Vayeitzei: Folding Holy Land




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    Vayeitzei: Folding Holy Land

    This week we learn about how Jacob laid down, slept, dreamt of a ladder reaching to the heavens and received a strange promise directly from G-d: “The land you are laying upon; I’m giving it to you and your generations”. Read the full Dvar Torah by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton Full Article

    Parshat Vayeitzei

    By Rabbi Tuvia Bolton 

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    This week we learn about how Jacob laid down, slept, dreamt of a ladder reaching to the heavens and received a strange promise directly from G-d: “The land you are laying upon; I’m giving it to you and your generations”.

    And in case you might think that this does not amount to be very much land (after all, how much area could Jacob’s sleeping body cover) Rashi informs us that G-d did a miracle and, “The entire land of Canaan folded up underneath Jacob”.

    At first glance this makes absolutely no sense.

    What type of miracle was that? Why didn’t G-d just tell Jacob that the entire land of Israel would be his as He did to Abraham and Issac. Why did G-d have to fold it under him?

    Even more, how was it possible to fold the entire land of Israel? Did the myriads of people living there fold too? When it folded, did it leave an empty space where it used to be? And how did Jacob know it folded? Did the place he was laying upon suddenly become miles high? And what does all this have to do with the vision of the ladder?

    To understand, here is an unusual Baal Shem Tov story that happened 300 years ago in the Ukraine.

    Zalman was on his way to the docks, his ship was leaving in another hour and he had to hurry.

    He checked his pocket for the tenth time to make sure his ticket was there and… there was the shipyard!

    Two days earlier the Baal Shem Tov told him that he should pack his bags and prepare to travel to, of all places, India but when Zalman asked him he refused to divulge the reason; saying ‘you’ll know when you get there’.

    Zalman located the ship he was looking for, boarded and in no time the ship set sail and he was on his way!

    It was the middle of the fifth night at sea, Zalman was sound asleep in his cabin when suddenly his bed began shaking and he was thrown onto the floor. Still half asleep he put on his shoes and trousers and tried to open his cabin door to go on deck to see what was happening when suddenly everything seemed to turn over. The door flipped open and water began gushing in.

    The ship was sinking!

    He struggled his way up to the deck and the next thing he knew he was in the cold dark ocean with boxes and things floating all around him.

    He grabbed for dear life, luckily there was a rope tied around a nearby box for him to hold. He was alone, freezing and drowning in the black endless sea. He screamed “Help!” but his voice was lost in the roar of the waves and storm. An empty lifeboat floated past. With his last strength he reached up, grabbed hold, pulled himself up and over the side, covered himself with several blankets from the survival box and, shivering with cold, fear and exhaustion, curled up on the floor, said a prayer of thanks to G-d and closed his eyes.

    He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep, but what woke him up was that the boat wasn’t rocking and it was warm. He removed the blankets. The sun was shining. He peeked over the side of the boat .. He was on an island. Land! Trees! He stood, raised his hands to heaven and yelled “Thank you G-d! You saved me!”

    He stepped onto the beach tired, confused, hungry and thirsty. Where was he? What day was it? How could he exist without water, or food? Maybe there were wild animals?

    He heard the bubbling of a brook nearby and he walked in that direction. It was a brook alright and right next to it was…. a paved road!! The island must be inhabited by civilized people! He was saved!

    He drank his fill and began walking. Then after an hour or so in the distance he saw a house! Several houses! He approached the first one and… there was a Mezuzah on the door! It was like a dream!! “Thank G-d!! It’s a miracle!!” he thought to himself for the tenth time as he knocked gently at the door. It wasn’t even closed. He pushed it open a bit and yelled in Hebrew, “Hellooo! MiShehu Caan? (Anyone here?)” But there was no answer.

    He continued to the next house and the next and the one after that, but they were all the same; the doors were open, each had a Mezuza and each was empty.

    He walked on until he found what looked like a grocery store, ate some bread and vegetables left a note to ‘the owner’ listing what he took. Then he wrote another note, went to a nearby house and put it on the front door. It said that he was sleeping in their front room. He entered, lay on the floor and fell asleep; the first decent sleep he had in days.

    Early the next morning he was awakened by noise. He sat bolt upright, looked out the window and… the street was filled with Jews, hundreds of them, dressed in togas, rushing in all directions.

