Parshas Eikev - In the Footsteps of Mashiach
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וְהָיָ֣ה | עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְשָׁמַר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ לְךָ֗ אֶת־הַבְּרִית֙ וְאֶת־הַחֶ֔סֶד אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַֽאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ:
And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers. (Devarim 7:12)
In the above translation the word Eikev has been translated as “because.” This is indeed the literal meaning of the passuk. Because we perform the mishpatim God will keep his covenant with us.
Similarly, by Akeidas Yitzchak the passuk says, “And your children will be a source of blessing for all the nations of the world Eikev - because you listened to my voice” (Bereishis 22:18). Because Avraham was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice he merited that his children will be a blessing.
In Parshas Toldos (26:5) Hashem told Yitzchak “Eikev - because because Avraham listened to me….”
In truth Eikev has many meanings and all of them are connected to our parsha.
The Midrash Rabbah says that ‘Eikev’ is to be understood as at the “end,” a reference to the end of time (Olam Haba) where we will be rewarded for listening to Hashem.
Rashi says that Eikev refers to “the Mitzvos that people do not take seriously and trample under their heels” (Eikev can also mean heel). In the merit of performing those mitzvos which are normally not taken seriously we will receive our reward.
So Eikev can mean because, a heel, a reference to Olam Haba and to the Mitzvos that people trample on. How can we unify all of these various peshatim? Is there a common thread?
The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (43:3) teaches that every time the Torah uses the word הָיָ֣ה it is an expression of simcha. What is the simcha that is being expressed in this passuk?
Lastly, if you look at the entirety of the perek, the letter Vav is used extensively. In 14 out of a possible 26 pesukim the passuk begins with the letter Vav (meaning “and”). Why is there such an intense focus on the letter Vav?
Back to the Beginning
In order to understand the significance of the word Eikev, the simcha being expressed in our passuk and the focus on the letter Vav, we must return to the story of creation itself.
Chazal tell us that the world was created out of letters (see beginning of Sefer Yetzirah where he speaks about the twenty two foundational letters of the Aleph Beis). In this article we will specifically focus on the letter Vav which plays a central role in creation. The Aleph (א) is comprised of two Yud's and a Vav. The Yud at the top right of the Aleph represents the asaarah maamaros (ten utterances) in the spiritual world that brought creation into being. The Yud at the bottom left of the Alpeh is a mirror image of the top Yud and symbolizes the reflection of the asaarah maamaros as they exist in creation itself. The Vav is the middle of the letter Aleph and bridges the gap between the spiritual world and the physical world. How does it do so? Kabbalah speaks about creation as the retraction of God's infinite light that filled all of reality to create a place where the finite could exist. Into this place, Hashem drew down a single line of light, so to speak, from the Infinite source. This light is embodied in the single line of the letter Vav. The specific role that the Vav plays is called the Vav Hachibur, the Vav of connection (Vav means "and" which connects two phrases). Whenever we want to understand the essence of something we turn to the first time it is used in the Torah. The first Vav in the Torah can be found in the first passuk of the Torah which speaks about the creation of the world. בראשית ברא אלוקים את השמים ואת הארץ. In The beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The Vav joins together the spiritual world of the Heavens and the physical matter of the earth. The Vav appears in the sixth word of the passuk (the Gematria of Vav is six) in the word ואת which means the Vav that connects all the letters of creation from Aleph to Tav. Aleph represents that which is spiritual and Tav represents that which is physical. The entirety of the spiritual worlds and the physical world are connected through the letter Vav.
In Tanach we find many examples of the significance of the Vav Hachibur. Here are just a few.
When Avraham was purchasing Mearas HaMachpeila from Ephron, Ephron said, "My lord, listen to me! What is a four hundred silver shekel piece of land, between you and me? Just take it and bury your dead!" Avraham heard Ephron and weighed out to Ephron the amount of money he had mentioned ... four hundred silver shekels of tradable currency. (Bereishis 23:14-16) Chazal point out that the name Ephron is spelled here without a Vav. While Ephron originally indicated that he would give Avraham the field for free, in the end he took an exorbitant amount of money, far more than the field was worth. As Chazal say, He said much but ultimately did very little. How is this indicated in the missing letter Vav? As we said the Vav indicates a connection. The lack of a Vav indicates that there was no real connection between Ephron and Avraham. While Ephron claims that Avraham is his friend in truth he did not feel that way at all.
Similarly, we find another missing Vav in the story of Eliezer being sent by Avraham to find a wife for Yitzchak. When Eliezer is relaying the story of how he accepted the mission from Avraham he recounts how he said, "Perhaps (אלי) I will find a suitable bride, but she will not be willing to follow me back to Israel. What should I do then?" The word for "perhaps" is spelled without its usual Vav. Rashi, quotes the Medrash which explains that the word Ulai is written here without a Vav so that it may also be read as "Elai" (to me). Eliezer has a daughter of his own and while he was loyal to Avraham he was hoping that he would fail to find a wife for Yitzchak so that his own daughter could be wed to Yitzchak. Avraham explained to Eliezer, "My son is blessed, and your daughter is cursed. A cursed person cannot be joined together with a blessed person." (Rashi Bereishis 24:39) Once again the missing Vav indicates a lack of connection between Eliezer and Avraham.
The same concept can be seen in the Gemara in Megillah (16b) that instructs one who is reading the Megillah to lengthen the Vav written in the name of Vaizata (one of Haman's sons), which indicates that all the ten of Haman’s sons were hanged on the same pole. It is the Vav that represents the connection between all ten sons who were hanged on one pole.
As we will see, the entire drama of history, from Adam until Mashiach, revolves around this Vav Hachibur, the Vav of connection.
Adam HaRishon and the Letter Vav
The Gemara (Chagigah 12a) teaches that Adam HaRishon was so tall that while he was standing on this earth, his head reached all the way to the Heavens. What is the significance of this teaching? Why is Adam's size important for us to know? Chazal were not merely describing the height of Adam HaRishon but were giving us an insight into his spiritual mission. Like the Vav that also spans heaven and earth, Adam HaRishon was meant to bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual worlds (the two Yud's of the Aleph). Indeed one of the meanings of the name Adam is אדמה לעליון, I will be like the one on high (which is the same Gematria of צלם אלקים). This is why Adam was tasked with naming every living creature. A name is a particular permutation of the Divine letters that make up that particular thing. Adam who spanned heaven and earth was able to reveal the inner, spiritual essence of all of creation. "and what Adam called every living creature, הוא שמו, that was its name." The Gematria of הוא שמו is משיח (both are 358). By naming every creature, Adam was revealing its divine mission, its spark of Mashiach. Adam before the sin is the prototypical, potential Jew. He had the capacity to bring Mashiach by revealing the divine light that is extant in all of creation. This is the inner meaning of the word Adam which stands for Adam, Dovid, Mashiach. Had Adam refrained from eating from the Eitz HaDa’as (tree of knowledge) until Shabbos he would have fulfilled his mission and brought the world to its ultimate state of harmony. So to sum up, the letter Vav is embodied in the personality of Adam HaRishon.
But Adam fell prey to the chicanery of the Nachash Hakadmoni (the serpent) and did ultimately sin. His mission to embody the Vav, uniting the two Yud's (the spiritual and the physical), would fall to the Jewish people. Specifically, after the sin of Adam the "heel" of the Aleph was broken and now the Yud below is no longer attached to the Vav. From here on in there would be a separation between the Vav and the Yud's. Because of this separation the physical world now appears to have its own existence, separate and distinct from its spiritual essence (the top yud that represents the spiritual worlds). Our job as Jews, is to reunite them, reconstituting the Aleph. Hashem is the אלופו של עולם, the ultimate expression of the Aleph but now, post sin, his name is no longer united. והיה ביום ההוא יהיה ה אחד ושמו אחד, And it will be on that day that Hashem will be one and his name will be one. In the times of Mashiach the Vav will once again unite the two Yud's reconstituting the letter Aleph, Hashem's name in this world.
