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Rabbi Yaakov Hillel
Rosh Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom
Impressions of Sanctity
A Tzaddik’s Departure
“And Yaakov left Beer Sheva, and he went to Haran” (Bereshit 28:10). Rashi, citing the Sages (Bereshit Rabbah 58:6), explains the wording of this verse. “And he left: it should have said only, ‘and Yaakov went to Haran.’ Why does it [also] mention his departure [from Beer Sheva]? To teach us that the departure of a righteous individual from a place makes an impression. For when a tzaddik is in a city, he is its glory, its radiance, its beauty. When he leaves there, its glory leaves, its radiance leaves, and its beauty leaves.” “Glory” refers to good deeds, “radiance” to Torah, and “beauty” to good middot. When a tzaddik leaves, all these qualities go with him. The holiness of a tzaddik is like a powerful light source. The brilliant illumination of the light itself also casts a more distant aura. When a tzaddik departs, the bright light force is gone, but the aura, a faint glow of his spiritual light, still lingers on. This glow of sanctity will be there forever, a source of blessing to all who live there. Why do our Sages say that a tzaddik’s departure leaves behind an impression, suggesting a positive, tangible presence, rather than saying that when he leaves, there is a lack and his presence is missed?
The Mekubalim teach that the departure of any sanctified entity makes an impression (Etz Hayyim, Shaar Chaf-heh, Derush Zayin). The same is true of a righteous individual who studied Torah, prayed, and served Hashem in a certain place. He makes an imprint of sanctity there. With this in mind, we can understand an interesting incident recorded by a student of the Arizal. The Arizal would take his students to learn out in the fields,1 in order to gather the “sparks of holiness” scattered in these out-of-the-way places.2 They noticed that the Arizal always left the beaten paths, and took them instead through tortuous routes, maneuvering over boulders, bushes, tree trunks and thorns. His students wondered. There was a path; why not use it, instead of scrambling over the rocks? When they questioned him, he explained that the paths had been leveled by Arab donkey and camel drivers, who had cleared the road for themselves and their animals. The paths he led them through were paths of holiness, tread by our saintly Forefathers. By walking along them, the Forefathers had permanently imbued them with sanctity. As proof, he cited the verse, “The path of the righteous is like the glow of sunlight, growing brighter until high noon” (Mishle 4:18). The aura left behind by tzaddikim by walking the road lasts forever.
A Tzaddik’s Belongings
This is true not only of the tzaddik himself, but even of his belongings. Any object which comes into contact with a tzaddik is elevated spiritually, absorbing the impression of sanctity imprinted by his use. The Ramhal discusses this concept in Mesillat Yesharim (Chapter 1). He writes that it is a great source of spiritual elevation for any created entity to serve a tzaddik, as we learn from our Sages’ words concerning the light which the Al-mighty preserved for the righteous: “When the light saw that it would be hidden away for the righteous, it rejoiced, as is written (Mishle 13:9), ‘The light of the righteous rejoices’” (Hagigah 12a). The Ramhal also cites the Sages’ teaching about the twelve stones which Yaakov placed around his head at Mt. Moriah: “They all gathered together to one place, and each one said, ‘let the righteous one rest his head on me’” (Hullin 91b).
