1.

This week’s parshah starts out with a narrative of Yaakov’s journey from the house of his parents in Beer Sheva to Haran. After a fourteen year pause at the academy of Eiver, he proceeded and arrived at Beth-E‑l, where he prayed and spent the night. Before going to sleep, the Torah relates that “He took from the stones of that place and put them around his head.” Rashi explains, “He made them like a gutterpipe around his head because he was afraid of dangerous animals” (28:11).

Offhand it is incomprehensible why Jacob put the stones only around his head, without protecting the rest of his body. And if he relied on G‑d, then why did he surround his head? If he did not wish to rely on supernatural intervention, he should have protected his body and legs as well!

In Likkutei Sichot, vol. 1., the Rebbe offers a beautiful explanation which I would like to share with you, my dear Bar Mitzvah.

When Jacob went to Haran he knew perfectly well where he was going. He knew that he would have to work for Lavan the Aramite [The word Arami (Aramite) is related to ramai (deceiver) (see Bereishit Rabbah 70:19). Lavanthe Aramite thus becomes the paradigm of deceitfulness.], and he knew also that even along the way there were “wild beasts.” So he took stones and put them around his head, to indicate that no person and no thing should be allowed to affect his “head”; the head must be protected. The troubles on the way or the work for Lavan — that is, the preparations and actual work for a livelihood — these he would toil for with the hands only.

This teaches each of us to be certain that the head is protected. For when the “head” is as it should be, one’s hands and feet, too, will be as they ought to be. One’s labor for a livelihood will accord with the Shulchan Aruch; the hands will be so that only ‘the left hand thrusts aside while the right hand draws near;’ (see Sotah 47a) and the feet will speed towards mitzvot.”

As I was reviewing the Rebbe’s novel thought and lesson I reminded myself of an episode I experienced some years ago.

The son of a member of my shul was becoming Bar Mitzvah and his father called me with a she’eila — question. It is common knowledge that a right-handed person places his tefillin on his left hand while a lefty places them on his right hand. His son, however, did everything with his left hand but wrote with his right hand. On which hand should he place his tefillin was the question.

I made him aware that the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, known as the Tzemach Tzedek (1789-1866) discusses this in his responsa on Orach Chaim #4, and that while his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe (1745-1812) holds that the lefty places the tefillin on the left the same as the popular practice (see Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch 27:9), the Tzemach Tzedek opines that he puts them on both hands. That is, he places them first on one hand and then on the other. (See Likkutei Sichot, vol. 29, p. 381.)

Before we parted and hung up, I said, “There is one thing I wanted you to, please, tell your son. Regarding his case we could have a scholarly conversation if he should put on tefillin on the right hand or the left, or both. But one thing is clear, his “head” must always be on the right side!”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, in later years you will, im yirtzeh Hashem, have to deal with the world at large in one capacity or another. Be aware that there are many “wild beasts” who endeavor to attack and infiltrate the “head” of the Jew. It is not the time now to elaborate on this disturbing problem. Believe me, the problems attacking the thinking of the Jews are challenging and serious and seem to be getting more acute as time goes on.

You are now entering the formulative years of your life. This is the time when you can delve into learning without any worries. Dedicate yourself to diligent and assiduous Torah study and through this, with Hashem’s help, your “head” will be protected through your life and you will be a strong and healthy Chassid, yirei Shamayim and lamdanChassid, G‑d fearing Jew and Torah scholar.


2.

Events are related in the Torah in order to teach us a lesson in life. The Zohar (Vol. 3, p. 53b) says that the word Torah is related to the word hora’ah — guidance and teaching. It is a basic Jewish tenet that there are no superfluous words in the Torah and we should learn something from every detail Torah conveys.

With this in mind, a serious student may question the purpose of the lengthy narration in this week’s parshah of Yaakov’s encounter with the shepherds waiting with the three sets of unwatered flocks by the well, and the need for us to know Yaakov’s exceptional strength to singlehandedly remove the huge rock covering the well, something which a group of shepherds were unable to do.

