By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
November 23, 2002
Yaakov’s life is about to come full-circle. He has been away
from home since the age of 63 and he is now nearly 99 (see Megillah 17a,
Bereishit Rabbah 70, Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 36, Seder Olam Rabbah 2). He must
now fulfill the oath he took at Bet-El (22 years early) after the vision of
the angels: to sanctify the place as the House of G-d (Bereishit 28:12-22).
The road back to Yitzchak’s house is not an easy one: there was a fateful
confrontation with Esav, an 18-month period of "acclimation" at Sukkot,
followed by an attempted settlement in Shechem, with disastrous results. What
follows, according to the Sages, is a period of six months back in Bet-El
before Yaakov returns home.
We will interpret this section (Bereishit 35:1-15) according to Abravanel (Don
Yitzchak Abravanel, 1437-1508), who views this entire episode as a complement
to, and confirmation of, the beginning of Yaakov’s journey.
The tragic incident of Dinah (Ch. 34) proved to Yaakov that it was not safe to
remain in Shechem. Therefore:
And G-d said to Yaakov, “Arise, go up to Bet-El and remain there
(V’SHEV SHAM), and make there an altar to the G-d Who was appearing to you when
you fled from before Esav your brother” (Bereishit 35:1).
In Abravanel’s opinion, Yaakov was always in doubt whether the dream of the
angels was truly prophetic, or merely the product of his own hopeful
imagination. That is, until now. After successfully marrying and raising a
family, escaping the conniving of Lavan and surviving the wrath of Esav, Yaakov
has seen all of his dreams realized. Now that his vision is proven prophecy, he
is ready to keep his promise.
First, however, he must cleanse his household of any attachment to idolatry:
Then Yaakov said to his household and to all that were with him, “Remove the
foreign gods that are in your midst and purify yourselves and change your
garments. Then we will arise and go up to Bet-El, and I will make there an altar
to the G-d Who was answering me on the day of my trouble and He was with me on
the way which I went” (35:2,3).
Yaakov does not mention Esav to his family explicitly because he
has arrived at a rapprochement with his brother, and it would be improper to
speak of their past enmity:
So they gave to Yaakov all the foreign gods that were in their
possession, and the rings that were in their ears, and Yaakov buried them under
the terebinth that was by Shechem (35:4).
Due to this spiritual progress, Hashem’s Providence protects
And they journeyed, and the terror of G-d was on the cities that were around
them, so they did not pursue the children of Yaakov (35:5).
And Yaakov came to Luz that is in the land of Canaan this is Bet-El he and all
the people that were with him (35:6).
The first time he was in Bet-El, he was by himself and his
vision was his alone. Now, he can proclaim the sanctity of the place to mankind.
More importantly, he can use his own life as a demonstration and conclusive
proof of Hashem’s care:
And he built there an altar and he called the place E-l Bet-El,
because there HA’EL-HIM (this refers to the angels on the ladder) were revealed
(NIGLU) to him when he fled from before his brother (35:7).
This renaming of the place expresses the transition from
individual revelation to a revelation meant for the world.
Tragedy interrupts this mission, however:
And Devorah, Rivkah’s nurse died, and she was buried below Bet-El under the oak,
and he called its name the Oak of Weeping (35:8).
Devorah had accompanied Rivkah from Charan (24:59). Abravanel cites the
Midrashim (Bereishit Rabbah 81:5, Tanchuma Ki Tetzei 4) that the text alludes to
another death in the family, namely Yaakov’s mother Rivkah. Her death is not
related openly because she was not buried honorably: They said, “Who shall lead
[the funeral procession]? Avraham is dead, Yitzchak sits at home and his eyes
are blind, and Yaakov has gone to Paddan-Aram. If wicked Esav leads, people will
say ‘Cursed be the breasts that nursed such a one!’” So they took out her bier
Reestablishing prophecy, Hashem reaffirms another naming:
And G-d appeared to Yaakov again when he came from Paddan Aram
and He blessed him. And G-d said to him, “Your name is Yaakov; your name shall
not be called only Yaakov, but Yisrael shall be your name.” And He called his
name Yisrael (35:9,10).
This time, the name Yisrael is not derived, as the manlike angel
said (32:29), from SIN-RESH-HEI, "he who strives," but from YUD-SHIN-RESH, "he
who is upright with G-d."
Furthermore, all of Yaakov’s descendants, without exception, will share in the
creation of Hashem’s nation:
And G-d said to him, “I am G-d Sh-ddai. Be fruitful and
multiply. A nation and a congregation of nations shall be (YIHYEH [singular,
united]) from you, and kings shall come forth from your loins. And the land
which I gave to Avraham and to Yitzchak, to you I will give it, and to your seed
after you will I give the land” (35:11,12).
In order to spare Yaakov the anguish of foreseeing future
conflicts with Esav’s descendants, Hashem withdraws prophecy, so Yaakov renews
the name Bet-El, confirming the indubitable sanctity of the place:
And G-d went up from him, at the place where He spoke with him (BAMAKOM
ASHER DIBBER ITTO). And Yaakov set up a pillar at the place where He spoke with
him, a pillar of stone, and he poured a libation on it, and poured oil on it.
And Yaakov called the name of the place where G-d spoke with him there Bet-El
Yaakov first encountered G-d at Bet-El, and he returns there with renewed
devotion, as symbolized by the confirmation of names.
We might add that Yaakov, the Patriarch of Galut, has not merely closed a
circle; by dissociating from the residue of idolatry, acknowledging those who
have not survived the journey, and by bringing the message of Hashem to the
world, he has been elevated to a higher spiritual state. Only this can bring
Galut to an end.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!" - Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
As the Parshah begins, thirty-five years have passed since Yaacov pledged
to return to Eretz Yisrael. Now, after years of pining to return to the
Holy Land, he and his family are about to make the long anticipated entry.
But all of a sudden Yaacov realizes that in order to enter Eretz Yisrael,
he has to handle the threat that his brother Esav will destroy Yaacov and
reclaim the birthright.
Why was Yaacov not secure with Hashem's promise that Hashem would guard
him and return him to this land (Bereishit 28: 13-16)?
Among the explanations given for Yaacov's concern is that Esav had one
merit that Yaacov did not: the merit of living in the Land of Israel. This
caused Yaacov to doubt that he could survive a confrontation with his
The Gaon of Vilna infers from the Gemara (Sotah 21) that only a Mitzvah
could afford Esav protection. Accordingly, Esav's living in the Land must
have been a Mitzvah. In other words, Hashem's command of "Lech lecha," was
a decree that Avraham and all his descendants should leave their land,
their birthplace and their parents' home to go to the land chosen by
Hashem Himself, the Land of Israel. With that understanding, it becomes
clear that "Vayetzer lo - and there was distress to [Yaacov] (Vayishlach
32: 8)," means that Yaacov was troubled by the fact that that he had had
doubts - distressed that his fear of Esav's merit overshadowed his faith
in his own mission. For, even though Esav was fulfilling a Mitzvah by
living in Israel, Yaacov did have Hashem's promise to give Eretz Yisrael
to Yaacov and to bring him there safely; he had a mitzvah to make aliya,
and we might add, he was coming home.
Rabbi Eliezer Langer, Jerusalem
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320