1. This week we will study one of Rashi’s commentaries which has troubled many of the annotators, some of whom were unable to present a satisfactory solution. The verse in question:

Yaakov went to Sukkos. There he built himself a house (bayis) and made shelters (sukkos) for his livestock. He therefore named the place Sukkos. (Bereishis 33:17)

Rashi cites three words from the verse and explains:

There he built himself a house — he stayed there eighteen months, summer, winter and summer again; for the first mention of sukkos points to the summer, the mention of building a house to the winter, and the second mention of shelters to the next summer. (Rashi, loc. cit.)

Several questions have been raised:

A) At first glance, the gist of this verse, that Yaakov went to Sukkos, seems to be clear and self-explanatory, why does Rashi proceed to comment on it.

B) It turns out that Rashi’s explanation differs from the plain meaning of the verse. In the words of the annotator R. Eliyahu Mizrachi:

The plain meaning of the verse is that the house and the booths (sukkos) were built simultaneously, the house for himself and the shelters for the livestock.... The Midrashic interpretation which explains that both the house and the booths were built for his personal use, the house in winter and the sukkos in summer, does not follow the plain meaning of the verse. (See R. E. Mizrachi on the vv.)

C) Even according to the Midrashic approach the interpretation is inconsistent. Again R. E. Mizrachi:

The term sukkos (meaning shelters) actually appears in the verse only once, “and made shelters for his livestock,” the term “to Sukkos,” in the beginning of the verse is the name of the place. How can Rashi say that the word “sukkos (shelters)” appears twice? Furthermore, if in fact, we will count the first mention of “to Sukkos” as a term to be elaborated on, then why not continue the homiletic commentary by interpreting the third appearance of the word sukkos: “He therefore named the place Sukkos”! Did Yaakov stay there for three periods of summer?

D) When we analyze the words Rashi cites in his caption we are further puzzled. Since Rashi explains the words bayis and sukkos why not quote those words specifically in the captions? Let Rashi leave out “There he built himself...” and write, “To Sukkos...bayis...Sukkos.”

The explanation:

When we read that Yaakov built himself a house we are puzzled. Why must the Torah inform us that Yaakov built a house? Is it not natural for a person to build a house when he settles in a new city? The Torah did not tell us, for example, that Avraham built a house to live in during his 25 years in Beer Sheva.

Rashi, therefore, suggests that the reference to the house was interjected here to indicate to us that Yaakov lived in Sukkos long enough that he had to build a winter home. Thus, the Torah first tells us that he came during the summer and built a sukkah (for himself) then he remained through the winter and had to build a proper house. Consequently, the second “sukkos” also indicates that he further stayed on another summer.

Rashi cites only the words “There he built himself a house,” because it is this action which prompted the query and the eventual solution to the problem.

Now, however, we must understand why in this verse, and at this point in time, is it necessary for us to learn that Yaakov stayed 18 months in Sukkos?

To this question the commentaries respond that by showing that Yaakov remained in Sukkos 18 months we may calculate how he stayed away from his parents for 22 years — as a result of which his own son Yosef was separated from him for 22 years. As Rashi teaches us in Vayeishev:

In all, 22 years. These correspond to the 22 years during which Yaakov had not practiced the duty of honoring his parents: viz., the twenty years he stayed in Lavan’s house and the two years on the journey when he was returning from Lavan’s house — one and a half years at Sukkos and six months at Bethel, etc. (Rashi, Bereishis 37:34)

To this explanation, however, we may propose the following question: Why would the Torah teach us here something which does not apply until later on? What can we learn from this analysis on the spot here?

[The final answer to this question was not given by the Rebbe during this farbrengen.]

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2. In today’s Rambam study section let us first discuss an halachic matter which needs clarification and then we will touch upon an aspect of Divine service connected to the subject at hand.

