The Inheritance of Yaakov
הרב משה סתיו
In Midrash Tanchuma we find:
One who murders unintentionally, to where did he go in exile? To the cities of refuge ... Yaakov Avinu went in exile to Charan, fleeing for his life, and was afraid lest the wicked one, Esav his brother, would kill him. When G-d saw him in great trouble, He appeared to him in a dream.
This Midrash is difficult to understand. On the simple level, it comes to explain why G-d appeared to Yaakov. What is the difficulty here? Whoever examines the life history of Yaakov, as compared to that of Avraham and Yitzchak, is struck by the absolute contrast between the degree of promise, on the one hand, and the reality of life, on the other. Yaakov, who received the greatest promise of all – "an unbounded inheritance" – he, in particular, suffered throughout most of his life, and the only time period that he lived in tranquility was, once again, in the exile of Egypt. We wonder why did things transpire in this way?
Moreover, Yaakov, who achieved both the birthright and the blessings – not only did he not achieve through this any observable advantage, but rather just the opposite! He was forced to abandon his father's house, whereas Esav remained both in the Holy Land and in his father's house. As we know, the actions of the patriarchs are a sign for the descendents. This reality that Yaakov was pushed aside in favor of Esav is expressed throughout history through the subservience of Judah to the Roman Empire, and raises the question that perhaps this exile proves that, in essence, Yaakov never merited to have his birthright and blessing fulfilled. This is expressed in the Gemara Avoda Zara 11b:
Shmuel said: They have another one in Rome (the sugya lists there the heathen holidays) ... A healthy person (representing Esav. Rashi) is brought, and he is ridden atop a lame person (representing Yaakov, who limped on his leg, i.e., Esav still rules over Yaakov. Rashi) and they call out before him, ... "What gain does the deceiver have from his deceit and the cheater from his cheating?"
In other words, what did Yaakov gain by stealing the blessings, since in the end Esav rules, and the promise of redemption is false.
However, the reason for the exile is that since Yaakov got the blessings and the birthright with deceit, he has to prove that he truly deserves them. Therefore, he must withstand the test, and G-d's promise is that even in the face of exile, which wears away body and soul, Yaakov will endure, both physically and regarding the Divine destiny that is expressed through his firm commitment to Torah and his distinction as a nation in all situations. In the end, when Yaakov successfully passes all his tests, he will deserve to become "Yisrael," i.e., that the blessings were not achieved through subterfuge and trickery, but rather rightfully: "For you have striven with the Divine and with man and have prevailed." (Bereishit 32:29) Only in the future, when G-d's rule in the world will be revealed, Yisrael will be worthy of all the blessings, because they succeeded to remain committed to the Torah despite all the difficult trials of the exile.
What is an inheritance without borders? One that is not dependant at all on time and place, just as Bnei Yisrael observe and are committed to the Torah unrelated to circumstances of time and space. This is the explanation of the Midrash that asks, exile is the punishment for the murderer, who must leave his place, and Yaakov Avinu went to exile. Thus, there is concern that he lost his "place" in the world. ("Place" does not only express area, but also the state and possibility of existence.) Therefore, G-d appears to him in a dream (a dream is an actual prophecy, which Yaakov achieved when he returned to the Land in Bet-El) to encourage him and to promise him about the future. Even though now he is not on the level of perfection, nonetheless, he too is told that he is destined to return and achieve the perfection and fulfillment of all the blessings.
From here we learn that a ben-Torah has to see in all of the difficulties, the challenges, and contentions about Israel's existence in its land, a process of clarifying the truth, and through unyielding commitment to Torah and faith we, as well, will merit the fulfillment of the promise.
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