Wednesday, December 28, 2005


This past Shabbos I was back at the unique Indian Lakes Resort outside of Chicago for the Biennial Convention of the Midwest Agudah. On my way to the auditorium I noticed the usual array of exhibitors lined up trying to interest people in their projects and products. Among them was a yungerman with a table of seforim on display.

As I scanned the different items, my friend, Chaim Rajchenbach, who recently moved to Chicago from Lakewood and learns in the Kollel of Telshe Yeshiva, came over to me and said, “Do you want to buy the last Sefer Sholol Rov on Chanukah in Chicago?”

Sholol Rov is a compendium of divrei Torah on Chumash and Yomim Tovim; the volume on Chanukah was just recently published. There was a time not that long ago when such seforim didn’t make it to Chicago; there simply was no market for them there. Today you can go to a convention there and find a yungerman selling this sefer and many others. The demand is so great that he sold them all out in a short time; I was lucky enough to buy the last one.

Chaim’s remark that this was the last Sholol Rov for sale in Chicago reminded me of the famous story told about Rav Eliyohu Meir Bloch, the famed Telzer Rosh Yeshiva. During the war years, Rav Bloch walked into a seforim store on the Lower East Side of New York City and asked the proprietor for the sefer, Ketzos Hachoshen. The Ketzos is a staple of yeshiva study whose every word is pored over and cherished.

With tears in his eyes, the man handed Rav Bloch a dusty copy of the Ketzos. He said to him, “Ihr zult vissen az dus is der letzter ketzos vos men vet farkoifen in Amerikah, this is the last Ketzos which will be sold in America. It will never be reprinted, there is nebach no demand for it now and there never will be anymore.”

Rav Eliyohu Meir is said to have responded: “Do not despair, I assure you that thousands of Ketzosin will yet be printed and sold in America.”

Look how far we have come since that day. Not only has Rav Bloch’s prediction come true, but there we were standing in Chicago where people once fought the move to build a mosad Torah, of the caliber of Rav Bloch’s yeshiva, in the city.

Now the demand for seforim is so great that I bought the last Sholol Rov in Chicago! I have no doubt that by the time these words have been printed, the shelves will have been re-stocked and more Bnei Torah will be snatching up the sefer.

Not only is a branch of Rav Bloch’s yeshiva thriving in that once Torah-forsaken city, but the inspiring convention was made possible to a large degree through the leadership of Rav Bloch’s talmid muvhak, Rav Avrohom Chaim Levin, Rosh Yeshiva of the Telshe Yeshiva in Chicago.

I walked into the session with this sefer in my hand. Flipping through it, I opened to a page with a beautiful vort from Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv that seemed to address our very own times. It caused me to reflect – and rejoice – over the miracle of Chanukah that we celebrate today as our people did in days of old.

The name Chanukah, as we all know, signifies that the Jews rested from battling the Greeks on the 25th day of Kislev: Chanu Chaf-hai.

Many commentators question why we commemorate the events by celebrating the day the Jews rested, rather than the days that they engaged in battle. Why do we celebrate the “resting” after the victory instead of the actual victory?

Rav Elyashiv is quoted in the Sholol Rov as answering: Jews do not celebrate triumph, Jews do not glorify wars or fighting. Victory is a means to achieve a desired end but is not the end in and of itself.

Therefore, the celebration was not a commemoration of military accomplishment. It was a celebration of the spiritual freedom we had wrested from the Greeks following the military victory. The holiday was established to commemorate a spiritual triumph; our freedom to once again observe Torah and serve Hashem, achieved on the 25th of Kislev when the Greeks were defeated.

The Midwest convention was also a celebration. People of my generation who live in the Northeast cannot appreciate the battles that were waged for Torah. We have no idea how daunting it was to establish beachheads of Torah in the cities and states of the Midwest.

When the Telshe Yeshiva came to Chicago forty-five years ago, according to veteran eyewitnesses, there were only three young women who wore shaitels in the entire city of Chicago. The shul intended to house the Bais Medrash of Telshe Yeshiva was initially barred from use by forces opposed to the establishment of a European-type yeshiva in an enlightened America.

Today there are Torah communities dotting the entire Midwest and we take it for granted.

Throughout the weekend people were saying to each other, “Can you imagine this? This type of convention never could have been possible fifteen years ago!”

