The midrash on Parshas Veyetzei tells us that when Yaakov Avinu left his father’s house to go to Charan, he remembered something. When Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, went to find a wife for Yitzchak, he brought along at least ten camels to give as gifts. Yaakov’s father Yitzchak also sent his son with provisions and assets. However, Yaakov was robbed in transit, and left empty-handed. Rather than despair, Yaakov said to himself, “Would I lose my trust in my Creator? Chas V’shalom! I will not!” Strengthened by these words of chizuk, Yaakov continued on his way.
From this we learn that in those days, someone who left the security of home and close family was putting his life in actual danger. It is understandable that Yaakov would need to comfort himself. The midrash however tells us that Yaakov’s words not only offered comfort, but gave him added strength and momentum. But to what purpose?
Resetting the Navigator
The Meshech Chochma (Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, 1843–1926) offers a wonderful vort on the subject. He points out that there is a change in language from the beginning of the parsha where it says that Yaakov was headed to Charan—somewhere very specific (see Seforno), to further on where it states that Yaakov was traveling to the more ambiguous “land of the people of the east.” When referring to Charan, the language suggests that Yaakov’s “navigator”—so to speak—was set to a specific destination. Yaakov was headed directly to Charan because he was relying on the anticipated protection of family upon his arrival.
However the Meshech Chochma says that during Yaakov’s journey, something changed. In a dream, he saw angels going up and down a ladder. Then Hashem stood by him, saying “I will guard you wherever you go!”
When Yaakov awoke, he realize that no matter where he went, he would always be under the special protection of Hashem Himself. Yaakov then knew that he had no further need to rely on human beings—for example his relatives—for his protection. Because of this, says the Meshech Chochma, the general term ארצה בני קדם is used. Now that Yaakov is under Hashem’s great protection, the “navigator” can be set to “anywhere.” No matter where Yaakov journeyed, he would remain safe from harm.
Rashi points out that the pasuk begins with וישא יעקב רגליו, Yaakov “lifted” his feet, suggesting he felt secure, safe. When a person is happy and in a good mood, he walks with a lighter step. Because Yaakov knew he was under Hashem’s protection, he had no fears or concerns. According to the Meshech Chochma this is a perfect fit to the remainder of the pasuk, וילך ארצה בני קדם. Yaakov’s newfound heights of bitachon are the cause of his lighter step, and the effect is that he now knows he can go anywhere he likes without danger.
From Yaakov’s experience, we learn that the more a person strives in bitachon, the more he can see Hashem at his side. This in turn, spurs him on to trust Hashem even more. This is similar to what we learn in Maseches Avos, that one mitzvah leads to another: מצוה גוררת מצוה. This is why Yaakov—the epitome of trust in Hashem—spoke words of comfort to
himself. Yaakov was not in any way deficient in his bitachon. To the contrary, Yaakov was urging himself on to achieve even greater heights in his bitachon.
To understand this, we can use the analogy of a computer chess game with multiple levels. The computer has the ability to recognize a clever move, and when this happens, grants the player access to the next level, and so on. If, however, the player makes a mistake, he falls back a level. The object of the game is not necessarily to win, but rather to achieve and remain at the highest level possible. So it is with the cycle of bitachon. When we work at it, our level of bitachon rises. But when we stop trying, our level of trust in Hashem begins to fall.
This brings us to one of deepest subjects in the Sifrei Mussar: bitachon and hishtadlus. Simply put—the effort expected of Man versus where and when a man must rely on Hashem. In no way do we feel competent to do justice to this vast and profound subject, but for the sake of this discussion we will make one point. When one has to and can do his part, it is totally foolish for him to say “I’m a ba’al bitachon. Hashem will help me!”
In actual fact, rather than displaying bitachon, such a person shows only that he is lazy and irresponsible. Quite often, what is needed is a man’s own hishtadlus. It is one’s own efforts that are required. When we can do the work ourselves, we shouldn’t expect Hashem to do it for us.
A Captain on Autopilot
Let’s imagine we are in a cockpit of a large commercial aircraft. About an hour before departure, a grey-haired captain in his 50s arrives and makes himself comfortable. The captain has already logged many thousands of flying hours. Nevertheless, he gets busy with the necessary preparations for flight.
All the dials and gauges are inspected. The captain checks to make sure that there is enough fuel and that air pressure reserves are in order. He then looks over the printout from the technician responsible for inspecting the engines. As the plane taxis towards the runway, the pilot lifts the wing flaps, and extends and retracts the wings to make sure that take-off and landing go smoothly. The co-pilot keeps record and in due course all are finally airborne.
When the aircraft reaches the desired altitude, the pilot switches to autopilot and technically becomes just another passenger. He and his co-pilot might be on standby and logging the flight, but really and truly they are doing little or nothing until it is time for the plane to land.
So too it is with all of us. One has to take care of one’s health, and be polite and friendly to family members, friends, and clients. A person must treat his employer, employees, customers and suppliers all with dignity and respect. He should get a good night’s sleep and be on time to shul, school, and work. Then, and only then, when he has done the hishtadlus required of him, should he and can he hope for Siyatta Dishmaya, the help of Heaven, in his endeavors.
In summary, Yaakov did all the hishtadlus he felt necessary according to his madreiga, level. He even spent 14 years in the beis midrash learning how to deal with Lavan, and preparing
himself for marriage. Even then, Yaakov pushed on, and because of this was rewarded with a vision that made him more aware of Hashem, bringing him to even higher heights of bitachon.
Let us hope that Parshas Vayetzei gives us some insight into what we can achieve if we work on our emunah and bitachon. After we do our hishtadlus: that which is expected of us, we can feel confident to hand the controls over to the real Autopilot, Hashem.
Parshas Vayetzei | Submitted by Rabbi Gavriel Lamm