At the beginning of Laws of Hiring, the Rambam teaches:

Four guardians have been mentioned in the Torah, but only three rules govern their liability. The four guardians are: 1) the gratuitous guardian, 2) the borrower, 3) the paid guardian, and 4) the hirer. (Laws of Hiring 1:1)

The Rambam goes on to explain that the three rules will designate in which case of liability the guardian must pay for the loss, and in which case he swears that he guarded properly, and is free of any liability.

In chapter two the Rambam goes on to state that these rules apply only:

..on movable objects which are the private property of a Jew who is not a Kohen...not land...or slaves...or contracts...or sanctified objects...their gratuitous guardian does not swear, and the paid guardian...does not pay.... (Ibid. 2:1)

In the following halachah the Rambam continues:

The Sages have decreed that in the case of sanctified objects the guardian must take on oath of innocence similar to Torah law so as not to disparage the sanctified objects. (Ibid.:2)

This rationalization seems a bit strange since the need to show respect for sanctified objects is itself a Biblical principle and self-evident. We see that the Torah often warns us:

Let no unauthorized person join them. (Bamidbar 18:4)

Certainly the reason an unauthorized person may not approach the holy service and the sanctified objects is because of the great respect and awe extended to these things.

When the Torah itself makes a strong point of protecting the sanctity of the Beis HaMikdash and all its vessels etc., and at the same time it absolved the guardian from an oath, why should the sages deem it necessary to reinstitute that oath on sanctified objects, so that they would not be profaned.

The answer is that this injunction of the sages was among the many protective rulings and decrees issued during the period the Second Beis HaMikdash, when there was a general descent and deterioration in the level of holiness of the Jewish people. In earlier generations such a rule would truly have been superfluous, but in the context of that time period the sages realized that even so fundamental a subject as the sanctity of the Temple and its vessels had to be reinforced. For this reason they issued a new decree.

Now, let us return to the general subject of guardians, and review their rules — we will find a profound symbolic lesson in our Divine service to G‑d. The Rambam lists the three rules of liability of the guardians:

A) A gratuitous guardian from whom the object was stolen...may take an oath that he had guarded it properly and be free of liability.

B) A borrower must make restitution in every case....

C) A paid guardian and a hirer are both subject to one rule. They must make restitution if the object...was stolen or lost. But if something worse happened [through a superior force] ... [they] may take an oath and be released.... (Ibid. 1:2)

These different levels may be symbolic of the different approaches people take in their life-mission to make a dwelling place for G‑d in the lower worlds.

The perfect form of Divine service is the gratuitous guardian who seeks no reward, physical or spiritual, for his Divine service; his devotion to G‑d is pure and absolutely altruistic and he serves G‑d out of intense love. The Rambam describes it this way:

One’s soul shall be knit up with the love of G‑d, and one should be continually enraptured by it...and gives up everything else in the world for it. (Laws of Repentance 10:3,6)

On the other hand, the lowest state of Divine service would be one who “borrows.” He wants every available permitted pleasure, his Divine service has ulterior motives, for he expects and requests (justifiably so) reward and payment for all of his good actions. He wants material success and benevolence, children, good health and abundant sustenance. The Gemara recognizes the legitimacy of this attitude when it explains:

Should you even prepare for them [Jewish laborers] as a banquet like [king] Shlomo’s when in his glory you cannot fulfill your undertaking, for they are children of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov. (B. Metzia 83a)

Despite all justification, this is a selfish form of serving G‑d.

The intermediary level is represented by the paid guardian and the hirer. While their Divine service may not be completely altruistic, for the sake of heaven, and they do not go on without hope for reward, they, nevertheless, do not reap all the benefit.

Now, all of these approaches are sanctioned by Torah — one must only strive to attain the loftiest level of true and perfect service without hope of gain.

In that state he proclaims emphatically, that his own existence is unimportant and he is completely subservient and devoted to the Creator of heaven and earth, the Supreme Initiator of his mission in life.