This week’s Torah portion is “Vayeitzei” (Genesis 28:10-32:3). The word Vayeitzei means “to leave” or “depart” and indeed, this week’s reading opens with Jacob’s departure – his leaving of Be’er Sheva. As the Torah says “And Jacob departed Be’er Sheva and went to Charan.”
The commentators are bothered by this introductory statement. Why does the Torah have to state that Jacob left Be’er Sheva? We knew from previous readings and passages that he was living in Be’er Sheva all this time! The opening verse of this week’s reading could have simply stated: “And Jacob traveled to Charan”. Why the “reminder” that Jacob was living in Be’er Sheva?
The commentators explain that the Torah’s emphasis that Jacob left Be’er Sheva is in order to teach us that the departure of a righteous person from a city has an effect on the entire city. This is because righteous people are able to effect and make changes in the places they live. Their upright behaviors, characteristics, and piety has an influence upon all others who live in that place, as well. Sometimes a righteous person’s influence is direct, and sometimes it is by osmosis but it’s there. When you go into a perfume shop you come out smelling good even if you don’t buy any perfume. And so it is when you live among righteous people – you can’t help but be “scented” by their presence.
And so it is with us.
The Mishna teaches that “…your ENTIRE nation is righteous; they are all the work of God’s hands”. Every person can have an effect on others. You don’t need to be the number-one-most-righteous person on the planet. Although you may not excel in all areas of life –none of us do- there are areas that YOU do indeed excel in more than others. We must take stock and inventory in the areas we excel in and find ways to share our talents and attributes with others.
This is why our sages teach us about the importance of having an effect on the place we lives in connection with Jacob, and not in connection with Abraham, the founding patriarch of the Jewish people. This is because Abraham was a go-getter. He actively recruited people and influenced many, bringing masses to serve the one and only God. Abraham was out there day and night. Jacob, on the other, was the “dweller of tents” that we spoke about last week. Jacob, remained inside the study halls and Torah academies. He was different than Abraham. Abraham was the extrovert; Jacob, the introvert. Nevertheless, Jacob, mostly out of sight, was still able to have a tremendous affect among those he lived.
So whether you’re an “Abraham” or “Jacob”, remember, you can have an effect on others. Be sure to do your part to make the world a better place!
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
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Rabbi Ari Enkin