At the end of last week’s parsha Rivka realized that Ya’akov needed to escape from Eisav, so she told Yitzchak to send him off to Lavan’s house to find a wife. Ohr haChaim explains that she did not tell Yitzchak directly about Eisav because of the issur rechilus (is there an issur rechilus on a rasha?), and instead used wanting to get Ya’akov married as an excuse to send him off. How long was Ya’akov supposed to stay away? Rivka first says “ad asher tashuv chamas achicha” (27:44) and then adds “ad shuv af achicha mimcha…” (27:45) Why the double-language? R’ Yitzchak m’Volozhin explains that the barometer that reveals whether someone is mad at you is your own feelings about that person. He suggests derech derush that Rivka was telling Ya’akov to look inside himself and see whether “shuv af achicha *mimcha,*” mimcha=from within you, and then you will know whether the anger has passed from Eisav.
So Ya’akov departs and on the way (after a 14 year pit stop) he dreams and sees “hinei Hashem nitzav alav” and angels are going up and down. Ya’akov is the focal point of the universe – everything going on in shamayim, all the malachim, revolve around him; they go up from him and come back down to him, because where he is the Shechina is (Netziv). “V’hinei Hashem nitzav alav” is not an introduction to the bracha that will follow, explains the Ishbitzer, but is itself a bracha. "Nitzav,"as opposed to "omeid," implies permanence – always there and always will be there. Omeid means to arise at that moment (homework assignment: does this fit other pesukim where nitzav vs omeid is used? I honestly don’t see how this fits in other contexts.) The kedusha of Ya’akov, like the kedusha of Shabbos, is “keviya v’kayma”– it is always present, irrespective of what was done or what will be done. Yom Tov requires sanctification (of the month) by Beis Din. Shabbos happens, whether you prepare for it or not, whether you are ready and accept it or not. Beis Din doesn’t make it happen. We don’t forge or create a relationship with Hashem; the relationship is “nitzav” and already there – we just discover and reveal it (hopefully).
"Ha'aretz asher atah shocheiv aleha..." Do we need a reminder that Ya'akov was sleeping there on that piece of land? Why not just say, "ha'aretz...?" Because the pasuk is not just speaking to Ya'akov -- it's speaking to us. We are asleep! Oblivious most of the time to what our chovos b'olamo are, what we need to do and should be doing. Daughter #1 bought me a sefer by R' Chaim Kohen, the "chalban," called "Hakitzu v'Ranenu," based on the pasuk "hakitzu v'ranenu shochnei afar." We are only slowly waking up from galus. And yet, even though we are asleep, Hashem has given us Eretz Yisrael.
Hashem promises to keep Ya’akov safe, and in turn Ya’akov makes a neder that if he indeed has food to eat and clothes to wear and returns home safely, “v’haya Hashem li l’Elokim.” It sound c”v like Ya’akov is making a pledge of faith contingent on G-d doing stuff for him, which is impossible. Faith has to be an unconditional commitment. There are two basic approaches in the Rishonim: Rashi interprets what Ya’akov is saying not as a pledge on his part, but as part of the condition he is setting up, part of what G-d will do for him. Rashi brings a derush that Ya’akov was asking for his offspring to not have a psul (it’s hard to see how the words lend itself to this reading). Ramban does read the phrase as a pledge on Ya’akov’s part, but not as a commitment to faith, but rather to a higher form of avodah, the avodah that can only be done in Eretz Yisrael and not chutz la’aretz. Seforno interprets the sheimos of Hashem in the phrase in their technical sense: at the end of the journey, Hashem, the midas ha’rachamim, would be able to act as Elokim, the midas ha’din, because Ya’akov would have earned the rewards promised and given. See Netziv who tries to have his cake and eat it and interpret the phrase both as a pledge by Ya’akov and a promise by Hashem – it is about creating a relationship, which needs two to tango.
The Midrash writes that the statement, “V’haya Hashem li l’Elokim,” is the key to geulah. The promises of geulah all start with “v’haya,” e.g. “v’haya bayom ha’hu yitaka b’shofar gadol,” and these all come as a reward for this phrase of "v'haya Hashem li l'Elokim." This seems to only makes sense if you read the phrase as a pledge on the part of Ya’akov, like Ramban and Seforno. If it is part of what G-d was promising to do, like Rashi understands, why would Ya’akov receive reward for using these words?
Putting aside the pshat in the phrase, what are Chazal in the Midrash trying to tell us? Obviously saying the word “v’haya” is not a magic spell that triggers geulah. So what is it about Ya’akov’s words that are significant?
R’ Shimon Sofer, the Ksav Sofer’s son, writes that Hashem had promised Ya’akov that he would be protected in his journey and would make it home safely. Had Ya’akov just been echoing Hashem’s words and pledging in return to take ma’aser and establish a “beis Elokim,” he would have mentioned food and clothing and safety and stopped there. But Ya’akov chose to add something additional – “v’haya Hashem li l’Elokim.” What worried Ya’akov perhaps more, and certainly not less, than concern for his physical living conditions -- his food, clothes, and shelter -- was his ruchniyus. How would that remain intact during his stay with Lavan? Therefore, he asked Hashem in addition to physical wellbeing to help him with ruchniyus wellbeing. Chazal are telling us that when we are in galus, if above and beyond thinking about our physical wellbeing, which is so often in danger, we also are show concern for our ruchniyus, which is so often in danger and we don’t even realize it, then we will be worthy of redemption.
It’s a nice pshat that takes the phrase as a whole into account, but the focus of the Midrash seems to be on that one word, “v’haya,” as all the geulah pesukim quoted share that common phrase. What is it about that one word that is so key? The Shem m’Shmuel reminds us of the rule of thumb that “ain v’haya elah lashon simcha.” Galus, whether in Lavan’s home or elsewhere, is tough. We are tough too, and that’s why so many of us remain committed despite all the challenges. But commitment to avodas Hashem and joy in avodas Hashem are two different things. Take a look at your average high school kid going to yeshiva – he or she goes, but it’s like a jail sentence that can’t end soon enough. Ya’akov was asking Hashem for help not just to remain committed, but to remain b’simcha in his commitment. That’s the key to survival in galus and ultimately to geulah.
Jumping to the end of the parsha, I have a question but no answer yet. Ya’akov, not realizing that Rachel was the thief, tells Lavan that whoever stole his terafiim should die. Meshech Chochma points out that this is not just a kelala-curse by Ya’akov, but it’s a halachic statement. A ben Noach is chayav misah for theft. So I don’t understand. Even if Rachel’s motives were pure and she wanted to take these avodah zarah tools away from her father, still, how could she violate an issur gezel, an issur misah?