Indeed, wars had to be won to achieve this flowering of Torah. Though we don’t celebrate military victories, we still thank Hashem for the miracles, the redemptions, the show of strength and the salvation, as indeed the entire Al Hanissim is filled with such praise. We even thank Hashem for the milchamos themselves, though we certainly have no desire for war.

Why do we praise the Ribono Shel Olam for wars that cause so much pain and suffering? Should we not only focus on victory?

Perhaps the answer is that in order to truly appreciate the victory, we have to understand that it took a war to bring us to the spiritual heights that helped us merit Divine salvation. The Ponovezher Rov explains that the war Chazal refer to is the war between the forces of kedusha and the forces that block and undermine our growth in Yiddishkeit.

Much mesiras nefesh and strong-willed determination was required in order to develop Torah communities in the Midwest. It required years of dedication, cultivating one family and then another and another and another, until towns were turned over. Communities were developed and nurtured through the sweat, toil and tears of hundreds of individuals. Slowly, but surely, individuals were forged into minyanim and then into kehillos and finally into a force that now commands universal respect.

We may reflect on the wars, but Chanukah is the time to savor the victory. It is a time to dwell on all that has been accomplished in this country since the arrival of thousands of Holocaust survivors on these shores, some 60 years ago.

When they came, a desert of desolation greeted them. Chillul Shabbos was rampant. Learning in Kollel was an anomaly – to be scorned or at best, grudgingly tolerated. Kashrus supervision was disorganized and chaotic.

I recently spoke to my brother-in-law, Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky, who was born in Long Island’s Five Towns. He was reminiscing about growing up in Woodmere, Long Island.

As a young child during the early 1960s, Orthodox Jewish life in that town was almost unnoticeable. Being the child of a rabbi and a scion of Torah scholars often made him stand out from his peers. He remembers walking into a store on the main street of the next town, Cedarhurst, when an elderly man gestured to him. Respectfully, he responded to the old man’s crooked finger beckoning him closer. The man bent over and pointed to the yarmulka on the boy’s head. Then, as if he was conveying sensitive, top-secret information, he scolded him in a whisper, “You should not be wearing a yarmulka in public. It’s a chillul Hashem.”

Many of us can remember shuls that had just one Shas that was hardly used. Today, there is hardly a shul without six or seven complete sets of Shas, many of which accompany scores of people on the journey through the Daf Yomi cycle.

Yeshivos abound in the farthest flung corners of this continent. Kollelim are springing up in virtual deserts. Children are clamoring to learn more and more Torah. In a country where it was difficult to find a kosher piece of meat, kosher products are omnipresent wherever one travels. Awareness of halacha has reached every home that sports a kosher mezuzah.

Indeed, the pach shemen that contained only enough oil to support a handful of Kollel yungeleit in two kollelim, has miraculously expanded to support many thousands who have raised the banner of limud HaTorah and shemiras hamitzvos all across the country.

Indeed, the battle was waged and won. And though we can never really rest, we can breathe a bit easier as we celebrate the chanu chaf-hei of our forbears and aspire to rekindle the menorah in the Bais Hamikdosh Hashlishi.

Sholol Rov translates into large booty; booty is the rewards of war. To the winner goes the sholol. This Chanukah, as we celebrate the victory the Jews of ancient times were granted and their return to the Bais Hamikdosh, let us also celebrate the triumph of Torah in our own days and the sholol rov with which we have been rewarded.

Yes, there is much room for improvement; there are many areas in which we are lacking. But Chanukah is the time to focus on victory, the time to celebrate how far we’ve come since the day Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch was sold the “last” Ketzos in America.

Ah Freilichen Chanukah!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

“Mai Chanukah?” - What is Chanukah, the Gemorah in Maseches Shabbos asks.

The Gemorah’s answer is one we are all familiar with. In the period in which the Yevonim ruled over Eretz Yisroel, they entered the Bais Hamikdosh and defiled all the flasks of olive oil used to light the menorah.

When the Maccabim were victorious and beat back the Yevonim, they searched and were able to find only one flask with the Kohein Gadol’s seal on it. The flask contained just enough oil for the menorah’s lights to burn for one day, yet miraculously, they continued burning for eight days. The next year, the chachomim established the days as holy days, with Hallel and thanksgiving.

That is the extent of the Gemorah’s explanation of the miracle of Chanukah. The obvious question is why the Gemorah does not elaborate upon the extent of the Yevonim’s domination and the Maccabim’s miraculous military victory over Yavan. These episodes which took place during the Second Bais Hamikdosh do not appear in Nach, as does the miracle of Purim.