Before we travel on in history let us take a quick look at the punishments of Adam and the Nachash and their connection to the concept of the disjointed nature of the physical world.
To the Nachash, Hashem said:
וַיֹּ֩אמֶר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֥ים | אֶל־הַנָּחָשׁ֘ כִּ֣י עָשִׂ֣יתָ זֹּאת֒ אָר֤וּר אַתָּה֙ מִכָּל־הַבְּהֵמָ֔ה וּמִכֹּ֖ל חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֑ה עַל־גְּחֹֽנְךָ֣ תֵלֵ֔ךְ וְעָפָ֥ר תֹּאכַ֖ל כָּל־יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ
"And the Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed be you more than all the cattle and more than all the beasts of the field; you shall walk on your belly, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.
וְאֵיבָ֣ה | אָשִׁ֗ית בֵּֽינְךָ֙ וּבֵ֣ין הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה וּבֵ֥ין זַֽרְעֲךָ֖ וּבֵ֣ין זַרְעָ֑הּ ה֚וּא יְשֽׁוּפְךָ֣ רֹ֔אשׁ וְאַתָּ֖ה תְּשׁוּפֶ֥נּוּ עָקֵֽב
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he (man) shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Bereishis 3:14-15)
The Nachash who caused Adam and Chava to sin, who caused the separation of the bottom Yud from the Vav, now lives in the reality that he created. Man maintains his spiritual connection (the Rosh) and will bruise the head of the Nachash but the domain of the physical world is now in the hands of the Nachash. The Nachash eats from the dust of the earth and bruises the heel of man. In bruising the heel of man (separating the bottom yud from the Vav) the Nachash maintains a reality where the physical and the spiritual remain two distinct domains.
Adam as we said maintains his spiritual capacity but no longer naturally sees the spiritual that dwells within the physical.
וּלְאָדָ֣ם אָמַ֗ר כִּ֣י שָׁמַ֘עְתָּ֘ לְק֣וֹל אִשְׁתֶּ֒ךָ֒ וַתֹּ֨אכַל֙ מִן־הָעֵ֔ץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר צִוִּיתִ֨יךָ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ אֲרוּרָ֤ה הָֽאֲדָמָה֙ בַּֽעֲבוּרֶ֔ךָ בְּעִצָּבוֹן֙ תֹּֽאכֲלֶ֔נָּה כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ: וְק֥וֹץ וְדַרְדַּ֖ר תַּצְמִ֣יחַ לָ֑ךְ וְאָֽכַלְתָּ֖ אֶת־עֵ֥שֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶֽה: בְּזֵעַ֤ת אַפֶּ֨יךָ֙ תֹּ֣אכַל לֶ֔חֶם עַ֤ד שֽׁוּבְךָ֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה כִּ֥י מִמֶּ֖נָּה לֻקָּ֑חְתָּ כִּֽי־עָפָ֣ר אַ֔תָּה וְאֶל־עָפָ֖ר תָּשֽׁוּב:
"And to man He said, "Because you listened to your wife, and you ate from the tree from which I commanded you saying, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed be the ground for your sake; with toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life. And it will cause thorns and thistles to grow for you, and you shall eat the herbs of the field. With the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, for you were taken therefrom, for dust you are, and to dust you will return." (Bereishis 3:17-19)
No longer will the ground simply yield its produce to Adam. He must work the earth by the sweat of his brow. In a world where the spiritual and the physical are seen together harmoniously, there is no need for physical labor.
This is the position of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai who is quoted in a Beraisa in Berachos (35b) as maintaining that even after the sin of Adam HaRishon, if a person will focus solely on doing the will of God, then Hashem will provide for all of their needs and there will be no need to work the land. A failure to focus solely on the will of God means continuing to live with the punishment of Adam HaRishon and we must continue to provide for ourselves. "No, but when Israel perform the will of the Omnipresent their work is performed by others, as it is stated: "And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks" (Yeshayahu 69:5). And when Israel does not perform the will of the Omnipresent, they must carry out their own work, as it is stated: "And you shall gather in your corn." Nor is this all, but they also carry out the work of others, as it is stated: "And you shall serve your enemy, etc." (Devarim 28:48)."
The second punishment that Adam HaRishon receives is death. In a world where the spiritual and physical are seen as one entity there is no room for death. The soul and the body coexist seamlessly. The soul has no reason to leave the body. The body is forever strengthened and illuminated by the presence of the infinite soul. Now that Adam HaRishon has sinned and the bottom of the Yud has been separated from the Vav, the natural consequence is death.
Yaakov and the Letter Vav
As we stated earlier, the name of something reveals its essence.
:וַיֵּצֵ֤א הָֽרִאשׁוֹן֙ אַדְמוֹנִ֔י כֻּלּ֖וֹ כְּאַדֶּ֣רֶת שֵׂעָ֑ר וַיִּקְרְא֥וּ שְׁמ֖וֹ עֵשָֽׂו: ואַֽחֲרֵי־כֵ֞ן יָצָ֣א אָחִ֗יו וְיָד֤וֹ אֹחֶ֨זֶת֙ בַּֽעֲקֵ֣ב עֵשָׂ֔ו וַיִּקְרָ֥א שְׁמ֖וֹ יַֽעֲקֹ֑ב
"And the first one emerged ruddy; he was completely like a coat of hair, and they named him Esau. And afterwards, his brother emerged, and his hand was grasping Esau's heel, and he named him Jacob." (Bereishis 25:25-26)
Eisav emerges asui (completely made) and is so named for this feature. Yaakov is named for an event that occurs at his birth. Since at birth he held the heel of Eisav he is named Yaakov, which means heel. Why is the fact that Yaakov emerged from the womb holding on to his twin brother Eisav's heel noteworthy enough that his parents named him for this event?!? Somehow this one moment in the birthing process will define Yaakov Avinu for his entire life!
In order to understand the significance of their names we must first understand that the mission of Judaism is the rectification of the sin of Adam HaRishon. Throughout history Jews will grapple with the Nachash Hakadmoni in various forms and in so doing will reunite the bottom Yud of the Aleph with the Vav. Yaakov and Eisav represent Adam and the Nachash respectively.
Let us first explain the connections that exist between Yaakov Avinu and Adam HaRishon. The Gemara in Baba Metzia (84a) teaches that Rav Kahana's beauty is a reflection of Rav Avohu's; Rav Avohu's is a reflection of our Father Yaakov's; our Father Yaakov's was a reflection of Adam's. The Arizal in Shaar HaPesukim (Vayigash) explains that Yaakov was a gilgul and a tikun of Adam HaRishon basing himself of the Zohar Hakadosh who says, ”דהא יעקב דוגמא דאדם הראשון הוה דיעקב שופריה דאדם הראשון הוה" Yaakov resembled Adam HaRishon; the radiance of Yaakov Avinu resembled the radiance of Adam HaRishon. Yaakov Avinu quite literally looked like Adam HaRishon. The Hebrew name for face is panim which is related to the word pnim, internal. Yaakov who shared the same face as Adam HaRishon was tasked with the same internal mission as Adam HaRishon. His job is to unite the bottom Yud and the Vav of the Aleph.
How does Yaakov Avinu (and by extension all of Klal Yisrael for generations to come) accomplish this task? The name Yaakov is a combination of Yud and Eikev. By raising up the Yud to the Vav, by performing spiritual activities in the physical world (the heel), the bottom Yud once again reflects the top yud of the Aleph.
Yaakov Avinu actually has three names which make him uniquely suited for this mission. He is known as Yisrael which has the same letters as לי ראש which identifies Yaakov with the top Yud (the head). He is known as Yeshurun, from the lashon of Yashar (in this case a reference to the torso) which identifies him with the Vav. And of course the name Yaakov identifies him with the heel, the bottom Yud.