By going to isolated, uninhabited areas, they fulfilled the pious concept of “going into exile,” sharing, as it were, in the “exile” the Divine Presence has endured since the Destruction of the Temple. 2 According to Kabbalistic teachings, there are “sparks of holiness” (nitzotzot) scattered everywhere in our world, which must be retrieved and rectified by learning Torah in the remote places where they are located. The Hidda teaches that this is the meaning of the term shakle v’azle, literally “collecting and walking,” used in the Gemara (Devash L’Fi, Maarechet Bet, Ot tetvav.) 2
An early example of this principle is the story of our Forefather Avraham’s acquisition of the field of Efron the Hittite, the site of the Cave of Machpelah. The Torah describes the transaction in the following words: “Vayakam sedeh Efron … And the field of Efron which was in Machpelah which is before Mamre... became the possession of Avraham”(Bereshit 23:17-18). Rashi explains the significance of the unusual wording vayakam sedeh Efron, literally translated as “the field of Efron was uplifted.” He writes, “Tekumah haytah lo. It was uplifted in that it left the possession of a commoner and became the possession of a king.” The sole change in the property was the transfer of ownership, and yet, once it became the possession of our saintly Forefather Avraham, even a simple plot of ground was spiritually elevated. An insight from the Hatam Sofer teaches us how very great the impact of an owner on his belongings can be (Commentary on Bereshit 27:19,36). When Yitzhak grew old, he instructed his son Esav to slaughter an animal and prepare a meal for him, so that he would be worthy of a blessing. Rivkah, who had a greater awareness of the true spiritual standing of her twin sons, overheard the conversation, and insisted that Yaakov pose as Esav and receive the blessings in his stead. To aid in the impersonation, she had Yaakov wear Esav’s cherished one-of-akind clothing. The Hatam Sofer points out that for a tzaddik such as Yaakov, his speech to his father on this occasion was perhaps a bit gruff – he told Yitzhak that he had done what he wanted, and that he should just sit down and eat so that he could get his blessing. In addition, Yaakov, an extremely pious person, spoke in a manner which lent itself to double meanings. Esav, on the other hand, when he approached his father to serve him, was surprisingly polite, even addressing him in the third person (Bereshit 27:1-31). What had happened to make the brothers step out of character like this? The Hatam Sofer explains. When Yaakov spoke brusquely to Yitzhak, he was wearing Esav’s clothing. The garments belonging to this wicked man had a negative impact on Yaakov’s behavior. By the time he removed them, though, he had imparted some of his own piety and sanctity to the clothing, so that when Esav next put them on, he was moved to speak respectfully to Yitzhak. Another example involving Yaakov is his overnight stay at Mt. Moriah, the future site of the Bet HaMikdash, while on his way to Lavan’s home in Haran. Yaakov had just spent fourteen years of intensive study in the yeshivah of Shem and Ever – so intensive, our Sages tell us, that during that entire time, he did not once stretch out in a bed for a good night’s sleep. When he settled down for the night in the open field, he set up twelve stones from the altar erected by Avraham as a protective
barrier around his head. One stone would be the “pillow” on which he would rest his head. All the stones began clamoring for the privilege of serving as Yaakov’s pillow, and miraculously, the twelve stones merged into one (Bereshit 28:11, Rashi; Bereshit Rabbah 68:11,13; Hullin 91b). Our Sages teach that the twelve stones represent the twelve Tribes of Israel (Bereshit Rabbah 68:11). They combined into one single stone to show that they all shared the same common goal, that of serving the tzaddik Yaakov. The Torah continues, “And Yaakov rose early in the morning, and he took the stone he had placed under his head, and he set it up as a monument and he poured oil over it” (Bereshit 28:18). Centuries later, this stone monument became the cornerstone of the Bet HaMikdash. In this case, Yaakov had merely rested his head on the stone while he slept. And yet, this was enough to instill it with such sanctity that it became the very foundation of our Holy Temple! It follows that the physical person of a tzaddik who lives a life of pure holiness is itself imbued with very great sanctity. We also find this concept in the teachings of our Sages. They relate the story of an elderly man from the Galilee was able to annul a problematic vow made by Rabbi Shimon. When the Sages asked him how he had known what to do, he told them that he was in possession of Rabbi Meir’s staff. Just looking at this holy object had enlightened him with wisdom (Jerusalem Talmud Nedarim 29b). With this in mind, we can also understand the events surrounding a halchic dispute among the Sages. Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol (the Great) ruled one way, and the other Sages ruled the opposite. In an attempt to prove his point, Rabbi Eliezer said, “‘If the halachah is in keeping with my opinion, let the walls of the bet midrash prove it.’ The walls of the bet midrash started tilting downward. Rabbi Yehoshua reprimanded them, saying, ‘If Torah scholars are arguing with one another about a matter of halachah, what is it to you?’ They did not fall because of the honor of Rabbi Yehoshua, and they did not straighten up because of the honor of Rabbi Eliezer” (Baba Metzia 59b). What sort of proof are “the walls of the bet midrash,” and what relevance do they have to a halachic dispute? While they obviously could not testify to the truth of a halachic ruling, they could testify to something else: Rabbi Eliezer’s enormous stature as a Torah scholar. The walls of the bet midrash where he had spent so many hours, days, and years in intensive learning had absorbed the sanctity of his Torah study, so much so that they defied nature and leaned over in his honor, in order to prove his point.