Moreover, in America we have a popular saying “mind your own business.” Hence, why did Yaakov the stranger rebuke the shepherds for not doing their job faithfully by telling them “Look, the day is still long; it is not yet time to bring the livestock in; water the flock and go on grazing” (29:7). Moreover, they had politely told him that they were waiting for all the shepherds to gather in order to remove the rock — didn’t Yaakov realize this before he questioned their conduct? Moreover, even if Yaakov was very strong, why did he need to demonstrate his strength to the shepherds? He should have accepted their explanation without removing the rock on his own?

The Chassidic Master Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter of Ger, known as the Imrei Emet (1866-1948), offers a novel explanation. Yaakov indeed recognized the problem and understood the shepherd’s dilemma. His message to them was, however, as follows: “Even if it appears difficult and perhaps impossible to remove the rock alone, do not sit by idle with folded hands. If you really cared and earnestly made an effort, the seeming impossible might become a reality. Your body will produce sufficient adrenaline to accomplish what may seem humanly impossible.”

Thus, when Yaakov saw Rachel, though all the shepherds had not gathered yet, he truly wanted to help her and demonstrated the point he lectured them about. Hence, with ease he single-handedly removed the rock. Perhaps, in reality Yaakov was not so strong, but he proved his point to them that when there is a sincere will, the most difficult can be achieved. (I once read of a father who lifted a car when his child’s foot got caught under the wheel.)

Superficially, this portion of Torah seems to be an ordinary story concerning a well of water covered with a heavy rock. However, according to the Midrash Rabbah 70:9, there is an allusion to some very lofty concepts. One of these, I believe, is a lesson of great importance, particularly for you, my dear Bar Mitzvah.

According to one opinion, the well of water in the field is analogous to Sinai where the Jewish people received the Ten Commandments, and the Torah, our wellspring of life. The three sets of flocks are the entire Jewish people comprised of Kohanim, Levi’im and Yisraeilim. The rock alludes to the Yeitzer Hara — Evil Inclination — that the prophet compared to a rock (see Ezekiel 11:19, Sukkah 52a).

My dear Bar Mitzvah, upon becoming 13 years old and for your entire life, “biz 120,” two rival tenants will reside within you. The Yeitzer Tov — Good Inclination — and the Yeitzer Hara — Evil Inclination. Each one will engage in a constant battle to win you over to his side. The Yeitzer Hara will try to block your way to the “well of water” — our Torah. He will employ many cunning and deceptive means to deter you from following in the path of Torah. He is crafty in his mission, and it may not be easy to overcome his temptation.

The message from your Bar Mitzvah Torah portion is that Yaakov’s successful dislodging of the rock was not necessarily because of his physical strength, but rather thanks to his strong resolute desire and willpower. You, too, with proper determination, can and will succeed in tackling the Yeitzer Hara — Evil Inclination — and follow the dictum of your Yeitzer Tov and become a Chassid, yerei Shamayim and a lamdan — a chassid, G‑d fearing Jew and a Torah scholar — and bring much Yiddish and chassidish nachas to your entire family and Klal Yisrael.


3.

Regarding the happenings and experiences the Torah relates in connection with the Patriarchs, commentaries say “Ma’asei avot siman l’banim” — “The experiences of the patriarchs are an example for the children” (Ramban to Bereishit 12:6). This means that future generations should reflect and derive guidance in their respective lives from the Patriarchs.

The theme of this week’s parshah is encapsuled in the one worded name — “Vayeitzei” — “and he went out.” Up until now Yaakov lived his life as a yeshiva bachur, spending all his time studying Torah with his grandfather or father and also in the academy of Shem and Eiver. He lived in an atmosphere insulated from the corruption and dishonesty of the world at large.