Yaakov Avinu as our third forefather is identified with the letter gimmel. The ג is a Vav with a Yud on the bottom grabbing at its heel. This is another expression of Yaakov grabbing on to the heel of Eisav in their battle over the Vav. Yaakov's mission is to unite the physical world (the bottom Yud) with the Vav.
Another amazing teaching about Yaakov and Eisav can be found in the Megaleh Amukos who points out that Eisav ought to have been named עשוי (complete). What happened to the Yud in Eisav's name? He answers, that when Yaakov and Eisav were born, Yaakov “grabbed” the Yud away from Eisav and took the Yud for himself. Yaakov ought to have been named eikev, after the heel he grabbed onto. Where did the extra Yud come from? The additional Yud came from Eisav! Incredibly the Megaleh Amukos points out that we can see this in the passuk itself. The passuk says וידו אחזת בעקב עשו, which literally translates to "and his hand was holding on to the heel of Eisav." However, the word for "his hand" (וידו) can also be read as ויודו, meaning his Yud. Yaakov was literally taking the Yud from Eisav. As we will explain later, Eisav and Yaakov are in a competition for the end of days. To Eisav the end is the end. Nothing comes afterwards. To Yaakov the end is just the beginning of the next world. It is therefore fitting that the last letter of Eisav's name becomes the first letter of Yaakov’s name.
וַיֵּצֵ֥א יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ חָרָֽנָה: וַיִּפְגַּ֨ע בַּמָּק֜וֹם וַיָּ֤לֶן שָׁם֙ כִּי־בָ֣א הַשֶּׁ֔מֶשׁ וַיִּקַּח֙ מֵֽאַבְנֵ֣י הַמָּק֔וֹם וַיָּ֖שֶׂם מְרַֽאֲשֹׁתָ֑יו וַיִּשְׁכַּ֖ב בַּמָּק֥וֹם הַהֽוּא: וַיַּֽחֲלֹ֗ם וְהִנֵּ֤ה סֻלָּם֙ מֻצָּ֣ב אַ֔רְצָה וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה וְהִנֵּה֙ מַלְאֲכֵ֣י אֱלֹהִ֔ים עֹלִ֥ים וְיֹֽרְדִ֖ים בּֽוֹ:
וְהִנֵּ֨ה יְהֹוָ֜ה נִצָּ֣ב עָלָיו֘ וַיֹּאמַר֒ אֲנִ֣י יְהֹוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אַבְרָהָ֣ם אָבִ֔יךָ וֵֽאלֹהֵ֖י יִצְחָ֑ק הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ שֹׁכֵ֣ב עָלֶ֔יהָ לְךָ֥ אֶתְּנֶ֖נָּה וּלְזַרְעֶֽךָ: וְהָיָ֤ה זַרְעֲךָ֙ כַּֽעֲפַ֣ר הָאָ֔רֶץ וּפָֽרַצְתָּ֛ יָ֥מָּה וָקֵ֖דְמָה וְצָפֹ֣נָה וָנֶ֑גְבָּה וְנִבְרְכ֥וּ בְךָ֛ כָּל־מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָֽאֲדָמָ֖ה וּבְזַרְעֶֽךָ:
וְהִנֵּ֨ה אָֽנֹכִ֜י עִמָּ֗ךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּ֨יךָ֙ בְּכֹ֣ל אֲשֶׁר־תֵּלֵ֔ךְ וַֽהֲשִׁ֣בֹתִ֔יךָ אֶל־הָֽאֲדָמָ֖ה הַזֹּ֑את כִּ֚י לֹ֣א אֶֽעֱזָבְךָ֔ עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִם־עָשִׂ֔יתִי אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי לָֽךְ: וַיִּיקַ֣ץ יַֽעֲקֹב֘ מִשְּׁנָתוֹ֒ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְהֹוָ֔ה בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָֽנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי: וַיִּירָא֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר מַה־נּוֹרָ֖א הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה אֵ֣ין זֶ֗ה כִּ֚י אִם־בֵּ֣ית אֱלֹהִ֔ים וְזֶ֖ה שַׁ֥עַר הַשָּׁמָֽיִם וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֨ם יַֽעֲקֹ֜ב בַּבֹּ֗קֶר וַיִּקַּ֤ח אֶת־הָאֶ֨בֶן֙ אֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֣ם מְרַֽאֲשֹׁתָ֔יו וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֹתָ֖הּ מַצֵּבָ֑ה וַיִּצֹ֥ק שֶׁ֖מֶן עַל־רֹאשָֽׁהּ:
"And Jacob left Beer sheba, and he went to Haran. And he arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place. And he dreamed, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it. And behold, the Lord was standing over him, and He said, "I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land upon which you are lying to you I will give it and to your seed. And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall gain strength westward and eastward and northward and southward; and through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth and through your seed. And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you." And Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said, "Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know [it]." And he was frightened, and he said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob arose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had placed at his head, and he set it up as a monument, and he poured oil on top of it." (Bereishis 28:10-18)
Literally every passuk in this entire story begins with the letter Vav! As we will soon see this entire story revolves around the letter Vav.
The Megaleh Amukot (Parshas Vayera) explains that when Yaakov describes this place as "awesome" (28:17), it is the spiritual attributes that he is describing. Specifically, he sees that in this place the sin of Adam can be rectified. And when we look at the pesukim there are many deep connections to the concept of connecting the Yud and the Vav.
The story begins with Yaakov taking stones, placing them by his head and lying down on the ground. At the end of the story Yaakov takes the one stone that was lying under his head and makes a monument with it. Rashi, citing the Gemara (Chullin 91b), notes that the “stones” are subsequently called a singular “stone,” and explains "He formed them into a sort of border around his head, for he feared wild animals. The stones began to argue among themselves: One said, 'Let the righteous one lay his head upon me,' while the other said, 'Upon me.' The Holy One, blessed be He, made them into a single stone, and this is why it says (afterwards), 'He took the stone (singular) which he had placed under his head.'"
What is the significance of this miracle?
In Sefer Yetzirah a letter is called an Even, a stone and a word (or a phrase) is called a Bayit, a house. In taking the stones (the letters) of the earth to protect him from wild animals (the Nefesh HaBehamis - the animal soul) and raising them up to his head, Yaakov Avinu was uniting the Yud of this world (the stones of the earth) with the Yud of the spiritual worlds (the stones by his head). In doing so, he united the stones into one singular stone, namely the complete letter Aleph. But where is the Vav? To unite the Yud below and the Yud above do we not need a Vav? The Sulam, the ladder, that is described as "a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven" acts as the Vav. (While this is not the place to discuss the inner connection between the Sulam of Yaakov Avinu and Migdal Bavel it is fascinating to note that similar language is used there as it says: "And they said, Come, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach to heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." Bereishis 11:4) Fascinatingly, the word Sulam in this context is spelled סלם, missing the Vav. This indicates that the ladder itself is the Vav that bridges the gap between heaven (spiritual) and earth (physical). And of course the malachim described in the passuk are ascending and descending. First elevating the Yud below and only then bringing down the Yud from above. This perfectly describes the mission of Yaakov Avinu! First he toils in this world to elevate the physical only afterwards do we see the descent of the spiritual. (This also parallels Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai who made the initial move of ascending Har Sinai and only afterwards does Hashem descend on to the mountain. And just to make it a little bit sweeter, Sinai and Sulam share the same Gematria of 130).
Notice the Brachos that Yaakov Avinu receives in this nevua. "And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth… and I will restore you to this land…" Yaakov is not promised a reward in Heaven but seed that shall be as the dust of the earth and a restoration of the land. For Yaakov Avinu the ultimate reward would have to be down in this world as he reconnects the Yud below to the Yud above.
