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YIP Parsha Project Parshat Vayishlach

11/14/2013 03:57:22 AM


YIP Parsha Project

Parsha Vayishlach                                                                                        Blackman


In this week’s parsha Rashi, quoting from the midrash, gives a famous insight into Yaakov’s declaration to Esav that “I have been living with Lavan” (im Lavan garti) . The midrash notes that the word garti has the numerical  value of 613. As we know, we have a mesorah (tradition) that we have been given 613 or taryag mitzvot and so by Yaakov describing his stay with Lavan using the word garti, he was indicating the completeness of his observance of Torah values.

Rabbi Yaakov Ruderman, founder and rosh yeshiva of Ner Israel, points out a challenge in understanding this Midrash. If Yaakov did indeed fulfilled all six hundred and thirteen mitzvot–the entire Torah! – then he certainly did not learn any of Lavan’s evil ways, which would have been a direct violation of the Torah.

Clearly, observed Rabbi Ruderman, it is possible for a person to keep the entire Torah, to fulfill every mitzvah meticulously, while still living amongst those who emulate the lifestyle of Lavan.

To expand a bit on this crucial point, forty years ago, the death of Orthodoxy in America was widely predicted but the opposite has come to pass. These past forty years have seen an incredible resurgence of Orthodox growth, of Torah study, and mitzvah observance. But does our greater observance of halacha mean more religiosity?  Does our greater observance bring us closer to Hashem? Can this prevent us from being overly fascinated with American materialism which might push us further away from being dedicated to Hashem?

Is it possible to be observant and yet never think about what Hashem wants from us only of what we want from Hashem?

This is exactly the message of the Midrash. Yaakov is declaring that “I kept all 613 mitzvot while living with Lavan”.  I have been perfectly observant. I have also remained religious. Moreover, I did not allow Lavan’s evil ways to influence my character. I kept my values intact. What I am, the way I live, the way I act, the way I think, the values I subscribe to, the goals to which I aspire - all of these are informed by my connection to Hashem and his Torah. They were not influenced by Lavan’s evil ways and this is the message we need to remember in all of our affairs.

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