Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayetze 5778
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
Having Israel Always in our Mind
Parashat Vayetze comprises a period of 20 years in the life of our patriarch Jacob. The parasha starts with Jacob leaving his home to go to his mother’s brother Laban, who lives in Charan, outside the limits of the Promised Land. Jacob is leaving home because his brother Esau planned to kill him (Genesis 28:10). The parasha ends with Jacob leaving his uncle Laban and coming back to the Land of Israel.
Parashat Vayetze is written in a very particular way. Usually, paragraphs in the scroll of the Torah are separated by blank spaces. Every Torah scroll needs to have these separations, which are similar to the more modern punctuation mark, the period. There are two types of separations between paragraphs: a) P’tucha (“open”), when the next paragraph starts in a new line. b) Stuma (“closed”), when the next paragraph begins on the same line. Usually a p’tucha indicates a major change of topic, while a stuma indicates a subtler one, although there are many exceptions.
The exceptionality of Parashat Vayetze is that it is written with no separations between paragraphs. That is to say, our parasha is one very long paragraph. That is very unusual and, by the way, very easy to notice when you are reading from the Torah Scroll!
Is there anything special we can learn from the fact that Parashat Vayetze is made up of only one paragraph, with no pauses? Of course there is! According to Rabbi Yehuda Leib from Gur (Poland, 1847-1905, also known by the title of his main work, the “Sfat Emet”), this fact reminds us that Jacob didn’t stop thinking about Israel during the 20 years he had to live abroad. Every day of his stay outside the Land of Israel he kept thinking about his homeland, until he finally could return. As in the written text, there was no pause in Jacob’s thinking about Israel, even when he had to flee it.
I find this commentary very appealing, and actually, I believe it is also applicable to the history of the Jewish people. As we know, the Jewish people was forced to abandon the Land of Israel when the Roman Empire took it over in the first century of the common era. Although there was always a small group of Jews living in the land of Israel, it took almost two thousand years until the Jewish people as a whole came back to Israel massively and was able to live in it again in a sovereign state. During this very long period of time, the Jewish people never stopped thinking about the Land of Israel and never stopped hoping to return to it. In every prayer, in every festival, in every wedding, the Jewish people scattered across the world thought about Israel without pause, like our patriarch Jacob while in Charan.
As Hatikva, the national anthem of the State of Israel, says: “As long as within our hearts the Jewish soul sings, as long as the eyes look forward to the East, to Zion – our hope is not lost, the two-thousand-year-old hope, to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
As we are getting closer to the 70th anniversary of the declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, we realize how fortunate we are to be able to live in this time, when the State of Israel exists and flourishes, and we Jews can freely visit it, support it, and even move to it if we choose. That is perhaps the greatest miracle in modern Jewish history, and it would not have become a reality if our ancestors had stopped thinking and yearning for Israel even one day of their lives. May we continue thinking of and supporting Israel every day of our lives.