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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Vayetzei "Maintain Your Bridges"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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I have often thought it peculiar that Americans publicize their own fallacies. While they might not wear their deficiencies on their sleeves per se, they definitely advertise one of their most core problems on their shirts: GAP!

There is indeed a serious gap in our overall sense of fulfillment and quality of happiness. Everyone seems to be searching for a life of bliss, and yet happiness eludes the vast majority of Americans. There is something missing, and many cannot seem to put their finger on it. The question is how can they fill that GAP[1]?

The Ba’al Haturim notes that Parshas Vayeztei is the only parsha in the Torah which has absolutely no breaks from beginning until end. Characteristically, in the Torah scroll there are periodic breaks, analogous to chapter headings[2]. Parshas Vayetzei however, reads like one elongated chapter.

Rav Gedalia Schorr zt’l[3] explained that Parshas Vayetzei contains the story of Yaakov Avinu in exile. At the beginning of the parsha he departs from the spiritual comforts of his parent’s home and travels to the home of his duplicitous uncle (and soon-to-be father-in-law) Lavan in Charan. In Lavan’s home he encounters numerous challenges to his integrity and endurance. Yet he perseveres and raises a family of twelve righteous sons from his four wives. After twenty-two years, he has to escape Lavan’s home like a fugitive in the night. As he nears home he prepares for his fateful encounter with his vengeance-seeking brother, Eisav.

Our Sages explain that the empty spaces in the Torah symbolize the need for a cognitive break in order to process and internalize the lessons embedded in the previous verses. Yaakov Avinu however, could not afford any cognitive breaks per se. To successfully transcend the challenges of exile Yaakov had to maintain his psychological connection with his parent’s ideals and values. That is how he remained committed despite the isolation of exile.

Rav Schorr quotes the Zohar which states that if a person has to descend into a deep pit, he first secures a rope to a rock above ground and only then begins to slowly lower himself into the abyss. All the while he maintains his tight grasp on the rope, even as he allows himself to descend further. That rope is his lifeline to the world above and he needs it to hoist himself out when the time comes.

Yaakov needed to maintain an inextricable attachment with all he had accomplished and was connected to prior to his departure. There was no place for a gap of any kind. Even while physically living in the home of Lavan, Yaakov had to still be mentally connected with the home of Yitzchak and Rivkah, as well as the yeshivos in which he had studied Torah. He left as the one who “dwelled in tents”, and had to ensure that, at least cognitively, he never left those tents.

It is prevalent in our circles that young men and women spend a year or more engaged in Torah study, whether abroad or closer to home. When that year/years comes to an end and life proceeds rapidly with all of its endemic pressures it becomes increasingly challenging to maintain a connection with the spiritual highs experienced during the time spent in yeshiva/seminary.

Many young men and women develop dreams and aspirations during their time of study about how they would like to build their home and family, and about its level of religiosity and commitment to Torah and mitzvos observance. But as the realities of life run their course those dreams are often lost in the nebulous winds of time.

One of the greatest defenses against the tragic loss of such lofty aspirations is to maintain a connection with that experience. That small connection keeps the experience as well as those dreams and hopes in the forefront of one’s mind and lends a certain passion to those hopes and goals. A few examples follow:

Every Friday the Mirrer Yeshiva of Yerushalayim emails a Torah thought from one of its Rabbeim to its thousands of alumni. Every Friday as those alumni find that email, even before they read the d’var Torah, it secures a connection with their yeshiva years.

For the last few years virtually every Thursday at 2 p.m. Rabbi Yisroel Reisman[4] delivers 10-15 minutes of Torah thoughts based on the parsha or current events via phone. There is a number to call in to hear it live. The divrei Torah are then transcribed and emailed.

Although anyone can listen the system was created for Rabbi Reisman’s former students to reconnect with their rebbe every week. Although I am not an actual student of Rabbi Reisman[5] I enjoy listening/reading the divrei Torah. I find it especially meaningful when Rabbi Reisman quotes a gemara or a commentary and says ‘You may remember this point from when we learned this sugya (topic) in yeshiva’. It’s an instant reconnection with those days spent engrossed in Torah learning while in yeshiva.

Chabad shluchim (emissaries) dispatched all over the world, maintain constant connection with Chabad’s headquarters in Crown Heights. In addition every year there is a mass gathering of all of the shluchim in Brooklyn.

Those who studied in yeshivos often have pictures of their Roshei Yeshiva hanging in their homes. That too serves as a beautiful reminder to the entire family of where one attributes and maintains his roots in Torah and Avodas Hashem[6].

Life moves at a frenzied pace, and only seems to pick up speed as the years pass. While everyone has certain ‘bridges to burn’ and get past, it is vital that we maintain and strengthen our spiritual bridges to the roots of our past. That is the only way to ensure that the gap of exile doesn’t develop within us. That is how Yaakov maintained his greatness in the home of Lavan; there was never a gap!

“Yaakov went out from Be’er Sheva and he went to Charan[7]

“Yaakov… called the name of that place Machanayim[8]

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[1] Switching to Old Navy just won’t solve the core issue…

[2] Those ‘breaks’ are known as ‘pesuchos’ (open) or ‘stumos’ (closed) depending how large the break is.

[3] Ohr Gedalya

[4] Rav of Agudas Yisroel of Madison and Rosh Yeshiva in Torah Vodaas. He is also a noted lecturer and author.

[5] Although through his shiurim and the aforementioned divrei Torah I am a student many times over…

[6] Although I am sure there are some seminaries that do send such periodic emails to their alumni, I am unsure why many seminaries do not do so. Womern at all stages of life can surely use that chicuk, especially as the pressures of life mount.

[7] Opening verse of Parshas Vayetzei

[8] Final verse in Parshas Vayetzei

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