In this segment, Ali Smith (11th grade) sits down to schmooze with Mrs. Schapiro about the weekly Torah portion.
Ali Smith: What is something interesting you learned about this week's Parsha, Vayetze?
Mrs. Schapiro: The Parsha opens up with Yaakov leaving Eretz Yisroel, for the first time. He is running away from Esav and going to Charan. For him, this was going into Galut. It was like he was going into exile. It says that when he rested that night, he went to sleep not knowing that it was a holy place; so he went to sleep and put rocks around his head.
AS: Why does he put rocks around his head?
MS: Rashi says that he does this to protect him from wild animals. However, all the commentaries question this, asking “why would placing rocks around his head protect him from wild animals?” If he wanted to protect himself, he should have put boulders around his whole body.
AS: Why would he simply place them around his head?
MS: He did this to protect his head from the challenges of being in Galut. Everything that happened to our Avot is a microcosm of what the Jews will experience in the future. So, Yaakov going into Galut represents what we, the Jewish people, will experience when we are in Galut, when we are exposed to everything that is out there that is not necessarily in line with Torah and Mitzvot. This is why he symbolically protected his head, which is the brain, thoughts, and the place where he exercises his choices. That is why he felt he needed that symbolic protection before he went into Galut, so he could deal with the challenges of it. The special, gratifying point is that when he goes back to Eretz Yisroel after all the years that he worked for Lavan, he was still on the same spiritual level as when he initially left. This means he maintained his identity in Galut, which should be a comfort for us.
AS: Why would this be a comfort to the Jewish people nowadays?
MS: One day when we will go back, we should also be able to go back with this same sense of inner strength. Since Yaakov did it, it is now bequeathed in us to be able to overcome the challenges of Galut. The beauty is that despite philosophers' predictions that the Jewish people will cease to exist, we are still standing with our Jewish identity.
By: Ali Smith (11th)