Parshat Vayetze: Why didn’t Yaakov “Make Aliyah”?

State of Israel SymbolYaakov Avinu, was certainly Zionistic. He didn’t go to the Galut because of his own will rather because of the fateful circumstances. Nevertheless, apparently Ya’akov didn’t seem to make real efforts to make Aliyah. He dwelled in Haran at least 20 years, and the only thing that invoked him was a revelation of Hashem, that literally forced him to leave. Why didn’t Ya’akov have the power to make Aliyah? What was he waiting for?

And Jacob vowed that ‘If G-d will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to wear, so that I will come back to my father’s house in peace, then shall the LORD will be my G-d, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be G-d’s house; and of all that you shall give me I will give the tenth to you.” (Breshit 28:20-22)

By definition, a vow consists of two parts – the conditions and the vow itself. Considered in this light, it is very hard to point to to the beginning of Yaakov’s vow. Apparently, the verse “וְשַׁבְתִּי בְשָׁלוֹם” is the beginning of the vow, since all the previous verbs were related to Hashem: “G-d will be with me…will keep me…will give me…” as opposed to the rest of the verbs which relate to Yaakov, beginning with “וְשַׁבְתִּי” – “I shall come back”. The first commitment of Yaakov is to return to his home, to the land of his Forefathers, to Eretz Israel. This commitment is not only a vow to Hashem but also a commitment to his parents that sent him from Israel only for a short defined period -” “וישבת עמו ימים אחדים עד אשר תשוב חמת אחיך”.

Despite all this, Yaakov dwells too many years at the Diaspora and delays fulfilling his vows.

Why Didn’t Yaakov FulFill His Vow?

Perhaps there is an excuse for the years he served for Rachel and Lea, i.e. 14 years. Maybe these are the “few days” that Rivka ordered him to stay away, since it seemed to Yaakov as a “few days because of his love to her”. (Ibid. 29:30). Nevertheless, there is no justification to the fact that Yaakov resides 6 more years in Haran. – “…six years for your flock”. How did Lavan manage to convince Yaakov to remain in the Diaspora for flocks? This fact is surprising because Yaakov had already established a Zionistic movement and planned to make Aliyah just when Yoseph (“שטנו של עשו”) was born – “when Rachel had given birth to Yoseph, Jacob said to Lavan: ‘Send me away, that I may go to my place, and to my land’” (Ibid. 30:25). In spite of all this, Yaakov doesn’t actualize his Zionistic ideology and for some reason he prefers to dwell in his Diaspora – Haran.

Our sages severely criticized Yaakov: “Hashem said to him: “Return to the land of your fathers” – your father waits for you … your mother waits for you … I myself wait for you” (Bereishit Rabba 74). Everyone is waiting for Yaakov to come to Eretz Israel, but he persistently stays at Haran. Yaakov, according to our Sages, is a model of one who doesn’t fulfill his vows – ““He who vows and does not fulfill, his personal records are examined by G-d”… Yaakov went and became rich (in Haran) and settled himself without fulfilling his vow. G-d brought upon him the prospect of confronting Esav… he did not understand the message… G-d said, for how long would this righteous man be punished without understanding his sin? Behold, I shall inform him… These troubles have befallen you only because you have delayed in fulfilling your vow.” (Tanchuma, Vayishlah 8). Why does he need so many reminders?

Ma’aseh Avot Siman L’vanim

Perhaps the key for understanding this issue is the rule of “Ma’aseh Avot Siman L’vanim” – the actions of the Forefathers are a model for the actions of the descendants. This rule is understood by the Ramban, as a predictive principle i.e. the actions of the Avot and the consequences of those actions will be repeated in history. Possibly, the history of the Jewish nation should reflect the Avot’s stories and can shed some light on them.

Before Yaakov vowed to return to Eretz Israel, Hashem had promised him to bring him back: ”and I will bring you back into this land; for I will not leave you…”(Ibid. 28:15). The argument is about who is supposed to take the first step. Yaakov expects Hashem to take the first move, and to bring him back to Eretz Israel. Hashem, on he other hand, is expecting Yaakov to take the first step – “שובו אלי ואשובה אליכם”. “Said Hashem to Yaakov: If you want me to be with you, leave Lavan’s house and return to the land of your Forefathers” (Tanchuma). In order to take the redemption process forward we have to take the initiative rather than wait for a heavenly miracle.

The same idea been expressed in the end of Devarim(30:1-5): “and you shall return to Hashem your G-d”. Only then, Hashem will fulfill his part in this covenant: “then Hashem your G-d … will return and gather you

One cannot ignore one fundamental reason that prevents Yaakov / Am Israel from leaving the Galut. This reason is described in the Torah, as follows: “And the man increased exceedingly, and had large flocks, and maid-servants and men-servants, and camels and asses”. Many excuses can be raised. (It is much more difficult to educate in Eretz Israel, It’s not the right time, the security situation in not good, etc.). Even Halachic explanations can be raised to justify for not returning to Israel. But it is essential to remember one major problem – the BUSINESS. Yaakov can’t depart from his business.

Maybe, this is the great message of Ya’akov’s story, the story of the Jew in the Diaspora, which is relevant to all generations. Perhaps the one who frankly dealt with this problem in the best manner is Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, in The Kuzari.   “Isn’t it a transgression against the Torah when a Jew does not go up to the land of Israel and make it his place of life and death…especially since you believe that G-d’s Presence will return to dwell there… and all people direct their prayer towards it? Aren’t your bows and prayers in its direction without real intention?.

Rabbi Yehuda Halevi answers a pointed question about why the Jews still lived in the Diaspora, (asked by the Kuzar’s king) as follows:

You have found a point of embarrassment, O king of the Khazars! It is for this very reason that the prophetic purpose of the Second Temple was not fulfilled. The Divine destiny was meant to be restored like in the time of the First Temple if only everyone would have answered the call and returned to the land of Israel with a willing heart. But only a few people answered the call (to return to Israel), but the most important and influential among the Babylonian exiles remained in exile and servitude so as not to be separated from their property and businesses<...” (The Kuzari 2:23-24)

מעשה אבות – סימן לבנים”...

Rav Ronen Neuwirth #1
Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth is one of the founders of Beit Hillel and the Rav of Congregation Ohel Ari in Ra’anana. He served as Director of the Overseas Department of Tzohar and as the Rabbi of Bnei Akiva of North America. He also served as a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and is a former captain in the Israeli Navy Special Forces.


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