Toras Avigdor: A vort on the parasha

Why does Jacob mention that he had once crossed the river and was about to cross again? Why is that important?

HaRav Avigdor Miller zts"l

Judaism Jordan River
Jordan River
INN:Toras Avigdor

בְמַקְלִי עָבַרְתִּי אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה וְעַתָּה הָיִיתִי לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת

Twenty years ago, when I was leaving Eretz Canaan to go to Padan Aram, I crossed this same river with my walking stick; and now I have become two camps.

These were the words of Yaakov Avinu (Jacob) as he stood on the bank of the Yardein (Jordan River) preparing to cross back into Eretz Canaan after his twenty year sojourn in the house of Lavan (Laban). As he prepared to ask Hashem for help in whatever he might face when he would enter the land, he first thanked Hashem for all the good that had been bestowed on him during his years in Padan Aram. Yaakov recalled how he then crossed the river with only a walking stick, penniless and alone, and yet now he was a wealthy man with wives and families.

Now, the question is, why did Yaakov mention this river that he once crossed and was about to cross again? What’s it important if he crossed this river or that river, or even if he didn’t cross any river at all? And why mention the old walking-staff that he had with him twenty years ago as he made his way across the river? With a stick, without a stick, who cares?

And the answer is like this: Years ago, Yaakov had passed over this same river, from the opposite side. “I remember passing through this area,” thought Yaakov to himself. “I remember these large stones on the river edge! And right over there is the sycamore tree where I rested before crossing the river! I’ve been here before!”

And instead of wasting the opportunity with empty reminiscing and superficial feelings of deja-vu, the possuk (verse) is teaching us that Yaakov did much more than that. בְמַקְלִי עָבַרְתִּי אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה – “With my walking-staff I passed over this river,” said Yaakov. As he made his way back across the Yardein he used these sights, and the memories that they awakened, to appreciate G-d's lovingkindness, the chesed Hashem in his life.

Back then, he had crossed over alone - and now he was loaded down with wealth.

“I remember this place; but this time however, my situation is very different than many years before. All I had then was makli, my walking-staff. Even what I had left my home with, had been taken away from me by Eliphaz; I was left penniless. And I was still a bachelor, with no wife, and no children – and I wasn’t a young man either. I was lonely back then. And afraid. And I didn’t know what would be!

"And now look at me! וְעַתָּה הָיִיתִי לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת – I have become two camps. I’m passing over this same river with a big family; wives, children, money, sheep – everything I have now! It’s remarkable, Hashem, what You’ve done with me!”

Yaakov Avinu utilized the familiar landmarks as an opportunity to recognize the change in his circumstances.

The Torah writes Yaakov’s words here because he achieved perfection by means of this avodah. Utilizing the device of associating events with specific places, for the purpose of better remembering the kindness of Hashem, is a most important method for achieving the greatness of gratitude.

There is another point that we take note of here. Yaakov was not merely reflecting on the happiness of a large family – he was using the burdens of that wealth to feel gratitude to Hashem. Yaakov had so much that he was forced to split his family into two camps because of the danger in the air.

Esav was coming out to greet him and Yaakov knew what that meant! He had too much to leave as one camp. And so he reflected on the last time he had escaped from Esav when he had nothing and he was all alone – it was so easy then to cross the river. And now he was burdened down – he had to make many trips back and forth across the river ferrying his families and wealth.

And he made use of those burdens to remind himself about the chesed Hashem.