What was true of inanimate objects belonging to our great Sages was also true of the animals they owned. Our Sages tell us, “If the ancients are sons of angels then we are sons of man (human beings). And if the ancients are sons of man, then we are like donkeys, and not like the donkey of Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa and of Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair, but like other donkeys” (Shabbat 112b). Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair’s donkey was special indeed; our Sages relate that it could tell with just a quick whiff whether or not its fodder had been tithed (Hullin 7a)! The Arizal teaches that simply by riding on it, Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair had elevated a humble animal to an impressive level of spirituality (Shaar HaMitzvot, Parashat Ekev, p. 42a). As we see, a great tzaddik has the power to imbue even inanimate objects, as well as living beings, with something of his sanctity.
Imprints of Evil
There is a principle that “G-d has made the one corresponding to the other” (Kohelet 7:14), meaning two opposing forces which parallel one another. Just as the sanctity of the righteous has the power to elevate, so too, the impurity of the wicked has the power to defile and debase. This principle is highlighted in King David’s words, “Happy is the man who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked, and in the way of the sinners he did not stand, and in a gathering place of scoffers he did not sit” (Tehillim 1:1). The wording of the verse indicates that it was not only when the sinners and scoffers were physically present that he stayed away from their haunts. Even after they had left the scene, he still kept his distance, because the imprint of impurity that the wicked impart clings to the location permanently. The power of that entrenched impurity affects those who stand or sit there, even long after they are gone. Based on this concept, we can explain our Sages’ teaching in Avot (3:2), which cites this verse: “Rabbi Hanina ben Teradyon says, two who sit together with no words of Torah between them are a gathering of scoffers, as it says, ‘And in a gathering place of scoffers he did not sit.’” Our Sages’ statement is surprising. How can we imagine two Jews sitting together without sharing words of Torah? The Tanna tells us how this came about: it is because they are seated in “a gathering place of scoffers.” Sometime before these two gentlemen took their seats, the room had been occupied by sinners and
scoffers, who defiled it with their evil deeds and words. The bad influence sank in, causing even those who came by later, when they were already gone, to sit idly and waste a golden opportunity for Torah study. The Tanna continues, “But two who sit together and there are words of Torah between them, the Divine Presence resides between them.” When two people sit together and discuss Torah, it also tells us something about the place where they are sitting: it must be that the Shechinah was already present, brought to dwell there by tzaddikim who sanctified the location with their Torah and mitzvot. Their positive influence still lingers on, and it inspires those who come later to follow in their footsteps. We find this principle in another teaching of our Sages as well. “When a person sins in a closed room, who will testify against him? The walls and the roof” (Taanit 11a). Our actions, carried out in the privacy of our homes, leave an indelible impression on the walls around us. The Sages describe the devastating extent of the damage wrought even on lifeless entities by evil: “And G-d said to Noah, the end of all flesh has come before Me, for the land is full of corruption because of them. I will destroy them from the earth” (Bereshit 6:13). They teach that “even the three handbreadths that the plow penetrates into the earth were destroyed” (Bereshit Rabbah 31:7) The earth was lifeless and obviously incapable of sin, yet it was affected nonetheless by the wickedness of its inhabitants. As the Torah tells us, “And the earth had become corrupted before G-d” (Bereshit 6:11), leading to its destruction.
Dedicated by the Akedah
As we said, when Yaakov slept on Mt. Moriah, where he had his prophetic dream, he established it as the future site of the Bet Hamikdash. However, even before Yaakov, Avraham and Yitzhak had consecrated it as the future site of the Mikdash, with Akedat Yitzhak (the Binding of Yitzhak). Akedat Yitzhak was an incredibly lofty act of utter dedication to the Al-mighty on the part of our two saintly Forefathers. For each of them, the test was greater than we may realize, because with the Akedah, they were called upon to negate their own nature, the inherent lifelong trait related to the root of their souls.
