Friday, November 27, 2020

arami oveid avi -- don't lose sight of what's important

 "Arami oveid Avi" (Devarim 26:5) is interpreted by Chazal (and Rashi follows in their footsteps) as referring to Lavan, who lived in Aram and tried to destroy our forefather, Yaakov Avinu.  Ibn Ezra and Rashbam learn the peshuto shel mikra differently.  Maor v'Shemesh in our parsha reads Arami like Chazal as referring to Lavan, but then puts a little twist on the end of the pasuk.  The word "ava" in Tanach means desire, razton, e.g. in the parsha of yibum/chalitza (Devarim 25:5) talks about the women coming to beis din and saying "lo ava yabmi," my brother in law does not want to do yibum with me.  In Parshas Nitzvarim (29:19) we read about a wicked person that "lo yoveh Hashem sloch lo," who is so bad that Hashem does not want to forgive him (which we discussed here.)  Maor vaShemesh similarly reads Arami oveid avi as having a lowercase a in avi = ratzon.  Yaakov Avinu, until he entered Lavan's house, was kulo Torah, yosheiv ohalim day and night, not even sleeping for a moment when he could be learning.  What do you think such a person wants out of life?  What is their ratzon, their aspiration?  The danger of Lavan was not so much the trickery, the duplicitousness, as that Yaakov could and would be on guard against.  As Rashi writes (29:14), Yaakov told Rachel "achi Aviha hu," I am your father's equal in trickery.  The real danger to Yaakov was far more subtle.  First, Yaakov has to work for seven years to marry Rachel.  Then it's more years working for Leah.  Then it's more years working to build his own flocks and have parnasa.  You have a family, you have to support them, right?  So by the time we are done, the years in the beis medrash during which, as Chazal tell us, Yaakov did not even take a break to sleep, have become years of "va'tidar shinasi mei'einay," (31:40) of not sleeping because of the burdens of work and life that have been thrust upon Yaakov.  The kollel guy starts out saying b'dieved, to support a family, a wife, he will work a few hours part time, then it becomes full time, then it becomes once I'm working why not get a better job, and then it becomes 80 hours a week trying to make partner  or to buy that bigger home, better car, and take the nicer vacation.  The kishronos that used to be dedicated to the beis medrash are now redirected elsewhere, with little left over for avodas Hashem.  We're not talking about someone who gives up observance.  We're talking about someone who still eats kosher, still has Shabbos, but what changes is the ratzon, what the person wants out of life and what he aspires for.  It's no more, "I really want to learn, but nebach, I need to get some parnasa," but v'nahapoch hu, it's, work where the person's real she'ifos are, and when it comes to learning,  the daf yomi with Artscroll is enough to be yotzei, and every seven years everyone will give you a big yyasher koach and make a party for that big effort.  That is the danger of Lavan.  That is the story of so many bnei Torah who in the chitzoniyus still wear the levush of the black hat and the dark suit like they are in yeshiva, like they are still holding by those 14 years of uninterrupted Torah, but inside, b'pnimiyus, they are checked out and are living in a different world entirely, the world of Lavan.

What was the result of Lavan's efforts?  When Yaakov is about to run away from Lavan's house, he hears Lavan's children saying "lakach Yaakov es kol asher l'avinu..." (31:1).   The Shem m'Shmuel in many places quotes the gemara in Sukah (41) that writes "u'lkachtem lachem" by lulav means מדאגבהיה נפק ביה, once you lift up the lulav you are yotzei.  We see from the gemara that lakach means to elevate, and the Sm"S writes that this can be in the spiritual sense as well as the physical sense.  Perhaps (the Maor vaShemesh does not say this) this is the upshot of what Lavan's sons were saying.  Lavan wanted to corrupt the avi=ratzon of Yaakov, but Yaakov turned the tables on him.  After years and years of work, of shepherding Laban's sheep, Yaakov still remained true to who he was, to the ratzon and aspiration he had when he was in the beis medrash, but now Yaakov also had a family of shivtei K-h dedicated to his same ideals, he had wives who were loyal to his own hashkafos and not to their father's ideology.  Instead of Yaakov being dragged into Lavan's world, Yaakov was able to extract from that world what he needed for himself.  "Lakach Yaakov," Yaakov was able to elevate and refine, "es kol asher l'avinu," the ratzon and wants of our world.  

The beginning of our parsha is the story of Yaakov davening on the road as nightfall arrives.  Yaakov instituted arvit, Chazal tell us.  Shacharis and mincha correspond to the times the korbanos tamid were offered and the blood was sprinkled on the mizbeiach.  At night, it was the leftover flesh and meat that was offered, the most physical part of the animal.  Avraham is the seichel, the innovator of the idea that there is a G-d; Yitzchak is the olah tmima, the paradigm of avodah = the nefesh.  Yaakov is the one who can sanctify even the guf.   Yaakov is able to enter the world of Lavan and not only not be pulled down, but to the contrary, he is able to elevate that world and take from it kochos for greater avodah. 


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    -- "avi = ratzon"

    v'shavti b'shalom el-beis >avi<, 28:21 -- if I return in peace to the house of my desire, ie. to my original tent[!] currently in storage, as an ish tam...

    -- "work where the person's real she'ifos are"

    all is not lost: what was Yaakov's external commitment? 10% to Malki-Tzedek* (28:22). in today's terms, more money from the job means the maaser for communal kindness totals more...

    *or to Malki-Tzedek's son or disciple; to his replacement [last seen taking Pesach in Waikiki, after Pesach in Seychelles the year before; but that's a different story...]