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Vayetzei 5760

Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  I had the good fortune to learn from the words and deeds of a great philosopher, Rabbi Noah Weinberg, head of Aish HaTorah. Whatever wisdom I am able to impart to you is wisdom that I have imbibed from Rabbi Weinberg and from the wellsprings of wisdom, the Torah.


Free Will means that one has the ability to make moral choices to accept the pain of doing the right thing -- to grow, to make the world a better place -- rather than to seek comfort. We are easily confused unless we have clear definitions and stated goals. Once a person knows that free will is about moral choices and not choosing the color of the socks you want to wear, then there is a beginning.

To strengthen the use of one's free will, it is important to focus on 5 points:

  1. Be aware. We are making decisions all of the time. Once you become sensitive to the fact that you are constantly making choices, then you can monitor your choices. At this point, you'll be using your free will actively and not passively. Become aware of the fact that you are constantly making decisions. Don't let your decisions just happen. Take control. Ask yourself: Is this the decision that I want to be making? If it isn't, then change it.

  2. Be your own person. Don't accept society's assumptions as your own unless you've thought them through and agree with them. Take responsibility for your decisions. It's amazing that during the Civil War in the United States, virtually everyone north of the Mason-Dixon line was against slavery and that everyone south of the Line was pro-slavery. What happened? Did all of the evil people gravitate to the South like to a magnet (or like snowbirds to the sun)? We are all products of our society.

    Likewise, don't be a slave to a past decision; just because you once thought that you couldn't do something, it doesn't mean that the decision still applies. Start each day anew. Constantly reevaluate where you are in life in order to be sure that what you chose then is what you would still choose now. Make sure it's you who are guiding your decisions, not your decisions that are guiding you.

  3. Understand that the battle is between the desires of the body and the aspirations of the soul. There are times when you know objectively that something is good for you, but your physical desires get in the way and distort your outlook. The ultimate desire of the body is to take it easy - to escape, and exist in perpetual comfort rather than make the effort to confront life head-on. The ultimate desire of the soul is to live fully, vibrantly with every fiber of your being to do what's meaningful, what's right, what's productive.

  4. Identify with your soul. Your soul is the real you! Therefore, if you can identify with the desires of the soul, it will satisfy the needs of the real you. Your task is to train the body and coax it to reflect the reality of the soul. Use the same strategy that the body uses on you! The body says "Just one bite of cake." You respond, "Sure! In just 10 minutes" and then you push it off another 10 minutes. Don't say, "I am hungry" say "My body is hungry." Identify with your soul and make your body a reflection of your soul. If you do that, you'll have real inner peace.

  5. Ask "What does G-d want?" You are using your power of choice to merge with the most meaningful and powerful force in the universe: the transcendental.

    The ultimate form of living is eternity, that is, life without any semblance of death. Therefore, attaching yourself to G-d is attaching to the highest and purest form of life itself: eternity. That is the ultimate use of our free will. That's what G-d means when He says in our Torah, "Choose life." Make your will His will. If you do, you'll be a little less than G-d Himself. Partners in changing the world.

Portion of the Week

This week we have the trials and tribulations of Jacob living with and working for his father-in-law, Laban. Jacob agreed to work as a shepherd 7 years for Rachel only to have Laban switch daughters on him at the marriage ceremony. (This is why we have the "bedekin," the lifting of the veil, at traditional weddings -- to ensure one is marrying the right bride.)

As Jacob tries to build his equity, Laban changes their agreement time after time. After 20 years, the Almighty tells Jacob the time has come to return to the land of Canaan. Jacob and his household secretly leave only to be pursued by Laban who has claims to put forth. The story ends with peace and blessings between Jacob and Laban.


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states, "And Jacob worked for Rachel for seven years; and it was in his eyes as a few days in his love for her." When someone loves another even a short time apart can seem like an eternity. How is it possible that the time appeared to be a short time for Jacob?

In his classic commentary, the Malbim gives two answers:

  1. Jacob loved Rachel so much that he thought that she was worth working for many more than seven years. Therefore, to work only seven years for such a wonderful person was really a bargain.

  2. Jacob's love for Rachel was not simple passion. When a person feels deep passion, a day can seem like a year. Jacob loved her because of her good qualities that would make her worthy of being the mother of the future Jewish people. A person whose love is based on passion really loves himself and not the object of his love. When a person loves the good in another, he truly loves the other person and not himself. (The Torah tells us Jacob's focus was "in his love for her.") Therefore, the time seemed short because it was not a selfish love.

The Alschich gives another approach: The seven years seemed like a few days in Jacob's eyes AFTER he was married to Rachel. (This is the order of the words and events in the Torah.) His love and his happiness overshadowed and all but erased the pain of the seven years of work.

Our lessons: Clarify whether it's a burning heart or heartburn -- are you in love or are you infatuated? Secondly, if you have a difficult situation -- like difficulty in finding a spouse -- know that your trials and tribulations will seem insignificant in light of your happiness. Therefore, don't suffer so much now; rather anticipate your future joy.

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