kiryat arbaOur forefather Ya’akov overcomes enormous obstacles on his path to being enshrined as one of the founding fathers of the Jewish nation. At the outset of Parshat Va’yetze, he leaves Be’er Sheva on his way to Haran.

In the previous parsha, Ya’akov “tricked” his brother, Esav into selling him the rights to the blessings of the firstborn and tricked him two-fold at Yitzkak’s deathbed when Rivkah (who preferred Ya’akov over Esav) conceived–and brought to fruition–a plan to fool Yitzhak into believing that Ya’akov was really Esav, hence conferring the blessings of the firstborn on hi.

On his way to Haran, Ya’akov “hits” (there are many parshanuyot on this somewhat peculiar wording) “that place” (Rashi says it was Har Ha’moriah, site of the future Temple) and dreams the dream with the angels ascending and descending from a ladder whose base is on the ground and which reaches the Heavens.

Ya’akov goes on to work 20 years for Lavan, and in return marries his two daughters Leah and Rachel. Lavan tricks Ya’akov into marrying Leah following the initial seven years; Ya’akov agrees to work an additional seven to merit marrying Rachel, and then, yet another six to get a portion of Lavan’s flock.

I wanted to focus on verses כא-כ of the parsha:  כ וַיִּדַּר יַעֲקֹב, נֶדֶר לֵאמֹר:  אִם-יִהְיֶה אֱלֹהִים עִמָּדִי, וּשְׁמָרַנִי בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי הוֹלֵךְ, וְנָתַן-לִי לֶחֶם לֶאֱכֹל, וּבֶגֶד לִלְבֹּשׁ.  כא וְשַׁבְתִּי בְשָׁלוֹם, אֶל-בֵּית אָבִי; וְהָיָה יְהוָה לִי, לֵאלֹהִים. The biggest question on this verse that both Rashi and the Ramban address is:

  • Why is Ya’akov making a neder (vow) to be faithful to Hashem only if He protects Ya’akov wherever he goes, provides him with sustenance, clothing, and a safe return? Doesn’t Ya’akov have any basic emunah!

Rashi answers that Ya’akov wants to ensure that Lavan’s trickery doesn’t have an effect on him and that his seed should be perfect.

Ramban, on the other hand, says that (translated from Hebrew): This is not a condition as Rashi says, but a vow and “unless I return to my father’s home, I will not follow in the ways of Hashem in the Promised Land at the location of this stone where I will built a House of G-d and bring the ma’aser. And there’s a (secret) in this matter (from כתובות ק”י): He who lives outside of ‘The Land’ is like he who has no God.”

There are numerous proofs throughout the מקרא that one is not fulfilling his obligations as a Jew–be it religious or secular–if he doesn’t live in Israel. This is especially obvious today when we’ve returned to our homeland.

I remember a slogan from the early 2000’s when I made aliyah and the Second Intifada was raging: “זה בידיים שלנו”–“This is in our hands!” How true! It’s not up to Obama or the E.U. or the U.N. Whether we return to our homeland or not is in our hands. There’s no need to make a vow like Ya’akov did when leaving his home to journey to Haran to escape his brother’s wrath. We must, however, commit ourselves to making aliyah. The spiritual aliyah–an ascent to a world of Torah and mitzvot is far from enough. We must commit ourselves to the physical (arguably more important) aliyah–aliyah to Israel.