Scribe writing Torah scroll
Scribe writing Torah scrolliStock

Dvar Torah by Rabbi Ari Faust, Rosh Kollel in Montreal

On his way to Haran, Yaakov experiences a lofty spiritual experience in the form of a prophetic dream. It is clear that his departure from Eretz Yisrael – and especially the circumstances of that departure – trouble him. Thus, upon awakening, he is inspired to undertake an oath (Bereishit 28:20-22):
וַיִּדַּר יַעֲקֹב נֶדֶר לֵאמֹר אִם יִהְיֶה אֱלֹקִים עִמָּדִי וּשְׁמָרַנִי בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי הוֹלֵךְ וְנָתַן לִי לֶחֶם לֶאֱכֹל וּבֶגֶד לִלְבֹּשׁ. וְשַׁבְתִּי בְשָׁלוֹם אֶל בֵּית אָבִי וְהָיָה ה' לִי לֵאלֹקִים. וְהָאֶבֶן הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר שַׂמְתִּי מַצֵּבָה יִהְיֶה בֵּית אֱלֹקִים וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּתֶּן לִי עַשֵּׂר אֲעַשְּׂרֶנּוּ לָךְ.

And Yaakov uttered a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and He will guard me on this way, upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear; And if I return in peace to my father's house, Hashem will be my God; Then this stone, which I have placed as a monument, shall be a house of God, and everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You.

What does Yaakov mean when he says “Hashem will be my God” – could there have been a concern that Yaakov would have another God? How can Yaakov set this as a condition to the fulfillment of his vow?

Rashi explains that the condition was not about his own belief, but rather that of his children. Understood as such, this was a form of prayer that Yaakov’s children not become corrupt during his time in Haran. Peer pressure and societal influences can play a huge part in our children’s upbringing. Pediatrician Gurinder Dabhia comments: “A teenager’s brain is only about 80 percent developed… the prefrontal cortex is underdeveloped, which makes teens more sensitive to peer pressure and risky, impulsive behavior.” This concern was acute in Yaakov’s case, before he journeyed to the house of Lavan – who was corrupt and malicious.

Ramban, however, takes a different approach and comments that this stipulation was in fact part of Yaakov’s promise. According to Ramban, Yaakov said: “If I return to my father’s home, then I will serve Hashem in the chosen lands in the spot of this stone which shall be a house of God…” To put it bluntly, Yaakov is saying that as long as he is not in Israel, Hashem will not be his God. This is a radical idea – how can Yaakov condition his worship of Hashem upon his return from Haran? Surely this is not how belief in God is meant to work?

Ramban connects his interpretation to the Gemara (Ketubot 110b) which states:
Any one who lives outside of the Land of Israel is comparable to one who doesn’t have a god.
Judaism is not a religion like other religions. The Torah is not a book of laws for an individual to achieve salvation and closeness to Hashem. Rather, the goal of Judaism and the Torah is to create a society inspired by the divine; one which is anchored on the principals of righteousness, tzedakah, loving kindness and tzniut – values that highlight the “divine image” that mankind is created in. Jews can, and have, create outstanding communities outside of Israel, but the only place we can build a Jewish society is in our sovereign homeland, in Israel.

Judaism is a shadow of itself in chutz la’aretz, and the tzelem elokim is only fully manifested in a society grounded upon that foundation.

According to Ramban, it was not enough for Yaakov that his children be shielded from corruption. Yaakov saw a bigger mission that his offspring would be tasked to fulfill, to establish a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shmot 19:6).

An additional dimension to Yaakov’s words is taught be Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, hy”d. Rabbi Teichtal was a Rabbi in Czechoslovakia and Hungary during the Holocaust, and was murdered during the death marches from Auschwitz in 1945. Rabbi Teichtal’s spiritual upbringing was in the weltanschauung of Hungarian Hasidic anti-Zionism, however while hiding from the Nazis he revised his position and in 1943 published a book in support of Zionism.

He writes that Yaakov mentions his return to Eretz Yisrael that it should stand as merit. And he adds that just as it stood as merit in Yaakov’s days, so too it should be at his time: “The merit of Eretz Yisrael will protect me and my family, that no harm should befall us, and no harm should befall all of Israel…”

So too, in our days, may it be in the merit of Eretz Yisrael that our brethren in Israel are kept safe, that our soldiers are unharmed and the captives return safely home to their families.

For comments: [email protected]