Saturday, December 16, 2006

Chanukah #3

וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקב, בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו--בְּאֶרֶץ, כְּנָעַן.
“Yaakov settled in the land of his father's residence, in the land of Canaan.” (Sefer Bereishis, 37:1)

It is well known that Avraham and Sarah were very active in converting people to Judaism. There are also sources for the idea that Yitzchak and Yaakov, too, were in this business. The pasuk quoted to prove that Yitzchak converted people is that above. Chazal tell us that we shouldn’t read the Hebrew word for “settled” as “Migurei”, rather, we should read it “Migigurei”, meaning “converts.” This teaches us that the place which Yaakov settled was in the place where those that Yitzchak helped convert lived.

The Maor Vashemesh asks on this: why did Yaakov have to live in the place davka where his father’s converts lived – didn’t he have enough to take care of with his own converts? He brings down from the Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer that all of the converts that Avraham converted eventually reverted back to their old ways; none of them stayed frum. Therefore, Yaakov, not wanting the same thing to happen to his father Yitzchak’s converts, went to live with them so that they would have a Rebbe post-Yitzchak.

The Pasuk in Mishlei (15:24) says the following:

ארַח חַיִּים, לְמַעְלָה לְמַשְׂכִּיל- לְמַעַן סוּר, מִשְּׁאוֹל מָטָּה
"The path of life is above for the intelligent person, in order that he turn away from the grave below."
The Gra says that it’s obvious that one moves away from the grave because it tells us that the intelligent person goes up, meaning that it’s obvious that one who is moving up isn’t moving down. He basically answers that we may have thought that it was possible to remain on a spiritual plateau, but this is coming to teach us that there are only two directions in Yiddishkeit, up and down. If you want to avoid going down, you must remain in an upward trend. There is no stagnation.

Yaakov realized that our Yiddishkeit requires constant upkeep – it isn’t something that we can just place on a plateau for an extended amount of time. This idea is seen in a story brought down from R’ Ovadyah Yosef about the Ba’al HaTanya. One day the BHT was watching his grandson (the Tzemach Tzedek) and classmates play at recess. There was some sort of giant hill where they were playing, and they were having a contest to see who could get the highest on the hill without falling down. One by one the children would go up, get up halfway, and then fall down. Finally, the Tzemach Tzedek went and proceeded to get all the way to the top. The BHT asked his grandson how he was able to get so high, to which the TT basically said that all of the other kids, upon reaching halfway, would look down, see how far off of the ground they were, get scared and fall. His plan was to just keep on trekking up and not to look down, to avoid getting scared. The point is the same – it’s easy to say to ourselves “Look how far we’ve come”, be content, and stagnate there. But as we saw with the vort of the pasuk in Mishlei, there is no such thing as being stagnate in Yiddishkeit; we must constantly be doing more – going up, to avoid going down.

This is the whole idea with Chaukah of adding one candle each night (being Mosif v’Holeich). The famous argument Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai is whether we should start from one candle and go up each night or start with 8 and subtract each night. With the above in mind, it’s easy to see why we hold like Beis Hillel – our goal in life is to constantly be Mosif v’Holeich.


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