Yaakov called this place the house (Bayit) of God. Chazal note that while Avraham called it a mountain and Yitzchak called it a field, it is Yaakov Avinu that first calls it a house as we refer to the Beis HaMikdash today. As mentioned a stone is a letter, a Bayit is a word. When Yaakov unites the stones through the Vav of the Sulam into a singular stone he reveals the united reality of the entire word. All of creation is seen through the prism of oneness in the Beis Hamikdash. This was the chiddush of Yaakov Avinu above and beyond Avraham and Yitzchak. Interestingly, Adam and Chava were separated for 130 years after the sin. "And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Shet; (Bereishis 5:3). The Gemara in Eruvin teaches in the name of Rav Yirmiya ben Eleazar, "In all those years during which Adam was under the ban he begot ghosts and male demons and female demons, for it is said in Scripture: And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years and begot a son in his own likeness, after his own image, from which it follows that until that time he did not beget after his own image." For 130 years following the sin of Adam and Chava their home was in a state of brokenness. Their intimacy (oneness) became perverted. In contrast Yaakov saw the capacity to rebuild our intimacy with God in this awesome place. As we mentioned above, the Gematria of סלם is 130.
Perhaps with this in mind we can explain a puzzling Medrash in Parshas Pekudei. Moshe gives a detailed account of the gold, silver and copper that were contributed for the construction of the Mishkan. 100 talents of silver were used for the sackets (in which the pillars stood) and 1775 shekels (silver coins) were used for the vavim (hooks) which were placed on the pillars that held up the curtains of the Mishkan. The Medrash (Tanchuma and Rabba) tells us a fascinating backstory to the accounting that Moshe made. It seems that when Klal Yisrael completed the work of the Mishkan the leitzanim (scoffers) went around saying that Moshe Rabbeinu had a fat neck (a euphemism that indicated he was being well fed) because he stole money from the Mishkan. Moshe heard this and promised that he would give a full account of everything that was used. Moshe was able to account for all the gold, silver and copper but 1775 shekels were missing. In the end Hashem illuminated his eyes and showed him the Vavim on the amudim and Moshe was able to account for the missing 1775 shekels. This is what the passuk means when it says ואלה פיקודי המשכן.
A couple of questions arise when we consider this Medrash. Why do the leitzanim accuse Moshe of having a fat neck? If the accusation is merely that he is well fed from stealing money, we would have assumed that they would have accused him of having a fat stomach? Secondly, people scoff. Why was this such a strong accusation that Moshe Rabbeinu felt the need to respond? Must we prove ourselves righteous when evil people accuse us falsely? Ignoring these people is often the best course of action. Indeed when Moshe could not account for the missing 1775 shekel it was Hashem Himself who revealed to Moshe that the money had been spent on the hooks of the Mishkan. It seems that this was so important that Hashem Himself had to ensure the money was accounted for! Lastly, why does it say, ואלה פיקודי, And this was the accounting? What is the Vav connecting this story to?
However, based on what we have seen so far the answer seems quite obvious. The Beis Hamikdash was the house that represented the rectification of the sin of Adam HaRishon where the bottom Yud and the Vav are reunited completing the letter Aleph. The sulam (the original expression of the concept of the Beis Hamikdash) of Yaakov’s dream is the line, the Vav, through which the spiritual and physical worlds are seen as one. In the body, the Beis Hamikdash is symbolized by the neck. The neck connects the head and the heart of a person (the spiritual and the physical). This is how Rashi knew that when Yosef and Binyamin were crying on each other's necks when they were reunited in Mitzrayim the tears were not over the reunion but over the destruction of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash that stood in their territories. When the leitzanim accused Moshe Rabbeinu of having a fat neck it was not merely an accusation of theft. That could have very well been ignored. Their accusation was far more serious. By saying that Moshe had a fat neck (a thick Vav as opposed to a single line) they were questioning Moshe Rabbeinu's capacity to build a Mishkan that would truly serve as a Vav, a place of connection uniting the two Yud's. Moshe Rabbeinu was not merely acting as an accountant, he was showing the inner spirituality of how each detail of the Mishkan was used to bridge the physical and the spiritual. However, at the end, something was still missing. Ultimately it is Hashem himself who points out the "vavim," the hooks that hold up the curtains of the Mishkan. They're called the Vavei HaAmudim, the hooks on the pillars. The pillars represent the straight line of Infinite light that God sent into the vacuum of space to create the world. The Vavim, the hooks, represent the connection between the Infinite light and the curtains of the Mishkan that mask God's Infinite light in this world. This is the inner meaning of ואלה פיקודי. The Vav at the beginning of the Parsha is a hint to the deeper story of the accounting of the Mishkan.
Let us now return back to the story of Yaakov and the sulam. When Yaakov stands on that holy ground and sees the ladder he asks for bread to eat and clothing to wear. "And Jacob uttered a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and He will guard me on this way, upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear; (Bereishis 28:20). Why is Yaakov concerned with food and clothing? We would expect much loftier, more spiritual expectations from Yaakov after such a deeply inspiring nevua!?! But in light of the punishments of Adam HaRishon it makes perfect sense that this is what Yaakov would be concerned with. Adam was ashamed of his nakedness and told that only with the sweat of his brow shall he eat bread. Yaakov understood that his task was to return the world to a state where God takes care of our food and shelter by returning the yud to the Vav. Yaakov took a neder, a vow, because neder comes from a lashon of dira, a dwelling place. Our job as Jews is to turn this world into a dwelling place for Hashem. We do so by reuniting the yud with the Vav so that once again God can feel comfortable in a Godly world.
And while Adam HaRishon is told that after the sin death is now an inevitability, the Gemara in Taanis (5b) tells us that Yaakov Avinu never died. Interestingly, Chazal (the end of perek 31 in Avos D'Rebbe Nosson) refer to the heel as the Malach HaMaves. Yaakov Avinu who spent his life rectifying the heel of the Vav by reattaching the Yud, was able to defeat the Malach HaMaves and in some ways was able to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon.
Eisav and the Letter Vav
While Yaakov plays the role of Adam HaRishon, it is Eisav who plays the role of the Nachash Hakadmoni (as the Zohar explains in Parshas Toldos 138b). The Nachash in kabbalistic literature is identified as the Malach Samael who is the protecting angel of Eisav. Just as in the original story the Nachash has a slight edge over Adam, so too does the Malach Samael have a slight edge over Yaakov Avinu. Yaakov is deeply connected to the sulam which as we mentioned is the Gematria of 130. Samael is the Gematria of 131 giving him the slightest of edges over Yaakov Avinu. This is because in our world it is always more difficult to change the status quo and the current condition of our world is one where the yud is separated from the Vav of the Aleph.
וַיֶּֽאֱהַ֥ב יִצְחָ֛ק אֶת־עֵשָׂ֖ו כִּי־צַ֣יִד בְּפִ֑יו וְרִבְקָ֖ה אֹהֶ֥בֶת אֶת־יַֽעֲקֹֽב
"And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loved Jacob." (Bereishis 25:27)
Both the Targum Onkelos and the Targum Yonasan comment והוה עשו גבר נחשירכן, and Eisav was a person of נחשירכן. The Shela HaKadosh quotes the Tziyoni who explains that the word ”נחשירכן” is actually a combination of two words: נחש and ירכן (snake and thigh). This is because Eisav had a mark resembling a snake on his thigh, indicating that Eisav is the embodiment of the Nachash Hakadmoni. This explains why Yitzchak loved Eisav. He saw in Eisav (not only in Yaakov) the opportunity for Eisav to rectify the sin that the Nachash Hakadmoni had caused in the beginning of creation. While Yaakov was the ish tam Yosheiv ohalim, a dweller of tents sitting and studying Torah all day (the upper Yud of the Aleph) Yitzchak saw in Eisav the hunter an opportunity to attach the bottom Yud to the Vav.
