Im Lavan Garti – taryag mitzvot shamarti. Rashi explains that when Yaakov was living by his wicked father in law, lavan, he was nevertheless scrupulous in his observance of the commandments and in his constant study of Torah. The greatness of Ya’akov was his ability – as Rav Aharon Bina, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh loves to say – to just be normal! Yaakov was the man of Emet. He was the conglomeration of Ahvraham’s intense Chessed, and Yitzchak’s Gevurah. As the third of the Avot, Yaakov was one of the “pillars” that hold up the world. As important as each trait is though, were it not for the merit of Torah, our world would not exist.
Hashem “looked into the Torah, and created the world.” The Torah is the blueprint of the world, the guideline for our life, and the study and fulfillment of its mitzvot is the way that we fulfill the will of our Creator. This is the path of Yaakov, the third, and arguably greatest of our forefathers.
We see in our Parasha an interesting happening of an angel – the ministering angel of Esav, the Satan – coming to try and destroy Yaakov. The Satan knew that Yaakov was the father of the Jewish people and the pillar of Torah in the world, and sought to destroy him in order to prevent the Torah from being upheld forever by Bnei Yisrael. It is for this selfsame reason that the Yetzer Hara tries to distract us in our Torah learning.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (a.k.a the Chafetz Chayim) explains that sometimes the Yetzer tries to trick a person by convincing them that they are not cut out to learn Torah. The Yetzer makes the person want to do anything but learn – when a person wants to learn, the Yetzer hara becomes terrified, and tries to remind a person of all the mundane tasks that he has to do. He tells us to run around all day and do Chessed – and is happy as long as we are too busy to learn Torah. He convinces us to daven for 6 hours a day and reads tehillim at every free moment – so long as a we do not work on breaking our teeth on the Rashi and Tosafot of a challenging Gemara.
The Yetzer hara knows that the most effective way to destroy the Jewish people is to prevent them from learning Torah. We have to always remember that no matter how comfortable we are in America, we are living amongst the Goyim, in Galut. We are living with Lavan – the trickster. No matter how nice the world is to us, we must remember that we can only rely on Hashem. The bottom line is that yes – we are living amongst the Goyim, but we must be able to say “Taryag mitzvot shamarti !” In order to do so we must be diligent in our Torah study. Be it via Torah CDs while driving, or Shiurim with Rabbi Elbaz every night at 8pm, we must feed our souls no less than we feed our bodies.
Esav’s ministering angel wrestled with Yaakov throughout the darkness of the night, ceasing only at dawn. This can be understood by a teaching of the Ba’al Shem Tov: “even the smallest light can illuminate the greatest darkness.” There is so much potential for light in our lives. Let us take this lesson to heart, especially with Chanukah around the corner. Let’s get rid of the fake “whiteness” of Lavan – and the influences of the world on our Jewish thought – and replace it with the healing light of dawn on a new day in our spiritual lives.
As Rav Lipman Podolsky used to always say: Yehi Ratzon that we should all merit to live life the way it should be lived, Amen!