Then, Yaakov entered a new phase. This was the stage of Vayeitzei — he had to go out — and deal with a hostile environment, a society where deceit and falsehood is rampant. Innocent Yaakov encountered none other than Lavan haArami. The word “Arami” (“Aramean”) can be read as “Ramai “— “deceiver.” Among his contemporaries he was the kingpin of thievery and crookedness (see Bereishit Rabbah 70:19).

Our parshah gives some details of Yaakov’s twenty years of trials and tribulations in the home of Lavan. The reason for this is, undoubtedly, so that we can learn from his experience how to protect ourselves from the Lavans of our times and avoid being trapped in their nets.

Time does not permit analyzing Yaakov’s entire twenty-year sojourn, but I would like to discuss the climatic experience of their relationship.

After slaving twenty years for Lavan and being tricked, defrauded, and cheated, Yaakov and his family decided to flee. Lavan pursued them and accused Yaakov of chicanery and having stolen away his daughters as if they were prisoners of war. He portrayed himself as an innocent, well-meaning victimized father and grandfather and told Yaakov that he deserved to be dealt with very severely, but, he Lavan, would desist from that course only because Hashem came to Yaakov’s defense and warned him not to harm Yaakov. But, he still accused him of stealing his idols.

Finally, Yaakov mustered the strength and gave Lavan a piece of his mind. Angrily he recounted the hardship and mistreatment he endured in Lavan’s service: “Had not the G‑d of my fathers — the G‑d of Avraham and Dread of Isaac been with me, you would surely have now sent me away empty-handed; G‑d saw my wretchedness and the toll of my hands, so He admonished you last night” (31:42). As soon as Yaakov exposed Lavan and revealed his false pretentions, Lavan became a “good boy.” He changed his tone of voice and proposed to make a treaty with Yaakov.

Resuming his self righteousness, he began by telling Yaakov, “The daughter are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flock is my flock, and all that you see is mine” (31:43). He expressed concern for their welfare and that they should not be ill-treated.

According to a sichah — talk — of the Rebbe on Yud Kislev 5740, Yaakov understood the profundity of Lavan’s words. Lavan was not only concerned that his family not be mistreated physically, rather, he wanted to convey to Yaakov his approach to succeeding in the material world. Thus, he was telling Yaakov to rear and raise his family in such a way that is compatible to the world at large — the world of Lavan. In addition, the treaty would include that neither party would pass a designated landmark with hostile intentions.

Yaakov and Lavan proceeded with the treaty. They built a mound of stones and ate there. Torah records an interesting dialogue ensued. “Lavan called it yegar sahadutha, but Yaakov called the Gal-Eid. Then Lavan declared “Hagal hazeh” — “this mound” — “eid beini u’beinecha hayom” — “is a witness between me and you today, therefore he called its name Gal-Eid” (31:47,48).

Now, if we analyze the dialogue between them, we will notice something instructive for dealing with the Lavans who attempt to distance the Jew from following Torah and mitzvot. Yaakov and Lavan both referred to the mound in the same way. Yegar sahadutha and Gal-Eid, both mean the “mound is a witness.” However, Yaakov used Hebrew — Lashon Kodesh — his natural tongue and the Holy language while Lavan used Aramaic. In the end, however, Lavan conceded to Yaakov’s terms and called it “Gal-Eid.” What is the significance of the seemingly trivial matter of what the name should be?

My dear Bar Mitzvah, Yaakov’s message for posterity was to be aware of Lavan — i.e. the Yeitzer Hara — Evil Inclination — and his cunning tactics. On the surface he appears as your friend and wants to do “business” with you, and stealthily he will try to have you to yield to his language — i.e. his ways of doing things. If you let him put a foot in the door, ultimately it may — G‑d forbid — lead to serious infractions. Let him know that any conversation has to be conducted in the Torah’s language and spirit. Seeing your determination and firmness, he will realize that you are not prey for him and will peddle his “wares” somewhere else.