While Yaakov calls the place of his prophecy a home, Eisav represents the destruction of the home. "And Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan were displeasing to his father Isaac. So Esau went to Ishmael, and he took Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael, the son of Abraham, the sister of Nebaioth, in addition to his other wives as a wife." (Bereishis 28:8-9) Rashi quotes the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah67:13) that "He (Eisav) added wickedness upon his wickedness, for he did not divorce the first ones." Eisav had already married the B'nos Canaan but since he saw that they were displeasing to his father he married the daughter of Yishmael without bothering to divorce his first wives. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that in truth Eisav was not marrying the daughter of Yishmael in order to build a meaningful home but rather so that the brachos of his father could be fulfilled in his children. Since Yitzchak was displeased with his current Caananite wives it follows that his children would not receive their grandfather's blessings. To avoid this he married the daughter of Yishmael in the hopes that the brachos would be fulfilled in his new children.
Rav Tzaddok HaKohen (Resisay Layla 42) further points out that Eisav is the grandfather of an illegitimate grandchild (Eliphaz had an illicit relationship with Timna), Amalek, the nation that becomes the archenemy of Klal Yisrael. Rashi in the beginning of Bereishis says the world was created for Klal Yisrael who are called Reishis, the first. Bilaam describes Amalek as “Reishis goyim…” (Bamidbar 24:20) the first amongst nations. Just as Yaakov and Eisav struggled for the right to be born first (in the end while Eisav was born first it is Yaakov who ends up with the rights of the first born) Klal Yisrael and Amalek are in a perpetual struggle for the right to be first. Why do we want so badly to be first? Because those that are first are also first to the finish line. Rashi comments on the words Eikev Eisav (heel of Eisav): “it was a sign that he (Eisav) will not manage to complete his kingdom until this one (Yaakov) comes and takes it from him.” Eisav is running to complete his kingdom but we are assured that in the end he will fail to do so because it is Yaakov who owns the heel (the end) as we will discuss later in the section on the Vav and Mashiach. This explains why Yaakov is named Yaakov and not achaz, took hold of, as we would have expected. The important part was not the action of grabbing but the conquest of the heel in which Yaakov was victorious. (see above regarding the Yud at the end of Eisav's name which became the Yud at the beginning of Yaakov's name.)
What exactly was the Aveira of Adam HaRishon? The aveira was that Adam ate too early. Had he waited until Shabbos it would have been permissible for him to eat from the Eitz HaDaas. Adam was tasked with liavda ulishamra. First you work (liavda) and then through the hard work you get to Shabbos (the Oneg). As the gemara in Avodah Zara (3a) says “the one who toils on Erev Shabbos will eat on the Shabbos.“ Or as the Gemara in Eiruvin (22a) teaches, "Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said:“What is meant by the verse, ‘That I command you today to do them? ‘Today’ (in this world) we are to fulfill the mitzvot, but ‘not to fufill them tomorrow’ (in the World-to-Come); and ‘today’ we are to fulfill them and ‘tomorrow’ (in the World-to-Come) we receive reward for fulfilling them." Consider the words of the Ramchal in Messilas Yesharim (1:4), "We were not created for our situation here in this world as we tend to think, but rather for that in the World-to-Come. Our situation here, in this world, is merely the means to attain the one due us in the World-to-Come, which is actually our goal."
To be Jewish requires massive levels of patience. The ultimate reward only comes at the end.
The Nachash represents the movement towards instant pleasure and a lack of patience. Rashi describes Eisav as being born "kiben shanim harbei."Already at his birth he is in a rush to be fully grown. Gadlus for Eisav must come immediately.
The Megaleh Amukos teaches that Eisav is the same Gemtria as Shalom, which means peace or completion. Obviously, this does not mean the pure Shalom that we are used to referencing for Eisav has no cheilek in true Shalom. Rather it means that Eisav sees himself as total and complete without any further need for growth as the passuk says, וְהָיָ֡ה בְּשָׁמְעוֹ֩ אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֨י הָֽאָלָ֜ה הַזֹּ֗את וְהִתְבָּרֵ֨ךְ בִּלְבָב֤וֹ לֵאמֹר֙ שָׁל֣וֹם יִֽהְיֶה־לִּ֔י כִּ֛י בִּשְׁרִר֥וּת לִבִּ֖י אֵלֵ֑ךְ לְמַ֛עַן סְפ֥וֹת הָֽרָוָ֖ה אֶת־הַצְּמֵאָֽה: "And it will be, when he [such a person] hears the words of this oath, that he will bless himself in his heart, saying, "I will have peace, even if I follow my heart's desires," in order to add the [punishment for the] unintentional sins [of this man] to that of [his] intentional sins." (Devarim 29:18). This is Eisav; the man who has no patience. He is already a finished product. As we pointed our earlier, Yitzchak was hopeful that it would be Eisav who would rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon. He hoped that Eisav would grow into a patient man in this world and see that there is much growth to be done in this world. This is why when Yaakov Avinu poses as Eisav and brings food to Yitzchak right away, Yitzchak replies to Yaakov (whom he thought to be Eisav),"How is it that you have found [it] so quickly, my son?" Yaakov replies, "Because the Lord your God prepared it before me." Yitzchak was telling Eisav that the way of our world is to slow down and do the work. Yaakov's reply was exactly how Eisav would have responded. In the world of Eisav things are completed in an expedient fashion. There is no true process and therefore there is no patience.
The Medrash tells us (Bereishis Rabbah 25:11) that when Eisav saw Yaakov preparing a stew he asked Yaakov why he was doing so. Yaakov informed Eisav that it was because Avraham Avinu had died. Eisav asked Yaakov, did he encounter the middas hadin (attribute of justice - Avraham died younger then we would have expected)? Yaakov responded that indeed he did encounter the middas hadin. Knowing the righteous nature of Avraham Avinu Eisav declared, if this is so then there is no system of reward and punishment and nor will there be a revival of the dead. Immediately afterwards Eisav sells his birthright to Eisav and proclaims, "Behold, I am going to die; so why do I need this birthright?" As we said earlier, to Eisav this is all there is. The end represents finality. There is no reward and no punishment. There is nothing after death.
Yaakov Avinu represents the exact opposite avodah. In Parshas Vayeishev, Yaakov Avinu expresses a desire to live bishalva (serenely). Immediately afterwards Yosef is sold down to Mitzrayim and Yaakov loses his powers of prophecy for 22 years. For tzadikim serenity only comes at the end. At the end of his life Yaakov lives in Mitzrayim for seventeen years which is the Gematria of Tov. Only at the end does Yaakov experience Shalva.
"And the children struggled within her, and she said, "If [it be] so, why am I [like] this?" And she went to inquire of the Lord." (Bereishis 25:22) Rashi explains that Rivka went to inquire of Shem, "מה תהא בסופה", what would happen in the end. On a deeper level this can mean that Rivka wanted to inquire will my children have an appreciation of the Jewish notion of the end? Will they appreciate that the end is merely the beginning?
With this in mind we can also begin to appreciate what it means that Yaakov bikeish ligalos es hakeitz, Yaakov wanted to reveal what would happen at the end of time. For Yaakov the eikev (end) of the journey, the end of time, is everything he is working towards. However, Hashem prevents him from revealing what will be at the end of days because as we said the journey requires the patience that comes along with not knowing how the story will end.
