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YIP Parsha Project Parshat Vayeitzei

11/06/2013 08:55:23 PM


YIP Parsha Project

VAYEITZEI                                                                                                 Lichtman

In Parshat Vayeitzei, Lavan and Yaakov quarrel about their business arrangements and relationships, as Yaakov divines ways to prosper within the changing terms of each contract for services to which Lavan and Yaakov agree.  Then, after 20-plus years, Hashem appears to Yaakov and commands him to return to the land of his fathers.  Hashem promises Yaakov that he will be with Yaakov (31:3).  In response to this calling, Yaakov summons his main wives Rachel and Leah, who agree to gather all of their possessions and move to Yaakov’s homeland.

They collect all of their belongings, as well as with idols of Lavan that Rachel pilfers from his house.  The entourage leaves and Lavan notices that the family has left.  He pursues them, overtaking them at their camp near Mount Gilead.  There, Yaakov and Lavan air their perspectives on their intertwined histories. 

Lavan begins by asking Yaakov why he fled after concealing his intentions, thereby robbing Lavan—perhaps literally of the idols or perhaps figuratively of the opportunity to say farewell to his daughters.  Lavan declares his good faith to Yaakov by recounting how Hashem recently forbade Lavan from saying anything—whether bad or good—to Yaakov.  Lavan then observes that Yaakov has now left Lavan’s house because Yaakov ostensibly yearns to return to his father’s house.  But Lavan wonders aloud why Yaakov would have stolen Lavan’s gods. 

We will not focus here on the issue of the theft of Lavan’s idols, but on the peculiar language used by Lavan to make his case to Yaakov.  Lavan says “Ki nichsof nichsafta”—because you have so yearned [to go to your father’s house].  Many commentators (including Rashi, Sforno, Ibn Ezra) translate the words “nichsof  nichsafta” as a yearning or a deep desire for something but do not illuminate the root of this interpretation.

Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch offers that the origin of the term might relate to the word kessef, which connotes silver or currency.  This currency, as stated by Rav Hirsch is the means “whereby one attain one’s longings.”  So why then did Lavan use this particular term of nichsof nichsafta to characterize Yaakov’s stated desire to reunite with his father Yitzchak?

Perhaps Lavan intended to use this singular term for yearning as a double entendre, to underscore to Yaakov the choice that he had made to leave his livelihood behind and forsake his future income—kessef—for the spiritual gains he would like to reclaim in Canaan.  But I suggest that Lavan might have been ridiculing Yaakov, mocking him by saying in literal terms that you seek spirituality but slyly conveying another meaning to try to convince Yaakov to stay with Lavan and prosper together—“We both know, don’t we, that you are motivated by money, just like I am, right?”

Yaakov continues his journey, leaving Lavan behind.  He has made his difficult choice for spirituality and a reconnection with the values of his father’s home.

The tension between the pursuit of the spiritual gain on the one hand and the pursuit of the financial gain on the other hand continues throughout the generation and permeates each household.  This tension is elegantly preserved today in the phrase “nichsof nichsafti “in the poem Yedid Nefesh., composed in the 1500s, perhaps by the kabbalist R’ Elazatr ben Moshe Azkiri. 

In the third verse of Yedid Nefesh, the poet expresses our deep desire to reconnect our soul with the source of the soul and the ultimate source of spirituality—Hashem.   The poet quotes Lavan’s taunt to Yaakov by converting the phrase into the first person, so that we as reciters of the poem are placed inside the dialogue in this week’s parsha between Yaakov and Lavan.  This quotation highlights the tension in our yearning for reconnection with G-d while acknowledging our longing for accumulated wealth and material possessions. 

Indeed, our custom of singing Yedid Nefesh at the beginning and end of Shabbat only magnifies this meaning and this conflict.  At the beginning of Shabbat, we set aside all of our everyday priorities and efforts to accumulate money so that we might concentrate on attaining some meaningful reconnection with the spiritual wealth that might be ours.   At the conclusion of Shabbat, we often sing Yedid Nefesh as we anticipate our re-entry into the world of materialism. 

Our understanding of Yaakov’s response to the dual nature of Lavan’s taunt of nichsof nichsafta—his leaving the world of Lavan for the world of Yitzchak—and our twice-weekly reminder of this challenge in Yedid Nefesh, might provide to us a reminder of how to comport ourselves as each Shabbat begins and ends and how we must constantly choose what is truly important to us.


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