    It looked like a scene from thousands of years ago. Some were carrying food, others pots, all in a hurry! He went out and tried to stop someone, but everyone said the same thing in Hebrew; “Shabbat!! Soon will be Shabbat! Have to rush, sorry!!”

    Someone stopped for a moment, asked our Chassid if he would like to go to the bathhouse, gave him a change of clothes and rushed away with our hero hot at his heels.

    Things were so intense that it was impossible for him to get a word in, so he just followed his new acquaintance. They washed, immersed in the Mikveh, put on new garments and rushed out. In minutes they were sitting in the Synagogue that was rapidly filling with people.

    He tried to strike up a conversation but to no avail, everyone was reading from scrolls and preparing seriously for something. Suddenly the room fell silent and an elderly holy Jew appeared at the door, it must have been the head rabbi. His face shone and his white garments and heavenly gaze made our Chassid feel he was in another world.

    The Rabbi walked slowly to the front of the room, took his place, nodded to the cantor and the prayers began. The cantor had a beautiful voice and the melodies were nothing short of celestial; our hero was hypnotized.

    An hour later, the prayers ended and before he could come to himself the man sitting next to him invited him to his home for the Shabbat meal to which he readily accepted. ‘Finally’ Zalman thought to himself, he could find out what was going on. But it wasn’t so simple.

    As soon as they left the synagogue his host began asking all sorts of interesting questions and giving even more interesting and unique answers on the weekly Torah portion.

    In fact, it was so interesting that an hour later, after the meal was finished, our hero realized that he had not spoken a word and was so tired he couldn’t keep his eyes open.

    This same scene was repeated the next day; beautiful melodies in Synagogue, wonderful words of Torah, delicious food in his host’s home. Overwhelming exhaustion and sleep, but no chance to get information.

    That evening, after the last Shabbat prayer, the Synagogue filled with hundreds of people that came to hear the Rabbi say ‘Havdala” (a short benediction made over wine ushering out the Shabbat).

    “Now”, thought the Chassid to himself as he took his place at the end of the line, “after they finish, things will calm down and I’ll have a chance to talk to someone!”

    The Rabbi entered, walked to the front of the room and faced the crowd who quietly formed a long line leading up to him. He filled a cup with wine, lifted it, said the short “Havdala” prayer, drank and left a bit of wine in the plate for people to customarily to dip their fingers in it and pass it over their eyes for good luck.

    But as they did so, they one by one disappeared!

    The Chassid watched in astonishment as the line became shorter and shorter before him until everyone was gone and he was standing alone facing the Rabbi. But before he could utter a word the Rabbi smiled, dipped his finger in the wine, passed it over his eyes and .. also disappeared!

    He was alone!

    The next week passed as the first; alone in the village. Every day he took food from the grocery, writing everything down as his list grew longer.

    Then, just as the week before, early Friday morning he was awakened by the crowds that suddenly filled the streets, rushing about to prepare for Shabbos with no time to talk to him.

    Everything was exactly the same as the Shabbat before. He went to the Mikveh, then to the Synagogue, ate the meals and try as he could it was impossible to talk to anyone.

    Until finally Shabbat ended and the moment he was waiting for approached; Havdala! Just like last time, he stood at the end of the line, watched as the people disappeared before his very eyes and after a short wait was again standing alone before the Rabbi.

    As before the Rabbi again smiled and dipped his finger into the wine, but this time, before he could touch it to his eyes Zalman grabbed both his arms and yelled “NO!! I’m not going to let you go till you tell me what you are doing here. Who are you? Where am I? I want some answers!!”

    “Yes,” answered the holy Rabbi, “I promise you that I will tell you, you can release my arms. You have my word.”

    The Chassid let go and the Rabbi began. “The people here, all the Jews that you saw here are all.. Dead!”

    “We are a community that died over 2,500 years ago after the First Temple was destroyed. We lived in Jerusalem and when we saw that people were turning to idolatry and other transgressions, we at first tried to make them stop. But no one listened. So we moved. We made a new village in the desert far from Jerusalem.

    “Then, one terrible day we saw smoke coming from Jerusalem, we sent a runner to find out why. When he returned, half dead, with the news that the Temple had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian armies everyone became depressed and within a year we all died from melancholy and broken hearts.

