lived through the generation of Dor HaFlaga and stayed good. Two men, one who lived through a time of gluttony and base physicality and one who lived in a time of intellectual dishonesty and atheism, and both who stayed true to their inner truth.
That is why Yaakov decided to take that time before hitting Charan and Lavan’s house. He knew he would now be confronted with exile, with the reality of having to live with truths among people who pandered to their base desires and twisted all that was good. To stay on the path, to stay steady to his values, Yaakov decided to learn how to stay good even when surrounded by the worst evils by those who mastered it before him.
It worked, those years of learning, for when Yaakov returned from exile, he was able to proclaim, “im Lavan gartee v’taryag mitzvos shamartee– with Lavan I stayed and 613 commandments I heeded.”
Yaakov, having run away from danger, having sat and learned, now is heading to his future and to his marriage. On the way, he dreams a dream, one in which G-d reassures him that all will be well in the end, for him and for his children.
We are taught of the dream of Yaakov, the dream of a ladder that had its feet on the ground and its head reached into heavens. There are many different messages being told by this ladder.
One of them is that our job is to bridge between physical and spiritual (the ladder had its feet on the ground and stretched to heaven). In fact, the word Soolam/ladder and Mamon/money have the same Gematriah [numerical value in Hebrew] – our job is to use money and physical gifts as a ladder to higher places, to connecting to Hashem. If we do that right, angels go up and down, we affect what the angels do. You see, based on reward and punishment in the world, blessings or curses come to the world. And since angels are those who carry out the meting out of blessings or curses, our actions are “ladders” that cause them to come down or go away from our world.
In my life’s journeys I’ve met many kinds of people. So there are those who keep their ladder laying flat on the ground, both feet and head right in the mud. They never strive for spirituality, never get away from their earthy desires to do something bigger than self-gratification and never opening their view to see the spiritual. Not good. That was not the dream of Yaakov, not the mission of man, to stay with our heads stuck in mud.
However, I also met what I call the helium balloon people, those people who get so enamored in spirituality that they don’t keep themselves grounded. They don’t engage in being responsible. And that is a danger, for helium balloons wafting into stratosphere pop. That also was not the dream of Yaakov, not the mission of man, to completely disconnect from what we have to do down here on earth. We have to pay our rents, pull our own weights, clothe our kids, be able to engage in life responsibly. Grounded, two feet on the ground, but aiming with that grounding to be able to bridge the vast distance to Heavens. That is the dream, that is the goal.