Avraham was the ish hahesed, the man of lovingkindness; hesed was his very essence. At the Akedah, he was commanded to behave cruelly not merely to a fellow human being, but to his beloved, long-awaited only son. What is more, with the act of slaughtering this son he would literally lose everything, for this was the child of whom Hashem had said, “For through Yitzhak you will be considered to have descendents” (Bereshit 21:12). By killing him, he would be severing his sole living branch with his own hands. There was even more to it than that. Avraham had spent his life educating the world about the evils of human sacrifice, in particular the unspeakable practice of sacrificing one’s children to the Molech, an infamous idolatrous deity of the times. Now, with a single swipe of the blade, he would destroy his entire way of life, his future, his progeny, and everything he had stood for – in public – throughout his life. Because he was Avraham Avinu, he did it without hesitation, doubt, or question. When it came to fulfilling Hashem’s Will, Avraham, the ish hahesed, was stronger than iron. Yitzhak’s primary trait was gevurah (Might), also known as din (Strict Judgment). The trait of din is expressed in our Sages’ teaching, “let judgment (din) pierce the mountain” (Yevamot 92a). Din does not veer from the straight and narrow path. From the standpoint of din, there was no reason for Yitzhak to be killed; he certainly did not deserve to die. By Yitzhak’s inherent nature, he should have insisted that he be allowed to live and carry on his mission, without allowing anything whatsoever to sidetrack him from this purpose. And yet, Yitzhak gave himself up without a second thought, out of sheer love for the Al-mighty – a supreme act of hesed. With this most difficult of trials, Avraham and Yitzhak reached the highest levels of perfection, laying the foundation for the building of the Bet HaMikdash.
Sanctified with Torah
However, the Heavenly Chariot is only complete when it has all three legs. Yaakov, the third Forefather, also had to lay his own foundations at the site of the Temple. Yaakov, the “tzaddik of the world” (Avodat HaKodesh, Chapter 64), was the elite of the Forefathers (Bereshit Rabbah 76:1). Our Sages tell us that “his bed was perfect, [meaning that] all his sons were righteous” (Vayikra Rabbah 36:5), and that “his image is engraved on Hashem’s Throne” (Targum Yonatan, Bereshit 28:12). In
his sleep, Yaakov completed the task begun by Avraham and Yitzhak in their greatest of trials. What was Yaakov’s special spiritual strength? Yaakov, the prototype talmid hacham, was the “perfect man who dwelled in [the] tents” of Torah study (Bereshit 25:27, Rashi). Our Sages teach that he “established tents for Torah study (Pesikta Rabbati 5). He embodied truth, as we learn from the verse “Grant truth to Yaakov” (Michah 7:20), and there is no truth other than Torah (Jerusalem Talmud Rosh Hashanah 3:8). Yaakov was Torah: this was his great spiritual power. Let us try to understand more about how Yaakov completed the holy task begun by Avraham and Yitzhak. On his way to Haran and the home of Lavan, Yaakov made a stop to pray at Mt. Moriah, the holy site where his saintly father and grandfather had prayed. It was still daylight when he concluded his prayers, so he prepared to continue with his journey. Suddenly the world around him turned pitch black, in the middle of the day! The darkness was so thick and heavy that he was unable to travel any further. Hashem had caused the sun to set early in order to detain Yaakov in the place where His Shechinah was destined to dwell (Bereshit 28:11, Rashi; Bereshit Rabbah 58:10). As we said, during the fourteen years that Yaakov learned in the yeshivah of Shem and Ever, he had never allowed himself a decent night’s sleep. He reached such a high level of sanctity that when he did finally lie down on Mt. Moriah, this act alone made so powerful an impact on the sacred spot that it laid the foundation for the building of the Bet HaMikdash. That night, Yaakov was granted the prophetic vision of “a ladder standing on earth and its head reaches the Heavens, and angels of G-d are going up and down upon it” (Bereshit 28:12). Through this dream, he was shown the holiness of the place where he was lying: it had a direct connection to Hashem’s Heavenly Throne. In the words of the Torah, “And behold, Hashem was standing over him” (28:13). This place was the connecting link between Heaven and earth. Hashem told Yaakov, “I am Hashem, the G-d of Avraham your father and the G-d of Yitzhak. The land you are lying on I will give to you and to your descendents” (ibid.). The connection between Yaakov and the land already existed, because of the groundwork laid by Avraham and Yitzhak. Now Yaakov, by lying down on that ground, forged the ultimate bond, consecrating it as the future site of the Bet HaMikdash, G-d’s dwelling place on earth.