Finally, with all of this in mind we can understand a puzzling Medrash on the passuk that says וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הַקֹּל֙ ק֣וֹל יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב וְהַיָּדַ֖יִם יְדֵ֥י עֵשָֽׂו: "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (27:22) explains that when Yaakov Avinu has a weakened voice then the hands of Eisav will dominate him. If however the voice of Yaakov will be strong then Eisav will not dominate Yaakov with his hands. Where does the Medrash see this explanation in our passuk? The Vilna Gaon (among others) explains that the voice of Yaakov is spelled two ways in our passuk. The first kol is lacking a Vav, while the second kol is spelled with a Vav. This is how the Medrash understood that the first kol was referencing a weaker voice. When the Kol of Yaakov is spelled without a Vav it lacks the connection between this world and the world above. For example, a kol without a Vav is a Kol Teffilah where we say the words but have no Godly intentions in our Teffilah. A Kol Torah without a Vav would be a Torah that is learned for the sake of arrogance or intellectual pleasure but is not lishem shomayim. In such a case the hands of Eisav will dominate us. On the other hand, when we make God present in our lives, if he can be found in our voices, then Eisav has no dominion over Klal Yisrael.
Dovid HaMelech and the Letter Vav
Dovid HaMelech, like Yaakov Avinu, also is deeply connected to the mission of reattaching the bottom Yud of the Aleph with the middle Vav.
The Riconti notes that Yaakov and Dovid were like twins in the many similarities of their lives.
Parshas VaYechi describes the last days of Yaakov Avinu’s life and the Haftorah of the Parsha describes the last days of Dovid HaMelech’s life (the beginning of Sefer Melochim).
As we quoted above, Chazal teach us that Yaakov Avinu lo meis, Yaakov Avinu did not die. The same is said about Dovid as we say "Dovid Melech Yisrael Chai VeKayam."
Yaakov was buried in Chevron and Dovid began his rule in Chevron.
Yaakov's son Yosef ruled over him even while he was alive. Dovid also appointed Shlomo to be King even while he was alive.
Both Yaakov and Dovid felt their energies weakening and were given an inner feeling and warning from Hashem that they were about to die giving them the opportunity to give over specific instructions to their sons in regards to the proper Torah legacy for Klal Yisrael.
Yaakov Avinu has to contend with Lavan and his deceitful ways and Dovid HaMelech has to contend with the traitorous Naval who the Arizal says is a reincarnation of Lavan (both Lavan and Naval are made up of the same letters). You will recall that Naval (like Lavan) was a very wealthy man, “with three thousand sheep and a thousand goats” (Shmuel Aleph 25:2). Dovid HaMelech protected Naval’s shepherds but when Dovid asked Naval for his help, Naval refused.
Dovid ends up marrying Avigail (the almanah of Naval) who the Arizal says is a gilgul of Leah. In fact, the gematria of אביגיל is 56, equal to כלאה, “like Leah.” While Leah was not considered particularly beautiful, the Gemara in Megillah (15a) lists Avigail as one of the most beautiful women in history. Thus we see that while Leah was not as beloved to Yaakov in the end, Avigail (her reincarnation) was exceptionally beloved to Dovid.
Dovid HaMelech wrote in Tehillim (23:1) “The L-rd is my shepherd...” The Yalkut Shimoni asks how could Dovid HaMelech refer to God as a shepherd as shepherding is considered a very lowly profession. The Medrash explains that Dovid HaMelech did so because Yaakov had already referred to Hashem as a shepherd, as it is written (in his blessing to Menashe and Ephraim): “The L-rd who shepherds me (ha-roeh osi)” (Bereshis 48:15). Neither Avraham or Yitzchak had ever referred to God as a shepherd. Only once Yaakov Avinu did so did Dovid HaMelech have licence to do so as well.
(These are just some of the many connections between Yaakov Avinu and Dovid HaMelech. If you are still not convinced see the Ba’al HaTurim, Bereishis 32:12,who points out many more similarities.)
While Eisav is the gematria of (misguided) Shalom and does not believe in reward and punishment, Dovid HaMelech represents his complete opposite. In Tehillim (38:4) he writes אֵין־שָׁל֥וֹם בַּֽ֜עֲצָמַ֗י מִפְּנֵ֥י חַטָּאתִֽי, "there is no peace in my bones because of my sin."This is because the very name Dovid is two Daled's surrounding a Vav (דוד). The letter Daled comes from a lashon of Dal which means a poor person. It is the way of Tzaddikim to always see themselves as lacking so that they may continue to work on themselves. In this way the Tzaddikim raise up this world (the lower yud) because the letter Daled also is connected to the concept of dilisoni, which means “to lift me up." This is what Dovid HaMelech means in Tehillim (30) when he says, “I praise G‑d because He lifts me up (dilisoni).”So by lowering himself and continuing to work on himself (Daled) Dovid HaMelech accesses the inner Vav in his name and reconstitutes the letter Aleph. In this way, he has opened the door (delet, door is another meaning for Daled) for Moshiach to come.
Though Shlomo HaMelech would ultimately build the Beis HaMikdash it had to be Dovid HaMelech who acquired Yerushalayim and paved the foundations for the Beis HaMikdash. This is deeply connected to Yaakov Avinu and Yosef HaTzaddik. While it is Yaakov who rectifies the heel, it is Yosef who rectifies the middah of yesod (the bris) which is called "the end of the body."Yaakov Avinu begins the process but Yosef HaTzaddik completes the rectification. Similarly it is Dovid HaMelech who begins the building of the Beis HaMikdash (in the place where Yaakov had already laid the foundation stone) but it is Shlomo HaMelech who completes it. (Though there is much more to say on this subject this not the place to do so).
Rav Akiva and the Letter Vav
The Arizal writes that Rav Akiva is the gilgul of Yaakov Avinu (his name was Akiva ben Yosef and Yaakov Avinu is the same letters and had a son named Yosef). It follows then that Rav Akiva also has the same avodah of rectifying the letter Aleph by reattaching the lower Yud of the Aleph to the Vav.
The story of how Rav Akiva's soul comes into this world is a fascinating one. The Nitzotz, the spark, of Rav Akiva was trapped in the heel of Eisav and this is what Yaakov was extracting when he grabbed onto the heel of Eisav. Had Yaakov Avinu not done so the soul of Rav Akiva would have been in danger of being swallowed completely by Eisav. This is why Rav Akiva was the descendant of geirim, converts. The Gemara says the grandchildren of Sisra were learning Torah in Bnei Brak and some girsaos say that it was Rav Akiva who is the descendant of Sisra (you will recall that Eisav married and never divorced the daughters of Canaan - Sisra was the general of the Canaanite army). His soul originated in the heel of Eisav but was extricated by Yaakov.
Rashi (26:27) tells us that Eisav would ask Yitzchak, "How does one tithe straw?" The Baal Shem Tov explains that Eisav was only asking this question because of the spark of Rav Akiva that dwelled inside of him. The Gemara in Nedarim (50a) tells us that Rav Akiva and his wife were so poor they didn’t have any pillows or bedding; they had no choice but to sleep on straw. When Eliyahu Hanavi came to visit them (later it will become clear as to why it is specifically Eliyahu HaNavi) disguised as a poor person, Rav Akiva gave him some straw. Eisav's shaila about tithing straw came to life in the form of Rav Akiva who gave straw to Eliyahu HaNavi.
The parallels between Yaakov and Rav Akiva are quite striking.
The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (98:3) tells us that at the end of his life Yaakov Avinu instituted the mitzvah of Krias Shema and as the Gemara in Berachos tells us, Rav Akiva died with Shema Yisrael on his lips.
The Arizal points out that "Just as Yaakov Avinu was the shepherd of his father-in-law's flocks, so was Rabbi Akiva the shepherd of his father-in-law's flocks. And, just as Yaakov had two wives, similarly Rav Akiva had two wives: He married the daughter of Kalba Savua (Rachel) and the wife of the evil Turnus Rufus (who converted). Kalba Savua's daughter can be compared to Yaakov's wife Rachel, while the wife of Turnus Rufus can be compared to Leah."