We all know that the Yevonim sought to separate the Jews in Eretz Yisroel from their observance of Torah. They targeted their spiritual lives, content to let the Jews live in peace as long as their allegiance to the Torah and its precepts were abrogated.

To this end, they enacted edicts against Shabbos, milah and Rosh Chodesh and spread their Hellenistic ideals throughout the land. While many resisted this attempt at forced assimilation, there were others - referred to as Misyavnim - who became Hellenized. They joined the campaign against their brethren who remained loyal to Torah, actively seeking to bring them over to an “enlightened” lifestyle.

No doubt they used Hellenist literature to bolster their arguments. Marshalling their modern-day intellectual proofs, the “enlightened” ones sought to undermine the old-fashioned beliefs and practices of the “backward” Jews who clung to their traditional ways. They tormented the faithful with theories intended to dislodge them from their firm grasp on the Tree of Life.

“We are not out to destroy you or force you to engage in harmful conduct. On the contrary, we’re interested only in improving your lives,” the Misyavnim would taunt them.

“Don’t you understand that if you would abandon milah as it was practiced for thousands of years, your children would be healthier?” the campaign went. After all, who should know better than the educated, advanced Greeks who brought civilization to the European world?

Inspired By His Forbears
Mattisyahu Kohein Gadol decided that it had gone far enough and that he would do all in his power to halt Jewish subjugation to the Greek gods and philosophies. Just as his forefather, Levi, displayed tremendous courage when he went to war to protect the honor of his sister Dinah, Mattisyahu took on an insurmountable challenge.

He took a lesson from his great uncle, Moshe Rabbeinu, who sought volunteers to put down the Eigel rebellion, calling out, “Mi laHashem eilay?” Shevet Levi then gathered around him.

Mattisyahu also took inspiration from his grandfather, Pinchos, who, putting his own life in jeopardy, brought an end to a catastrophic plague on the Jewish people.

Armed with the Levite mission to be shomrei mishmeres hakodesh and the knowledge that G-d sides with those who fight battles l’maan Hashem, without any personal agendas, Mattisyahu rallied his brothers to his cause. The small band of faithful Jews took on the forces of the Hellenist enlightenment.

As the Jews saw that G-d was with Mattisyahu and his fellow Maccabim, they began deserting the Yevanim. As the victories mounted, Misyavnim also started having second thoughts. Eventually, almost all the Jews were brought back to Torah Judaism. It was then that the miracle of Chanukah occurred, with the finding of the flask of pure oil.

Yavan is referred to in the Medrash as a force of darkness. The Medrash says that the posuk, “Choshech al pnei sehom,” refers to Yavan, to Greek mythology, philosophy, art, gymnastics, Olympics - everything perceived by the world as representing advances in mankind’s so-called evolution from pre-historic times.

All this is regarded by Chazal as the very antithesis of civilization. Since this culture deifies human intellect and prowess, it represents darkness and agents of the dark side of humanity.

The Mattisyahu Approach
Klal Yisroel didn’t feel itself strong enough to throw off the yoke of Greek tyranny until Mattisyahu showed that it could be done. Forces of evil often reign supreme because people of good will do not join together. As long as every good man sits in his own corner, evil will triumph. When one good man decides that he can bear it no longer and begins to rally people around him, only then can evil be toppled.

Chanukah celebrates the miracle that demonstrated the validation of Mattisyahu’s approach.

The miracle of Chanukah that we celebrate is primarily the miracle of the tiny flask which burned longer than was thought to be realistically possible. The menorah’s lights signify that the power of light overcame the power of darkness. The oil lasting longer than one day signifies that if you expend the effort and work b’mesirus nefesh, physical rules will not apply.

The miraculous military victory over Yavan is a dramatic example of how the laws of nature are suspended when light overcomes darkness. That reversal of the natural order was made possible by the great acts of courage and heroism carried out by Mattisyahu and his followers.

That victory was thus part and parcel of the same dynamic that brought about the miracle of the pach hashemen. That is perhaps the reason it is not singled out in the Gemorah’s discussion of what comprised the miracle of Chanukah.

A flask of oil, which according to its physical and chemical attributes can only burn for one day, can indeed last for as long as is necessary - just as the force of good, though outmatched by evil in terms of numbers and strength, can thoroughly eviscerate the forces of darkness.

