Parshas Vayigash:
A Lasting Impression

Rabbi Nahum Spirn


In this week's parsha (Bereishis, 46, 2), Hashem appears to Yaakov b'mar'os halayla, in a vision of the night, by definition, a miracle. The Meshech Chochma, R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, points out that these words, which imply impending darkness, are only used to describe Hashem's appearance to Yaakov, but never His encounters with Yitzchak or Avraham. In Yaakov's case he needed to be "miraculously" reassured as he is about to enter the darkness of the Egyptian exile.

Simultaneously, Yaakov sends Yehudah ahead to Egypt. According to the Midrash, the purpose was for him to set up a Beis Medrash.Yaakov does not rely on miraculous promises and he realizes the only way to assure Jewish continuity during the long Egyptian exile is to make sure his descendants learn for themselves, engaging their energies and their minds in Torah. Their own work will be necessary if they are to spiritually survive.

Ba'alei Mussar have pointed out: Sometimes people say, "If only G-d would show me a miracle, then I would believe." But the historical reality is that miracles alone have never had a lasting religious effect on those who saw them. When Eliyahu HaNavi performed miracles on Har HaCarmel (Melachim I,18), the Jews all proclaimed, "Hashem is G-d!" Yet immediately following, the Navi continues to describe the idol worship which was prevalent in the land of Israel.

On the other hand, at the beginning of the Second Temple era, the Jews were on a very low religious level, violating Shabbos, etc. (see the Book of Ezra). However, by the time of the Chashmonaim, we know the Jews valued Shabbos to the point where they were initially unwilling to fight the Greeks on Shabbos. This was total religious reversal. What succeeded where miracles failed?

The answer is education. Ezra publicly taught everyone Torah. This education involved hard work, sweat, and tears, trying to understand and to internalize the Torah's ideas and ideals. This was not a "miracle" or a free gift from Hashem, but our own hard work and that is what has a lasting effect.

It is only through diligent Torah study, ameilus b'Torah, that we can thrive in our long, dark galus.

May we be zocheh to make a true and lasting commitment to Torah and mitzvos and merit the time when all Jews will proclaim "Hashem is G-d."

Rabbi Spirn, a member of the Choshen Mishpat Kollel of Chicago, teaches in the Hebrew Theological College. Rabbi Spirn also learns daily at the Chicago Community Kollel.

Parsha Encounters is coordinated by Rabbi Zvi Feiner and edited by Barbara Horwitz.



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