Our Sages teach that just as there is a Bet HaMikdash on earth, there is a parallel Bet HaMikdash in Heaven (see Rashi on Bereshit 28:17). The site where Yaakov slept would forever be the junction connecting the two. Through this sacred spot, blessing would descend to earth, to be channeled to Eretz Yisrael and from there, to the rest of the world (Zohar, vol. III, p. 36a). Of this Hashem told him, “and all the families of the earth will be blessed in you” (28:14). When Yaakov awoke, he understood how very holy this mountain was. He said, “Indeed G-d is in this place, and I did not know.” Realizing that it was the site of the earthly counterpart of the Heavenly Bet HaMikdash, he continued, “How awesome is this place. It is none other then the House of G-d, and this is the Gateway to Heaven” (28:18) Yaakov then “took the stone he had placed under his head, and he set it up as a monument and he poured oil over it” (ibid.). This was the stone formed by the twelve smaller stones which had longed to serve the saintly Yaakov. With the physical act of lifting the stone and dedicating as an altar to G-d, he established it as the future cornerstone of the Bet Hamikdash, the eternal resting place of the Shechinah. The power of a talmid hacham’s presence is great enough to found the Bet HaMikdash. Yaakov, who embodied Torah, had only to rest his head on the ground to complete the work of his saintly ancestors.3
The Founders of the Sanctuary
The Zohar (vol. I p.11a) interprets the verse “And I, with Your great lovingkindness shall come to Your House, I will bow to your Holy Sanctuary in fear of You” (Tehillim 5:8) in relation to the Forefathers: “‘And I, with Your great lovingkindness,’ is Avraham. ‘I will bow to your Holy Sanctuary’ is Yitzhak. ‘In fear of You’ is Yaakov.” What does the Zohar teach us with this statement? The whole world was founded on the Rock of Shetiyah, at the heart of the Bet HaMikdash. This site on Mt. Moriah is the gateway to Heaven, through which Heavenly influx descends to earth, as our Forefather Yaakov saw in his prophetic
We may find it surprising that such great spiritual significance is attributed to Yaakov’s act of lying down to sleep, surely a mundane physical function. However, this teaches us an important lesson. Everything a Torah scholar does is imbued with sanctity. Our Sages mention the concept of “the Dew of Resurrection” which Hashem will use to restore the dead to life in the future (Hagigah 12b). That dew will be composed of the moisture that slips out of a weary Torah’s scholar’s mouth as he falls into an exhausted sleep, because that too is holy. 9
dream. Even before Creation, Hashem knew that this would be the place where He would rest His Divine Presence, just as He foresaw everything that would transpire throughout the history of the world. Nevertheless, it was Hashem’s Will that the site be consecrated specifically by all three Forefathers. Avraham and Yitzhak dedicated it with the Akedah, when Avraham sacrificed his son and Yitzhak sacrificed his own life. This great act of devotion sanctified it as the place where the Shechinah would dwell on earth, where sacrifices would be offered and favorably accepted by the Al-mighty. With the power of his Torah, Yaakov did even more. By sleeping on Mt. Moriah, he established it as the site parallel to the Bet HaMikdash on high. This is the meaning of his prophetic dream of “a ladder standing on earth and its head reaches the Heavens.” It was Yaakov who made the Rock of Shetiyah the link connecting Heaven and earth. This was the enormous spiritual impact the tzaddik Yaakov made when he lay down to sleep.
In our times, perhaps even more than ever before, this parashah bears a critical and very relevant lesson. We are inundated with negative influences at every turn. Technology, the media, and sophisticated communications surround us everywhere. The messages they impart and the morals they espouse are antithetical to Torah, and we are constantly exposed. Of spiritual demons our Sages write, “Had permission been granted to see them, no human being would be able to survive it” (Berachot 6a). Today, the very air we breathe is filled with “demons” of another sort: sound waves and visual images which freely transmit the worst of wickedness and heresy to their attentive audiences. Our senses are relentlessly assaulted with impurity, and it makes its mark on us from our earliest days. We read of our people’s great Torah scholars in earlier eras and we are awed. They were holy even in their youth, and acquired extensive, in-depth knowledge of all facets of Torah. They achieved great heights in sanctity, refined middot, and attained towering levels of spirituality. And yet, they were also people. How did they climb so high? The answer is simple: they were spared the flood of negative, impure influences which assails our generation. We also want our children to grow in Torah, middot, and fear of Heaven, please G-d. We can give them that opportunity, by clearing our homes and our lives of the
impure influences which destroy sanctity. If we wonder why some of our children feel little attachment to Torah and fall away from our sacred traditions, G-d forbid, this is the answer. From childhood on, they are filled with impressions and ideas contradictory to Torah values. They do their work, and our children are harmed, sometimes even lost entirely, G-d forbid. We as parents can make a firm commitment to do our very best to guard our precious children from negative influences. We can see to it that they are exposed only to what is positive and holy. If we do so, then with Hashem’s help, we will be privileged to see great nahat from our sons and daughters.
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