Heroism Is Infectious

At times, when attempting to solve problems, we are told we cannot do this or that, or that what we are proposing cannot work. Yet, so often we see that people who work with selfless dedication are not limited by logic or the laws of nature. They tread where no one has dared step before and succeed where lesser people vow that success is absolutely impossible.

Seeing such people in action is infectious and serves to inspire others to scale unattainable heights.

That is why the nes of Chanukah is celebrated by kindling lights in our doorways and on our windowsills facing the street. This is why the mitzvah is to light the menorah as soon as sundown begins and darkness starts spreading across the city.

That is why the shiur that Chazal give for the duration of the lights is, “ad shetichleh regel min hashuk, the lights of the Chanukah menorah should remain lit as long as there are people out on the street.”

As long as people are out in the public thoroughfare, we need to remind them of the miracle. We need to prominently remind them not to yield to the temptations of darkness.

“Don’t surrender to defeatism,” we call out to them. “Don’t regard what you do as of minor consequence. Remember that Mattisyahu started out as one lonely man of faith with all the forces of the world stacked against him. Because he did not let defeatism overtake him, the Yevonim and Misyavnim were conquered and the forces of good prevailed.”

We gather our family around us and light the menorah to proclaim to the world that G-d felled the mighty, the many and the evil. They were demolished by the weak and few, the just and holy.

G-d had mercy on us and fought our battles, causing the zeidim to fall into the hands of the oskei Torah. We sing songs of thanksgiving and Hallel and remind ourselves that in our day as well, the Yevonim, in other guises, continually attempt to ensnare us.

Hellenists in Our Day

We have to be ever vigilant, for if we falter, the forces of Hellenism are waiting around the corner to ambush us. As soon as they sense us turning our eyes from the goal, they pounce upon us with cleverly worded ruses, at times using secular law to curtail our hallowed religious practices.

In today’s day and age, Yevonim hide behind the power of government to attack us. The same people who enforce laws facilitating the murder of the unborn, accuse us of not caring properly for the newborn. Ignoring the lengths that we go to preserve and enhance human life, they accuse us of callous disregard of the health of our children. They issue directives to be on the lookout for our circumcised neonates lest we spread disease.

Misyavnim offer wild accusations to back up their unfounded charges. They go as far as to insinuate in an anti-religious press that children are in special education classes because of infections caused by their circumcision. We are libeled by people who cloak themselves in the mantle of medical ethicists and protectors of the public health and well-being.

It is high time we rose up and said we’re not going to take this anymore. Our community is blessed with able rabbinic leadership, devoted askonim, capable lawyers, public relation experts and lobbying groups; we ought to all join together and end this scourge before it gains any more traction.

The menorah and Chanukah remind us that we should not hesitate to defend Torah and mitzvos, Shabbos and milah. The lights of the menorah proclaim to us to seek out the people who carry the flag of Torah and the Mattisyahu ben Yochanan Kohein Gadols of our day and rally around them. When we light the menorah, we ought to remember the words of the Rambam that, in our day, every one who devotes his life to Torah is a ben Levi. We are all bnei Levi.

When the call goes out, “Mi LaHashem Eilay,” we must all answer. Whether the call is directed at our wallets, our minds, our time or our physical attendance, we must always be prepared to answer, “Hineini.” I have heard, I have prepared myself, I am ready to carry the banner of the bnei Levi.

The Gemorah states, in answer to Mai Chanukah, that the miracle of the pach shemen is to remind us that though we may view ourselves as being but a small pach shemen, a tiny vessel of limited value, if we commit ourselves to the service of G-d with the self-sacrifice of Mattisyohu and the bnei Levi, the light of our lives can be enduring and everlasting.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


We live in a world where it seems nothing is sacred anymore. Some call it pragmatism, but it actually comes from selfishness. It seems as if people only care about themselves.

We see the fruits of this mindset all around us. Too many people seek to advance their own careers and agendas with no regard for what is right. People try to gauge which side will win and then line up on that side of the fence.

As soon as they sense a shift in public opinion, their allegiance does a turnabout. People trade their ideals and commitments in order to not be left standing alone or on a losing team.

In Israel, Prime Minister Sharon, elected on a right-wing platform whose views he espoused his entire life, decided that he wanted to be remembered as a peacemaker. His autobiography, “Warrior,” was suddenly irrelevant to today’s reality. When he realized that the Likud would not willingly support his new world view, he deserted the party he had helped create and build up, and founded a new party, Kadima.