In Kabblah, Yaakov Avinu is associated with the Torah sheBaal Peh, the Oral Torah. This is because Yaakov Avinu is identified by his kol, his voice (in contrast to the written Torah). Additionally, the total number of pesukim in Parshas Vayechi (the parsha that is identified with the life of Yaakov Avinu) is Pei Beis (82) pesukim which stands for baal peh.
The Arizal says the gilgulim of Yaakov Avinu are Rebbe Akiva who shares the same name and Rav Yehuda HaNasi (Nasi is an acronym for nishmaso shel Yaakov Avinu). Rav Yehuda HaNasi compiled all of the Mishnayos while Rav Akiva the Gemara in Sanhedrin (86a) says סתם מתני' ר' מאיר סתם תוספתא ר' נחמיה סתם ספרא רבי יהודה סתם ספרי ר"ש וכולהו אליבא דר"ע "The narrator of the Mishnah was Rabbi Meir. The narrator of the Tosefta was Rabbi Nechemiah. The narrator of the Sifra was Rabbi Yehuda. The narrator of the Sifrei was Rabbi Shimon. But it was all organized according to the precepts of Rabbi Akiva.
As we said earlier, the name of the Nachash is Samael which is acronym for Siyum Masechta Ein Laasos. Why is it that Samael specifically wants to stop people from making siyumim on Mishnayos? Of all of the aveiros in the Torah this is far from the biggest issue!
When Moshe Rabbeinu is told about Rav Akiva, Hashem referred to him as “a man at the end of a number of Generations….” (Menachos 29). Why is Rav Akiva called a man at the end of a number of generations? What type of appellation is that?
As we said earlier, the battle between Yaakov and Eisav is for the heel, the end of time. The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah says, אין כל הגליות הללו מתכנסות אלא בזכות משניות, the future redemption will only come in the merit of those who learn Mishnayos. The Written Torah is the Torah that comes from Above (the upper Yud of the aleph) while the Oral Torah is the Torah of this world (the lower Yud of the Aleph). We bring redemption by connecting the Yud below to the Vav and that primarily takes place through the learning (and completion) of Torah SheBaal Peh. It makes sense that it would be Rav Akiva who would organize the seder of Mishnayos and it understandable why the Nachash wants to prevent Jews from the completing (the end - the heel) Mishnayos. This is why Rav Akiva is called "a man at the end of a number of generations." It is Rav Akiva, like Yaakov Avinu, who will control the heel, the end. This is why, as the Sages saw a fox running through the ruins of the Beis HaMikdash, it was Rav Akiva who laughed confident in the prophecy that foretells that ultimate rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash. The end of the story has already been written from the time that Yaakov grabbed onto Eisav's heel.
This also explains why on Purim there is a connection between the Oral Torah and Mashiach. Purim is the last Yom Tov of the calendar year and on it we read Megillas Esther the last of the sefarim of Nach (celebrating the destruction of Amalek) which is sof kol hanisim, the end of the era of miracles (Yoma 29b). The Medrash in Mishlei (9) teaches that even when Mashiach comes we will continue to celebrate Purim despite the fact that we will cease to observe other Yomim Tovim. This is derived from the passuk in Megillat Esther (9:28), “the memory of Purim will never cease from among their descendants.” In this regard Purim is the ultimate "end" of Yomim Tovim.
On Purim we celebrate the giving of the Oral Torah. This is the deeper meaning of the Gemara in Shabbos (88a) which says that on Purim the Jews were Kimu V’kiblu, Kimu mah sheh’kiblu kvar. The Purim episode coincides with the rise of the Anshei Knesses HaGedola. The Rabbinic enactments which reflect the Torah SheBaal Peh began at this time. In fact, the very first such addition was the mitzva to read the Megilla on Purim. The Gemara in Taanis (30b) tells us that the second set of luchos were given over on Yom Kippur. The Tikunei Zohar (57b) famously says that within the word Kippurim lies the word Purim, indicating a connection between the two holidays. Using this Zohar, Rav Leibele Eiger connects the Yom Tov of Purim to the giving of the second luchos and the Oral Torah.
Why does Purim contain both of these themes? Because as the Medrash says, it is through the study of Torah SheBaal Peh that we will bring Mashiach and herald the end of days.
We can further see the battle between Rav Akiva and the Nachash in the story brought in the Gemara in Shabbos (156b). The gemara tells us that astrologers predicted that the daughter of Rav Akiva would die on her wedding day after being bitten by a snake. In the end Rav Akiva's daughter took a pin out of her hair and stuck it in the wall where she unknowingly stabbed the snake in the eye that would have killed her. You will recall the punishment of the Nachash "man will slay you by the head and you will slay him at the heel.” Rav Akiva's daughter stabbed the Nachash in his head thus fulfilling the punishment of the Nachash. Ultimately though the Nachash would also have his opportunity to bite the heel of Adam as Rav Akiva is persecuted and murdered by Edom (Rome) the ancestors of Eisav, the spiritual heirs of the Nachash (based on the Shelah HaKadosh on Sefiras HaOmer).
So if Rav Akiva embodies the life of Yaakov Avinu and is deeply connected to the concept of the end of days, where do we see his connection to the letter Vav? In this case, the asnwer is quite obvious as the Gemara in Sanhedrin (50b) tells that it was Rav Akiva who learned out halachos from every Vav in the Torah!
(Note: Some suggest that the nitzotz of Rav Akiva was released when Dinah was raped by Shechem ben Chamor - chamor in this case is spelled without a vav. Some suggest that the child of this union is Osnat who ultimately marries Yosef. In this way Rav Akiva is doubly connected to Yaakov and Yosef as his soul is the grandchild of Yaakov and the spouse of Yosef. With this in mind it makes sense that Rav Akiva said about himself that "When I was an am Haaretz I would bite a talmid Chacham like a chamor, a donkey )
Eliyahu HaNavi and the Letter Vav
Once again there are many connections between Yaakov Avinu and Eliyahu HaNavi. As we pointed out by Dovid HaMelech and Yaakov Avinu who are both credited with eternal life, Eliyahu HaNavi too lives forever. Chazal tells us that there is an indestructible bone located at the human spinal chord called the luz bone (the spinal chord is also identified as the Vav of the body). It is a bone which receives its sustenance only from the food of a Melave Malka and not from food eaten at any other time (including the Shabbos meals) . The Mesillot Haneviim says that the Kotel HaMaaravi is identified with the luz bone and it is for this reason that while the remainder of the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, the Kotel has never fallen. Why is the luz bone indestructible? When Adam ate from the eitz hadaas all of the nutrients of the fruit went throughout the body. In this fashion every part of the body became contaminated through his sin. All except the luz bone which refused the nutrients of the fruit of the eitz hadaas. The luz bone, because it remains pure from sin, is not subject to death (the punishment Adam received after sinning) and therefore it is through this bone that Hashem will implement techiyas hameisim. Because of its purity the luz bone can only be nourished by the most spiritual (most Messianic) of foods which is the food we eat at our Melava Malka. This explains why on Motzai Shabbos we have a minhag to sing Eliyahu HaNavi because just as Eliyahu HaNavi never died so too the luz bone will never be destroyed and it will now get the nourishment that will sustain it.
In Vayikra (26:42) the passuk says, "וזכרתי את בריתי יעקוב""I will remember My covenant with Yaakov." There and in four other places the name Yaakov is spelled with an extra Vav. Rashi explains that Yaakov has a Vav added to his name in five places, because Yaakov took a Vav from the name of Eliyahu (which is spelled with a missing Vav in five places) as a "security" to guarantee that Eliyahu would come to announce the coming of Mashiach to Yaakov's descendants.
While this is a beautiful sentiment it raises some questions? Why specifically does Yaakov guarantee Mashiach's arrival with the letter Vav? And why five Vav's?
