Yaakov and His Posterity
Yaakov is described as “the chosen one of the Patriarchs.” Among the unique characteristics by which Yaakov can be distinguished from the other Patriarchs is the posterity which he left. “From Avraham descended Yishmael, and from Yitzchak descended Esav;” i.e., their holiness did not encompass all of their children.
In particular, the Hebrew phrase translated as “descended,” ממנו יצא , literally means “he went out from him,” i.e., Yishmael and Esav withdrew their connection to Avraham and Yitzchak. With regard to Yaakov, by contrast, it is stated: “his posterity was perfect”; the holiness of Yaakov our Patriarch encompassed all his descendants.
It is true that with regard to Reuven, it is said: “He profaned his father’s couch.” Our Sages, however, state that this does not mean he committed a sin. “Whoever says Reuven sinned is surely speaking in error.” Reuven was defending his mother’s honor.
But the very fact that the Torah relates this incident in a manner which can be interpreted to mean that Reuven sinned indicates that with regard to his high spiritual plane, his action surely reflected a deficiency, as explained in the works of our Sages and in the teachings of Chassidus, beginning with the Baal Shem Tov. Nonetheless, Reuven received Yaakov’s entire spiritual heritage indeed, to a greater degree than his brothers, as it says: “greater in position and in power.” Even in his decline, he is described as “Yaakov’s firstborn.”
(This is a position of status, as reflected in our Sages interpretation of the command: “Honor your father and mother.” The Hebrew statement employs the word את which our Sages interpret as “including the elder brother,” i.e., the honor due one’s elder brother is an extension of the honor due one’s father. R. Chayim Vital explains that the primary dimension of the father’s spirit is invested in his eldest son. Thus by honoring the eldest son, one is honoring the father.)
The uniqueness of Yaakov’s posterity enables us to comprehend the statement of the Talmud: “The beauty of Yaakov is comparable to the beauty of Adam, the first man.” Within Adam were included all the souls of the subsequent generations. Therefore every one of his deeds affected mankind in its entirety. As such, the spiritual decline he suffered through the sin of the Tree of Knowledge brought about a decline in all subsequent generations. For this reason, there are righteous men who died “because of the counsel of the serpent,” i.e., the only reason they were forced to leave this world is the sin of Adam, the first man.
Similarly, Yaakov possessed “the beauty of Adam,” i.e., he also included within him the souls of all subsequent generations. As such, all his positive achievements affected his descendants as well for “a positive attribute is more powerful than the attribute of retribution.”
Empowering His Descendants
The stories in the Torah are not merely chronicles of history, but rather lessons in our Divine service. This is particularly true with regard to “the deeds of the Patriarchs,” which serve as “a sign for their descendants.” From the above explanations, it is apparent that all the events which the Torah describes in the life of Yaakov contain even greater significance, for their ripples are felt in the souls of the entire Jewish people; they were all included in his soul.
The Torah’s narratives concerning Yaakov serve as pointers and empowerment for the souls of his descendants as they are revealed in this physical world. Indeed, the directives derived from these narratives have a greater relevance than those derived from the narratives concerning Avraham or Yitzchak.
A Mission and its Fruits
In Parshas Vayeitzei, the Torah relates that Yaakov left Beer Sheva in Eretz Yisrael to journey to Lavan’s home in Charan. As he began his journey, “he encountered the place.” Afterwards, the Torah relates that he arrived at Lavan’s home, where he worked for 20 years, married, and raised his family. And the parshah concludes by describing his return to Eretz Yisrael , at which time he was “met by angels of G‑d.”
As mentioned above, all these events are relevant and serve as directives for every Jew. The mission of every Jew is to leave Eretz Yisrael , and “the tents of Shem and Ever,” i.e., the environment of Torah scholarship, for the intent of study is “to bring to deed.” This involves “going to Charan,” a place associated with the arousal of G‑d’s anger, i.e., it is necessary to go to the very hub of the world. There one will encounter Lavan the Aramite, and one’s service will involve elevating the sparks of holiness which he possesses. It is in such an environment that a Jew must establish “perfect progeny.”
If a person follows this course of action, the “journey to Charan” will not involve a genuine descent. Instead, “the man [will have] prodigious success” in both material and spiritual matters. And ultimately, as one returns to Eretz Yisrael, he will be “met by the angels of G‑d.”
The Zohar contrasts Yaakov’s departure for Charan with his departure for Eretz Yisrael , and explains: Before Yaakov went to Charan to work and raise his family, it is written: “he encountered the place.” Although he had studied much Torah in the School of Ever, it was he who journeyed to and sought out “the place,” i.e., the place where G‑dliness was revealed. Moreover, the revelation came only in a dream.
After completing his mission in Charan, he was “met by angels of G‑d,” the angels and G‑d Himself, as it were sought him out. And this revelation did not come in a dream, but while he was awake.
(The Midrash states that Yaakov was met by 600,000 angels or 1,200,000 angels. The Zohar, the inner dimension of the Torah, reveals the inner dimension of this experience, and explains that it was G‑d Himself who was revealed to him.)
Similar concepts apply with regard to every Jew. As long as he is “in Eretz Yisrael,” i.e., involved in matters of holiness, with his own concerns, he may be able to scale great heights, but he can never attain the peaks to which he can ascend after his “journey to Charan,” working with the world, drawing other Jews close to their heritage, making them Jews, as it were.
And when a person “leaves Eretz Yisrael ” to go out and work in the world and with other Jews, he is imbued with strength from above to carry out his mission. This is alluded to by the phrase, “he encountered the place.”
Afterwards, when he has accomplished his mission, through his Divine service he will draw down a higher light for the “arousal from above” that follows an “arousal from below” is superior and he is “met by the angels of G‑d.”
(Adapted from Sichos Of The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Gimmel Cheshvan, 5721) Translated by R' Eliyahu Touger