The new party will solve all of Israel’s problems, he says. It will combine the best of the right and the left while remaining somewhere in the center. It will guarantee security for the beleaguered country while it undertakes more unilateral moves. Holding up the Gaza deal as an example of what he can accomplish, Sharon promises to do the same for the West Bank.

With the support of a compliant media and with brilliant strategic moves previously displayed on battlefields, Sharon continues to gain ground. As his poll numbers continue to rise, more and more career politicians join Kadima.

Shimon Peres, who spent his life in Labor, was so upset that he lost the election for Labor party chairman that he joined Kadima. After promising that he wouldn’t leave what had been his home for over 60 years, his ego got the better of him. He held a press conference announcing that the most suitable person to lead Israel is Ariel Sharon. Then he promptly jumped ship and signed up with Kadima.

And so it has gone. Politicians, who for decades seemed to be guided by deeply held convictions, are suddenly abandoning those principles, switching sides to join the party currently predicted to win the upcoming election.

The Likud chairman saw the light and moved over. In addition, Shaul Mofaz, the current Defense Minister and until Sunday a candidate for the Likud top job, decided that over the past three weeks he has come to the conclusion that the Likud was a party of radicals. He was lagging way behind at fourth place in the polls for Likud leader.

One day, he said, “Kadima represents too many opinions coming from different directions,” and that he doesn’t think Kadima “will show the proper determination to stand up for Israel’s critical needs.”

Just two days later, however, he himself joined Kadima. In fact, the day before he did so, he informed people that he would not be joining Sharon. He explained that politicians who switch parties “show a lack of stability and a lack of leadership.”

That did not deter him from following their example when he saw which way the wind was blowing.

We realize how flawed this behavior is by comparing it with the lessons provided in Parshas Vayishlach. In this parsha, we are impressed with the fact that Jews are a nation that stands alone. When it comes to right and wrong, we are a people who refuse to submit to the pressure of public opinion and the temptations of power and wealth.

The posuk states, “Vayivaseir Yaakov levado vaye’oveik ish imo ahd alos hashachar - And Yaakov stood alone and a man wrestled with him until morning.”

Rashi explains that it was the angel of Eisav who came to do battle with Yaakov and fought him until dawn. The Rishonim explain that this episode depicts the future saga of the Jews in the exile; wherever we go, Eisav’s emissaries will be there to fight us until the dawn of the redemption.

This may be why, in this instance, the Torah uses the word “ish” to describe the malach. To Yaakov the emissary was an angel, but the children of Yaakov are faced by an “ish” of flesh and blood who torments us and seeks to destroy us.

This is the way it will be until the coming of Moshiach. As long as we are “levado,” the power of our enemies to hurt us will be limited. As long as we resist the lure of foreign cultures, as long as we turn away from the temptation to bend our principles in order to be popular, our wounds may be painful but they will not be mortal.

However, if ever we veer from the proper path of Torah and mitzvos and seek to blend in with all the others nations, then the eternal enemy, the “ish,” can do serious harm.

The “ish” saw that he couldn’t overcome Yaakov so he hurt him in a less critical area - the gid hanashe. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that the reason we don’t eat the gid hanashe is to remind us of this lesson.

As sunrise approached, the malach wanted to leave, but Yaakov did not permit him to go without first receiving a blessing from him. The malach asked him for his name and when he responded “Yaakov,” the malach told him, “Your name will be Yisroel for you fought with the Divine and with man, and you won.”

In return, Yaakov asked him for his name, to which the malach responded, “Why do you inquire of my name?” The posuk relates that he blessed Yaakov and left.

The name Yisroel is the eternal name of Yaakov. It is used in reference to matters that are universal and affect Klal Yisroel for all time; Yaakov is used in reference to occurrences which took place in his time. Perhaps by telling him that his name will be changed to Yisroel, the malach was implying that encounters with bitter adversaries will face the children of Yaakov, the Bnei Yisroel, for all time.

Not only did Yaakov have to battle the “ish” of Eisav, but forever after, the Bnei Yisroel will have to fight him off.

“Mah shemecha? Vayomer, Yaakov.” As long as we follow the path of Yaakov we will be victorious.

Among the reasons cited to explain why the malach refused to give his name, perhaps it is meant to signify that it is not one “ish” who will torment us, but rather countless people in countless guises who will be seeking our annihilation throughout the generations.

