Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg
Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg

A Desire to Go Higher

"Vayifga bamakom...vayishkav bamakom hahu - and he encountered the place...and he slept in that place (Vayeitzei 28:11)" The word vayifga sounds like Yaakov Avinu unexpectedly arrived at the place. Chazal explain (Chullin 91a) that this indicates that the earth contracted for him - kaftza lo ha'aretz. When Yaakov arrived in Charan, he said to himself, "Could it be that I passed a place where my forefathers davened, and I didn't daven there?" He set his mind to return, and the earth contracted and brought Har Hamoriyah to him.

If Hashem wanted Yaakov to daven at the makom hamikdash, why didn't He stop him there on his way to Charan? Rashi answers that since Yaakov didn't have the desire in his heart to daven when he passed the makom hamikdash, Hashem didn't stop him. Only after he set his mind to return to the place, and he traveled to Beis Eil, did the earth contract on his behalf.

This shows the power of a heartfelt desire. When a person demonstrates a genuine desire for spiritual achievement, and he puts in effort to try to attain his goal, Hashem gives him the siyata dishmaya he needs to complete the task. And Hashem is even willing to "move mountains" - to give the person extra strength and resources - to be able to achieve his goal.

The Ramban takes Rashi's idea one step further. He points out that from the words of the Gemara (both in Chullin 91a and Sanhedrin 95a) it would seem that Yaakov did not even return to Beis Eil. But rather, the moment he felt a desire in his heart to return to Har Hamoriyah, the earth contracted and brought the mountain to him. This shows that just having the desire for spiritual growth can bring divine assistance even before a person actually invests any effort in the process.

The importance of desire and effort is alluded to in the end of the pasuk as well. Rashi quotes from the Midrash that the phrase "and he slept in that place" implies that Yaakov slept only there, but for the previous fourteen years he didn't sleep because he was busy learning Torah in the yeshiva of Sheim and Eiver.

This statement of Chazal cannot be taken literally because the Gemara (Shavuos 25a) says that if a person swears that he will not sleep for three days, we immediately give him malkus for taking a sh'vuas shav (an unnecessary oath) because it is impossible for a person to go for more than three days without sleeping. What Chazal probably meant is that Yaakov Avinu didn't sleep in a bed for fourteen years. He didn't have a good night's sleep. He simply dozed off when he felt tired. But that still seems like an incredible feat. How was Yaakov able to go for fourteen years without sleeping normally?

Reb Chaim Shmulevitz (Sichos Mussar #32) explains that this shows the importance of willpower. When a person has a desire to accomplish something, he sometimes can discover hidden strengths and abilities that he never thought he had. Yaakov Avinu knew that how he spent his years in yeshiva would determine the kind of person he would become. So he pushed himself to his limits, and he discovered wellsprings of energy that he never knew he had. That is why he was able to forge ahead, learning Torah for fourteen years without a deep, comfortable sleep.

But perhaps there might be another explanation for Yaakov Avinu's superhuman ability. Since Yaakov had a genuine desire to learn Torah and he invested effort in the process, Hashem gave him extra siyata dishmaya. He gave him additional strength, beyond his natural abilities, to enable him to accomplish his dream. Chazal say, "Haba l'taheir, m'sayin oso - one who comes to purify himself receives divine assistance. (Shabbos 104a)" Hashem is ready to help those who truly desire to accomplish spiritually. But the prerequisite for receiving that gift is that a person must be a ba l'taheir. He has to take the first step, like Yaakov Avinu, to show that he has the desire to achieve and that he is willing to put in effort to accomplish his goal.

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