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Parsha Insights

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil

When we are young, we can’t wait to be older. We want to be considered grownups ASAP. We want to drive, order, invest, and be independent like the adults.

Yet once we have reached a certain age, we look back at the good old days when we were young, and enjoyed even the simplest things in life.

Every adults likes to re-enact his childhood in simple ways, even as an adult. We don’t just remember our youth; we seem to yearn to live it every day.

Most adults still get wildly enthusiastic about little things, playing with leaves, skipping down the street and running against the wind.

A wise man once said we should enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.

Yaakov was returning to Israel after many years away, and was now preparing for his infamous encounter with his brother Esav.

In the middle of the night before the encounter, he made his move.

The Torah relates that, “Yaakov got up that night and took his wives, his children, and all of his possessions and crossed the stream at Yabok.”

It would seem from this verse that Yaakov was together with his entire family and all their possessions. Yet the next verse tells us that Yaakov remained alone.

The Torah places him back on the other side of the river, alone. As he stands alone the Torah relates that an angel fought with him till dawn.

The question is obvious. If Yaakov crossed with his entire family, how did he end up on the other side of the stream, alone?

The Gemara (Chulin 91a) explains that Yaakov returned to his original camping grounds. He had forgotten some Pachim Ktanim, insignificant ‘small’ earthenware, and thus returned alone, to retrieve them.

The Gemara’s reasoning is thus. If the verse tells us that Yaakov crossed with all of his possessions, and then it tells us he was alone, whatever he had returned for must have been insignificant and not worthy enough to be considered as possessions.

Thus Yaakov returned alone for these insignificant vessels.

Insignificant to us – yes, but they were obviously not insignificant to Yaakov, after all he returned and put himself in danger for them.

Obviously, there is a deeper explanation as to what happened.

The Gemara derives from Yaakov’s actions that the righteous cherish their physical possessions even more then their own selves.

This statement seems to be quite odd- don’t our Rabbis usually belittle the importance of material and monetary items?

Herein lays the subtle difference between righteous person and the rest of us.

Rabbi Chaim Vital (in the name of the AR”I Hakadosh) states that when a person is granted possessions in this world, he dare not squander them; if Hashem has granted him possessions, it must be that they are necessary for his service of Hashem, otherwise Hashem would never have given him those possessions. Yaakov was a person who lived with this understanding of life- and therefore went back for the Pachim Ktanim which he felt were a direct gift from the Almighty!

Rabbi Mattityahu Solomon Shlit”a offers a profound parable that sheds greater light on this idea. There was once a poor man who was very deprived.

Despite his abject poverty, he continued to observe the Mitzvot meticulously. He needed one item, however, in order to appropriately perform the mitzvah of Netilat Yadayim, washing his hands – a cup and bowl. He couldn’t afford this, and prayed adamantly for a solution.

One night he dreamt that Hashem had noted his great poverty and extreme devotion to Mitzvot, and had given him a new cup and bowl for Netilat Yadayim. The next morning, he awoke shocked to see a brand new cup and bowl next to his bed. Words could not describe the overwhelming joy that he had, knowing that Hashem had personally responded to his request.

Time passed by and it seemed he had a new Mazal – he became very wealthy. He purchased expensive furniture and precious objects, filling his house to capacity.

Then he decided to move to a new home. When the move was complete and the workers came to him to be paid, he went through his entire house, taking inventory to make sure that everything had been transferred from the old house. Suddenly, he began to shout and berate the workers. “I am missing a very special vessel!” the man complained. “Impossible,” the workers responded, “we took everything from the house.” The man would not listen. He returned to his home to look for his precious Netilat Yadayim cup. He searched for a while until finally, to his excitement, he found the cup. The workers were naturally amazed by the wealthy man’s reaction to finding this simple, inexpensive cup. “For this you made such a commotion? It is nothing more than a simple cup!” the workers exclaimed.

“To you it may be a simple cup, but to me it is invaluable, because I received it directly from Heaven. Indeed it is worth more to me than all my possessions!” responded the wealthy man.

When we feel that something is directly from Hashem, we cherish it no matter how small or seemingly insignificant it may be. The truth is that even if we don’t receive our possessions in a miraculous way, our Avodah is to view them as Yaakov did. Yaakov understood that everything he had was from Hashem – so to squander or lose something which was directly given to him by Hashem would be unthinkable.

Let’s delve a bit deeper:

At the beginning of Parshat Vayeitsei, the Torah describes that Yaakov took the stone upon which he had slept and he poured oil onto it.

Our Sages are puzzled as to where exactly did Yaakov get this oil?

After leaving his home in search for a wife, he was chased and ransacked by Eisav’s son – Eliphaz. He gave over all his wealth and belongings to Eliphaz.

“Ki BeMakli Avarti Et Hayarden” – all he was able to carry with him was his stick.

If so, how did he now have a jug of oil to pour over the stone? Where did he get it from?

Our Sages explain that just as the twelve original stones miraculously united into one stone, so to Yaakov was blessed with finding a special jug of oil.

Chazal tell us that this was no ordinary oil. It came to Yaakov in a miraculous way, and was sent from heaven, remaining with our people for generations.

The Sefer ‘Yam HaTalmud,’ in his introduction to Baba Kama quotes the Shach that this very same Pach Shemen (jar of oil) that Yaakov used on the stone, was many years later ‘found’ and used by the Chashmonaim to light the Menorah in Chanukah.

We know the famous question about why Chanukah is eight days long if there were only seven days of the miracle. According to this, the finding of the Pach Shemen was a miracle as well. This was miraculous oil, which first appeared to Yaakov miraculously and later to the Chashmonaim.

The Megaleh Amukot, an early Kabbalist, explains that now we can understand why in this weeks Parasha Yaakov crosses over the river alone to fetch ‘little vessels’. Although seemingly ‘little’ and worthless; to the true eye, they contained miraculous oil.

The Pasuk says, “Vayivater Yaakov Lvado,” and Yaakov was left alone.” “L’vado” can also be read, and Yaakov was left “Lo” “with” “Bado”.

A “Bad” refers to an oil press (we are familiar with the term Bet Habad). And the letters Lamed at the beginning and Vav at the end have the numerical value of 36 – the exact number of candles we light throughout the days of Chanukah!

Small things in life can make a big effect on history. Lets view everything we have in life as a special personal gift from Hashem, and may we merit to truly feel Hashem’s hand giving us everything we have in life; from our families, to our physical capabilities, to all (even the smallest) of our monetary possessions.

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