Your children should not be looking for someone who fits a particular profile, the malach was teaching Yaakov. They must remain vigilant throughout the ages, ready to cross swords with anyone who seeks to do them spiritual or physical harm, as I sought to do to you. It is not the name which defines this “ish”, it is his mission. And that mission remains constant even as it changes names and places.

Rashi quotes the Medrash and Gemorah which state that the malach was in a rush to return to Heaven to say shira. It is commonly understood that it was this malach’s turn to say shira that day and he didn’t want to miss his opportunity.

If this was the malach’s only chance to say shira, why was he given the job of wrestling with Yaakov the night before? Hashem had to know the way it would end and that the malach would barely make it back in time to sing the praises of the Almighty.

It may be that the malach was rushing back to say shira about Yaakov. His mission was to destroy the person whose name is inscribed on the kisei hakavod, but Yaakov, a mortal human being, was able to overcome him. Yaakov’s ability to triumph over a force whose strength was Divine was a dramatic testament to the special power granted those who are loyal to G-d’s word.

Is such an accomplishment not deserving of shira?

It was an extraordinary occurrence for a malach to come up against someone with the fortitude of Yaakov who could withstand the power of an angel. He wanted to rush back to take advantage of the opportunity to praise him.

In the meanwhile, Yaakov showed us the way to overcome the malach of Eisav who constantly attempts to best us.

Let us remember that the test of greatness is not in being on the side that wins the popularity contest. Virtue cannot be measured in a public opinion poll. If we want to be people upon whom shira, praise, can be recited, we often have to remain unpopular and isolated as Yaakov Avinu was on that lonely night at the Yaabok Pass, when he was confronted by the “ish.”

That “ish” is always just around the bend waiting to bait and trip us. May we all merit to follow in Yaakov’s footsteps and be worthy of eternal success and praise.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


How do you react when your integrity is called into question? How are you supposed to respond when people close to you accuse you of being crooked - and they persist in these charges even when they are totally unfounded?

Most people would put up a vigorous fight, doggedly trying to prove their innocence in the face of the other party’s stubborn disbelief. If the accuser refused to drop his accusations, a full-blown family feud would likely erupt.

From parshas Vayeitzei, we learn of the futility of such an approach.

Our forefather, Yaakov Avinu, was forced to leave his parents’ home. His mother, Rivka, warned him that his brother Eisav was out to kill him because Yaakov had received the coveted brachos from their father Yitzchok. She advised him to escape to the home of her bother, Lavan.

Yitzchok concurred and sent Yaakov to Padan Aram to Lavan, and instructed him to choose a wife from among Lavan’s daughters.

In parshas Vayeitzei, we learn that on his way to Padan Aram, Yaakov passed by Har Hamoriah and slept there. The posuk relates that he took a stone, placed it by his head and went to sleep. In his dream, he saw malochim who accompanied him on the journey. He was blessed by Hakadosh Boruch Hu and told that he would be protected.

Upon awaking, Yaakov expressed in wonderment, “Ein zeh ki im Beis Elokim – this place is a home of G-d.” He then took the stone upon which he had slept, set it up as a matzeiva and vowed that if Hashem would be with him, help him succeed in his journey and return him safely to his father’s home, he would use this matzeiva stone for a Beis Elokim.

Yaakov then went along his way to Padan Aram. He met shepherds standing around a well of water who pointed out Rochel, the daughter of Lavan, as she approached the watering hole with her father’s flock of sheep. A large stone covered the well and the shepherds protested that they weren’t able to water their sheep because they couldn’t remove the stone from atop the well.

Yaakov stepped up and rolled off the stone, watered Lavan’s sheep, kissed Rochel and wept.

He was then taken by Rochel to the home of Lavan. He married Leah and Rochel, Bilha and Zilpa, and worked for Lavan for 20 years. After being commanded by a malach in a dream to return to his land of birth, Yaakov gathered his wives, children and flocks and departed for home.

Lavan caught up with him and gave him a verbal haranguing, accusing him of behaving like a common thief. Yaakov responded by listing everything he had done for Lavan during his years of servitude to him. He reminded Lavan of how he had endured Lavan’s dishonest dealings. He enumerated all the ways that Lavan had robbed him, and what he owed him, having changed the terms of his employment ten of times.

Totally unfazed, Lavan responds to Yaakov’s emotional and detailed argument by insisting that all that Yaakov owns is his, Lavan’s. “Habanos benosai, v’habonim bonai, v’hatzon tzoni, vechol asher atah ro’eh li hu.”

