Thursday, November 26, 2015

PARSHAS VAYISHLACH 5776


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayishlach  
15 Kiselv 5776/ November 27, 2015

At our Shabbos table each week, I try to ask our children a challenging question based on the parsha, for a cash reward.
This past Shabbos the question was: in what way is the structure of Parshas Vayetzei unique? How does it differ from any other parsha in the Torah? The correct answer is that it is the only parsha that contains no openings in the Torah. In other words, in a Sefer Torah there are no paragraph breaks throughout the entire parsha. Parshas Vayezei is a few long continuous columns of words.
For those who do Shanyim Mikra V’echad Targum by reading from one opening in the Torah to the next, it is very challenging. For those of us who do it late Friday night (which during these winter Shabbosos, ‘late’ is around 7 p.m.) reading page after page of Unkelos without any breaks presents a real battle against head-bopping snoozes. 
Chazal explain that the open spaces in the Torah symbolize the need for one to step back and contemplate what has just occurred or has been taught. It is not merely for aesthetics. Rather, one must “learn” the open spaces, i.e. by reflecting on the lessons that were just taught.
Parshas Vayetzei contains the story of Yaakov Avinu’s descent and lingering in his personal exile in the home of Lavan. One of the greatest challenges of exile is that one is not in control of his fate and responsibilities. He is under the dominion and direction of others, subject to their whims and demands. Often those expectations are antithetical to Torah values. In such an atmosphere it is all the more challenging to contemplate what G-d expects and demands of a person in such a situation. That challenge is symbolized by the lack of open spaces in Parshas Vayetzei.
Yaakov Avinu demonstrated that one can, and must, maintain his integrity and connection to G-d even in such a challenging atmosphere.
I don’t know if there’s any message that speaks more to our generation! Think about the life of the common person living in our contemporary free world. We go to sleep with our cell phones nearby. Many of us wake up in middle of the night to check email and social media posts, which severely hinders quality sleep. The phone alarm buzzes and we start our day by checking our phones. As we munch down a quick (often unhealthy) breakfast and sip our coffee we check the news and sports. As kids wait for the bus they upload selfies onto Instagram. As adults head out to their cars they text and make phone calls.  And that’s just the morning.
In a classic Far-Side comic, Gary Larson depicts a family staring at a wall. The caption below reads “what families did before television”. There was a time when boredom was part of life. It wasn’t pleasant but it did give our minds time and space to wonder and imagine. For children that enhanced the development of their cognitive minds, for adults it meant advancements in work productivity. 
When life becomes an endless marathon of effortless brain stimulation, we never have the opportunity for introspection and reflection. Our creativity and novel thinking begins to atrophy and we become mindless robots going through the motions without depth or meaning.
Part of the reason we seek that constant stimulation is because we are afraid to be alone with ourselves. We are afraid of what we might encounter. But without it life is devoid of meaning and meaning is what makes us human.
Yaakov Avinu was able to raise the greatest of families despite the fact that that he had no external space or breaks. Somehow he was able to find internal meaning through contemplation and reflection despite the demands imposed upon him. It’s something we need to learn as well.
By now it sounds trite and clichéd but it is the truth and our only option: We can only connect internally if we learn to disconnect externally. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum  


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