Vertluch: Parshas Shemos

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There are times in life where we are challenged by situations that seem so daunting that we don’t know how or if we will survive. There are tests which provoke and annoy us, nearly bringing us to despair. Yet, we seem to always manage to get through them. Somehow we always find the strength, the tools and the inspiration to endure, to face our next challenge. Where does this ability to tolerate and move beyond unbearable situations come from? Chazal teach us that this comes inborn within us from the accomplishments of our ancestors. The gemara in Taanis relates that R’ Yochanan states “Yaakov avinu lo meis”- Yaakov did not die, so the gemara asks, “then was he eulogized, embalmed and interred for naught?” and proceeds to answer based on a pasuk in Yirmiah “And you, fear not, my servant Yaakov, says Hashem, and do not be dismayed, O Yisroel, for behold I save you from afar and your offspring from the land of their captivity, and Yaakov shall again be silent and at ease, and no one will frighten them” which compares Yaakov to his offspring, thus as long as his offspring exist so does he.

The Medrash in Eichah describes how after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash the Avos and Moshe came to Hashem to complain about what He had allowed to happen to their people. Each one presented their case by relating the most significant sacrifice they made to Hashem and asked that in the merit of that sacrifice klal Yisroel be saved from galus. Yaakov’s claim, his self-defining sacrifice, was the effort and risks he took on behalf of his children. Withstanding life with his enemy and antithesis Lavan so he can have his children; protecting his children from his hating and murderous brother Esav; and then enduring the pain of the challenges of raising children. He closed by saying “for the majority of my days were in pain due to them, and now You won’t remember this for me and have pity on my children?”

Yaakov represents Torah, but not only Torah on its own, but also Torah as the balance of gemilas chesodim and avodah. The culmination of both and the existence created as the sum of the two. Tiferes; the splendor of Torah is the many different ways it’s observed. Some through chessed, others through avodah- some through tefillah and others by learning Torah, and yet others by simply living life by the rules of the Torah. Each path has its own value; every person is a unique individual with their own way of relating to Hashem and serving him. This is what Yaakov represents, the glory of Torah that can only be appreciated by validating every aspect of it, every manner of fulfilling it.

But, the more paths the more barricades and stumbling blocks there are. Thus in order for Yaakov to truly be the progenitor of klal Yisroel, a multitude of entities each with their own path, he had to enable us to successfully make our journey. In order to accomplish this he had to spend his life suffering through all the difficulties that would befall his offspring while maintaining his direction. This is what Yaakov meant when he said most of his life was spent in the pain of raising his children. To be a father means to take risks, to make sacrifices and suffer in order that your child can succeed. And Yaakov avinu, the final and pinnacle of the avos, the one after whom our nation is called, did that for all of us.

The gemara teaches us that although we are prohibited from referring to Avraham as Avram once his name was changed, we may still call Yaakov by that name even after his name was changed to Yisroel. It explains that once Avraham’s name was changed the Torah never calls him Avram again. Yaakov however, is continued to be called such even after his name change. A name, shem, is a description of what something is, a revelation of something’s essence. It comes from the same root as sham, there, because it tells you what lies therein. We are defined, more than by what we accomplish on our own, but by what we do for others and what others are able to accomplish because of what we do for them. Yaakov reached the highest level of serving Hashem on his own, he became Yisroel. But more significantly he was a father; he paved the way for his progeny to follow in his footsteps, each in their own way. He gave us the implements necessary to make it through our “Yaakov” stage, and advance to becoming a “Yisroel”; making it “there”, to the destination. Avram had no place once Avraham came to be; but Yaakov is still needed, even with Yisroel. We are reliant on him for the strength to cope with whatever situation we are tested with.

Hence we can read the pasuk in our parsha as follows: “v’eileh shemos b’nei Yisroel”- and there are those who have made it “there”, they have reached their destinations and have become their own “Yisroel”. “Haba-im mitzraimah”- but still they suffer on behalf of others, they are meitzar themselves for the sake of the rest of klal Yisroel’s achievement, “eis Yaakov”- they are fulfilling what it means to be like Yaakov avinu. “Ish ubaiso ba’u”- they enable every man and every member of their households to also come to that place.

Yaakov avinu spent his life braving painful experiences enabling our endurance. Thus when we take advantage of the heritage that he left us, when we use the courage to face whatever comes our way, when we utilize the tools he embedded in us, we continue his legacy and bring his efforts to fruition. There is a rule in the gemara known as “ain hekesh l’mechtza”- any comparison goes both ways. Yaakov made his life about enabling our continuance, and when we follow in his ways we ensure his continuance. Thus as long as we, his offspring, remain living in accordance to his values and the Torah that he manifested; Yaakov continues to live on through us.