The posuk doesn’t record that Yaakov responded to Lavan after that. The posuk recounts that Yaakov took a stone and held it up as a matzeiva. He sent his children to gather stones. They took the stones and fashioned from them a “gal,” a mound, and ate there.

When your integrity is impugned and family and friends turn on you, when you give everything you have to your job and your boss accuses you of goofing off, the urge is to fight to set the record straight, no matter what it takes.

It hurts when people don’t judge you fairly; you are pained when people who ought to know better say that you can’t do a good job. But what do you do about it? Do you shout back at them? Do you respond in kind? Do you keep on pressing your point even when you are getting nowhere and your adversary is clearly indifferent to your arguments?

Yaakov Avinu shows us the answer. When accused by Lavan, he set the record straight with his own testimony and refused to debate the issue any further.

When Lavan showed that he wasn’t interested in honestly appraising Yaakov’s track record, Yaakov returned to his even matzeiva. He told his sons to go out and gather stones, not to throw at Lavan, but to use to construct a gal.

Yaakov was teaching his sons, and us, that when the Lavans of the world are determined to vilify you, don’t waste your time in senseless debate; don’t get engaged in a battle of one-upmanship. Instead, busy yourself with positive acts. Don’t throw stones, but rather gather them together and build. Don’t get bogged down with negativity.

Instead, dedicate yourself to spreading G-dliness and goodness among your family and the world at large.

Perhaps it can be said allegorically that Yaakov Avinu took that original stone which he dedicated following his dream on the Har Hamoriah, and carried it with him as a memory of that fateful night and of the pledge that he made. Wherever he went in golus, he had a memory of the prophetic vision he had. He had a piece of kedusha with him as he sat in Lavan’s house.

In fact, a careful examination of the pesukim bears this out. In the beginning of the parsha, following his dream, Yaakov says, “How holy is this place, for it is a Beis Elokim” (28:17). The next posuk states that when he awoke, he took the stone upon which he slept and made it into a matzeiva.

The pesukim then recount the pledge he made, climaxing with, “This stone which I made a matzeiva shall be a Beis Elokim…”

The obvious question is that he himself had already noted that the place where he slept was a Beis Elokim. What did he mean when he said he would use the stone to fashion a “Beis Elokim”?

If we understand it to mean that Yaakov took this very stone on which he had slept with him as he traveled, and used it as a Beis Elokim, then Yaakov was saying that he would establish an actual Beis Elokim from which he would spread the truth of G-d. Similarly, we find that the Bnei Yisroel built the Mishkan from Atzei Shitim that Yaakov Avinu had brought with him to Mitzrayim. Even when he was descending to Golus, Yaakov carried with him material necessary for the construction of the Beis Elokim.

Chazal teach that Yaakov originated Tefillas Arvis, the prayer we say in the dark of night. From Yaakov comes a special legacy of faith and hope that enables us to endure the bitter exile. Even as we grope our way in the darkness, we can still make room for light in our lives.

Even when all we have is an inert stone, we can transform it into a tool of holiness and use it to fashion a temple of G-d. We can be enslaved by tyrannical, maniacal people like Lavan, but if we are bearers of kedusha, we can ignore them and build edifices of holiness.

Yaakov was able to roll the stone of darkness off the well of water and life while the others just stood by, lacking the strength of purpose to accomplish the feat. They did not know that it was possible to raise the stones which impede the forces of good. They had various excuses for their inaction. Because they thought that it couldn’t be done, they didn’t even make the attempt.

Yaakov showed us that we should let nothing stand in the way of our pursuit of Torah, of goodness and of life itself.

The next time you are told that it can’t be done, or people attempt to minimize your qualities and qualifications or doubt your accomplishments, remember Yaakov Avinu and his matzeiva. Always endeavor to bring kedusha to your life, wherever you are and whatever you do.

Remember how Yaakov instructed his sons after Lavan’s tongue-lashing. Gather your strength, collect yourself and look to build, not to destroy; let your success be your response.

Your positive actions will speak louder, last longer and accomplish much more than angry words.

The parsha concludes, “V’Yaakov holach ledarko vayifge’u bo malachei Elokim. Vayomer Yaakov ka’asher ra’am machaneh Elokim zeh…” Because Yaakov undertook this course of action, he merited that malachim came to greet him as he left Lavan behind.

May we all be zoche to see the brocha in our homes and lives.