    “Of course, anyone that mourns so deeply for the Temple certainly has a place in the world to come. So we went to heaven.

    But the heavenly court made us a deal; either we could either remain in heaven until the raising of the dead or we could stay there for six days of the week and one day, Shabbat, we would return to this world.  We chose the latter; nothing is like Shabbat in this world.

    “But” The Rabbi changed his tone and became very stern, “Now that you know our secret you have to make a decision. Either you can live as we do; six days in heaven and one on earth, or you must leave!”

    “Leave?” Said the Chassid, “How can I possibly leave? I can’t possibly sail home. I’ll die out there at sea.”

    “No,” answered the holy man as he produced the parchment from under the table before him. “I have here a piece of parchment with a holy name of G-d written on it. If you look at this name and then imagine where you want to be, you will actually be there in a matter of moments.”

    The Chassid saw that the Rabbi was serious and that now he had to make a decision. At first it seemed obvious. ‘I’ll choose to live like them!! I’ll be in heaven six days a week! Eternal bliss!!’ But then he thought again.

    ‘Hey!! What do I care about bliss and heaven?’ he said aloud. “I want to be with the Rebbe; with the Baal Shem Tov in Mezibuz.”.

    “Good” Said the Rabbi “Take this parchment, look at the letters on it till you’ve memorized them. Then close your eyes and imagine the place you want to be. Under no circumstances open your eyes until you feel your feet firmly on the ground. Do you understand?”

    The Chassid said ‘yes’.

    “Oh! One more very important thing. When you arrive at your destination you must immediately, before you do anything else, throw the parchment toward the sky and a hand will come out from heaven and take it. Do you understand?”

    Again the Chassid said yes. The Rabbi gave him the parchment he memorized the letters. Suddenly everything became dark and he was surrounded by fire. He closed his eyes, imagined Mezibuz and felt his feet lifting off the ground and wind rushing by him. He held on to the parchment as his only connection to reality and then .. His feet were back on the ground.

    He opened his eyes and .. Mezibuz!!!! He was back home! He couldn’t believe it!!! Then he remembered his promise to the Rabbi. He took the parchment and drew his arm back over his shoulder to throw it but … someone grabbed his hand from behind!!

    “NO!! Let go!!” He screamed. He turned around and saw .. The Baal Shem Tov!

    “This is what I sent you for” the Besh’t said with a smile as he took the parchment from Zalman’s hand. “With this I can travel faster and further to help others. The Rabbi who gave it to you won’t mind.”

    This is a strange story, right? But if we think about it, it teaches us that we really don’t understand this physical world at all.

    There are other instances in the Torah of such time warps when long journeys were made in miraculously short times(Gen. 24:32).

    Similarly, the Talmud tells us (Ketubot 104a) that Rabbi Yehuda Ha Nassi after he died and was buried would return home every Shabbat and make Kiddush for his family! And we know that Elijah the prophet, Rabbi Yeshua ben Levi and others went up to heaven in their bodies, and returned. So too, the Holy Ark in the Temple actually took up no space in the Holy of Holies (Magila 10b).

    Because all these things were holy.

    This explains how the land could have folded up and why it did so.

    The land of Israel is Holy and therefore can defy all laws of nature. So too Jacob was holy and defied all laws of nature (Jacob never died (Taanit 8b) as are the Jewish people.

    And that is what G-d showed to Jacob. The Holy land of Israel belongs to his offspring (Bne Yisroel) because both of them are HOLY; above all laws of time and space.

    And to prove it G-d folded the land with everything on it under Jacob, made him aware of it, and nevertheless did not remove anything from its place.

    And this is the connection to the ladder. The ladder represents all the spiritual worlds, ‘from earth to the heavens’.

    But Jacob’s connection is directly to THE CREATOR, who creates the spiritual and physical.

    That is what the Lubavitcher Rebbe has told us time and time again. “Every Jew is holy, above all laws of nature. And each Jew, even the simplest, has the ability to miraculously change the entire physical world with one good deed, word or even thought to bring the greatest miracle of all time,  eternal life in the Holy land with…

    Moshiach NOW!!

    Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
    Yeshiva Ohr Tmimm
    Kfar Chabad, Israel


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