The Maharal in Gur Aryeh (Vayikra 26:42) explains (based on a Gemara) that an oath is compared to a handshake. Yaakov took five Vav's from Eliyahu’s name because this represents a handshake agreement. Each finger on the hand resembles the letter Vav and so by taking all of the Vav's Yaakov is metaphorically shaking the hand of Eliyahu HaNavi. The Mishna (Ohalot 1:8) teaches that there are thirty bones in each hand and so by taking five Vav's (the Gematria of Vav is six) you have a total of thirty (five multiplied by six equals thirty). This is especially understandable in light of what we have been saying that the Vav represents the letter of connection.
The Shvilei Pinchas points out that if we review the five places where Eliyahu’s name appears without a “Vav (אליה) we find that four of them are in sefer Melachim, while the last one is in Sefer Malachi (3:23-24). There it says:
”הנה אנכי שולח לכם את אליה הנביא לפני בוא יום ה‘ הגדול והנורא, והשיב לב אבות על בנים ולב בנים על אבותם
"Behold--before the coming of the great and awesome day of Hashem I send you Eliyahu HaNavi. And he will turn back the hearts of fathers with their sons and the hearts of sons with their fathers.”
Of all the pesukim that spell Eliyahu's name without a Vav, it is only this last passuk, the last grasp on the finger (the Vav) of Eliyahu HaNavi, that prepares us for the coming redemption.
Furthermore, the Shem MiShmuel (Bechukosai) explains that Yaakov specifically takes the letter Vav because it represents the letter of truth. When Rachav asked Yehoshua for a true sign from the Meraglim the Zohar (Vayechi 241b) explains that she was requesting a letter (the word sign in Herbew is אות which can mean either sign or letter) of truth. The Zohar teaches that this letter is none other than the letter Vav which embodies the concept of truth.
The Mizrachi says that the five Vav's represent Eliyahu HaNavi taking an oath on the Five books of the Torah that he would redeem Klal Yisrael.
Alternatively we can suggest (based on what we said above that the geula will come as a result of learning Mishnayos) that the five Vav's represent both the five books of the Torah and six Sedarim of Mishnayos (six being the Gematria of Vav).
As we know, there are five leshonos of geula that are used in Yeztias Mitzrayim. The first four leshonos of geula are represented in the daled kosos of the Seder with the fifth being represented by the Kos shel Eliyahu. The fifth lashon of geula is והבאתי which has the Gematria of 424, the same Gematria as משיח בן דוד.
Lastly, we can point out that throughout this article the Vav represents connection. Only when Klal Yisrael overcomes our sad state of Sinas Chinam, when we exist in a state of total connection with each other, can we be zocheh to hear Eliyahu HaNavi herald the coming of Mashiach.
Mashiach and the Letter Vav
As we pointed out in the very outset of this article, Eikev also refers to the ikvesa d'meshicha, the footsteps of Mashiach.
As one would expect by now there are many connections between Yaakov Avinu and Mashiach.
The Maharal points out that the name Yisrael has the name of God (El) at the very end which is a hint that Mashiach will come at the end of days. As we stated earlier, Yaakov control the heel (the end) of Eisav which guarantees that at the end of days it is Klal Yisrael who will be victorious.
Returning to the prophecy of Yaakov and the Sulam we see that Rashi quotes the passuk in Michah (4:1-2) which speaks about the times of Mashiach. "But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the House of God shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow to it. And many nations shall come, and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of God, and to the House of the God of Yaakov; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths; for Torah shall go forth from Zion, and the word of God from Jerusalem. The Gemara in Pesachim (88a ) points out that the Beis Hamikdash is called the House of Yaakov and not Avraham or Yitzchak. The Zohar explains that the first Beis Hamikdash was representative of Avraham Avinu and the second Beis Hamikdash was representative of Yitzchak Avinu. The third Beis Hamikdash that will be rebuilt by Mashiach and will be everlasting is representative of Yaakov Avinu. The Shem Mishmuel (Parshas Mattos) explains that just as Yaakov Avinu is the culmination of Avraham and Yitzchak (Tiferes is the culmination of Chesed and Gevura) so too the third Beis Hamikdash is the culmination of the first two and is therefore identified with Yaakov Avinu.
Where do we get the strength to continue to yearn for Mashiach despite the many years we have waited for him and the incredible suffering we have experienced in his absence? When Yaakov Avinu refused to be consoled for twenty two years over the death of Yosef (an eikev experience because the heel of the foot is not very sensitive) because something deep inside of him told him that they would one day be reunited, he was also instilling in the spiritual genetics of Klal Yisrael the capacity to continue to yearn for Mashiach despite our suffering (eikev) and to never give up hope. Just as Yaakov longed for Yosef whose name means Yosef li Ben acher (Rachel's Teffilah that Hashem would give her another son), so do we long for Mashiach Ben Yosef who will bring a new son into the world, Mashiach Ben Dovid.
Succos, the end of the Yomim Tovim season, is called zman simchaseinu and is kineged Yaakov Avinu (Tur - Orach Chaim 417). The siyum of Succos is Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah. On the eighth day we get a small taste of the Simcha that we will ultimately experience in Olam Haba (that will occur after seven thousand years of history). It is the Simcha we have been patiently waiting for since the dawn of time. It is appropriate that this Yom Tov is representative of Yaakov Avinu who assures us that we will one day experience this Simcha in its totality.
The passuk in Yeshaya (58:8) describes the world in the era of Mashiach and says, "Az yibaka kashachar oraych" "Then your light will pierce the darkness." The word for piercing is yibaka which is the same letters as Yaakov. It is the infinite light of the Vav (in the restored Aleph) that Yaakov Avinu shines that will pierce through the curtains of this world and bring Mashiach. Bearing in mind the Megaleh Amukos that we quoted earlier who says that Yaakov took his Yud from Eisavs name we can now understand how Eisav will ultimately be destroyed. When Yaakov restores the Vav to the Aleph he removes it from the name of Eisav leaving only an ayin and a shin. The word עש in lashon hakodesh means to fall apart. This is why at the end of Yaakov's fight with the Malach of Eisav (Samael) he asks to know his name. As the dawn is breaking Yaakov wants to know if he has been successful in bringing Mashiach (has the light of the Vav pierced through). Yaakov wants to know if Eisav's name remains Eisav or has he removed his Vav. This is why on Shabbos, which is a small taste of the World to Come, we often see the letters Vav and Yud together (ויכלו, ויכל, וישבת, ויברך, ויקדש). When the Yud and the Vav are attached to one another the truth of the Aleph, of the Alupho shel Olam becomes revealed.
Bringing It All Home
We can now return to our original questions.
In the previous Parsha (Vaeschanan) we are told about the giving of the luchos shniyos which as we said are identified with Torah SheBaal Peh. Our Parsha begins with the letter Vav in the word Vihaya which as we said connotes Simcha. The Vav of our Parsha is connecting us to the Simcha of the giving of the Oral Torah. Why don't we see an immediate experience of simcha? Why do we wait until the next Parsha to see it? As we explained, the Simcha of a Jew only comes through patience. Studying the Oral Torah takes time and patience. If one has an instant gratification attitude they will never be successful in completing the task. It takes a "different Parsha" before we can fully appreciate the joy of what we have accomplished.
To involve oneself in raising up the letter Yud and connecting it to the Vav (the Divine light) is no small feat. It is often an arduous task. It requires paying attention to even the lowest, most trampled upon Mitzvos. By raising up those Mitzvos we cause (Eikev) the entire world to be elevated to a more Godly standing. This has been our struggle since the dawn of time. It was the struggle of Adam and the Nachash, of Yaakov and Eisav, of Dovid and Naval, of Rav Akiva and Edom and ultimately ends with Eliyahu heralding the coming of Mashiach.
May we all be zocheh to see the rebuilding of the House of Yaakov and experience the completion of the letter Aleph.