“…and [Yaakov] lay down in that place” (Bereishis 28:11). Rashi states, “Yaakov only lay down in that place, but during the 14 years at the yeshiva of Shem and Ever he did not lie down because he was studying Torah.”
Yaakov Avinu represents the pillar of Torah, setting an example for all future generations with his behavior during his years at the yeshiva of Shem and Ever and in the house of Lavan watching flocks.
The Medrash Yalkut Shimoni says that throughout Yaakov’s stay in the House of Lavan, he recited and studied the 15 Shir HaMa’alos of Sefer Tehillim. Rav Shmuel bar Nachman says Yaakov recited and studied the entire Sefer Tehillim.
Our Sages tell us that a person should devote any available time to Torah study, even if it is only an hour or less. Even this small amount of time is worthwhile and treasured as Yaakov’s dream implies. Yaakov saw a ladder set on the ground, its top in the heavens. It would initially seem difficult, if not impossible, to reach the pinnacle of such a ladder. However, if a person undertakes to climb one rung at a time, he can eventually attain unimaginable heights.
Rabbi Yisroel Salanter notes that most people eat meals in a set order: first the soup, then the appetizer, then the main course, and then dessert. When a poor man knocks on a door for alms, however, he will joyfully accept any food he is given, whether it’s an appetizer or a dessert. He will do the same at the next house; the order of the courses doesn’t matter to him. If he waits to get his courses sequentially, he may not get anything to eat at all.
Rabbi Salanter said we must all act like poor men when it comes to matters of ruchniyus. We must seize every ruchniyus opportunity that becomes available to us or we might lose them.
Yaakov Avinu prayed that his level of ruchniyus remain intact in the house of Lavan. He asked Hashem: “guard me on this way, give me bread to eat and clothes to wear” (Bereishis 28:20). According to the Medrash Yalkut Shimoni, cited by HaGaon Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, “bread” refers to Torah and “clothes” to a tallis.
When Yaakov was in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, there was no need for him to pray for his spiritual wellbeing as he was protected from the outside world. But now that he was heading to the house of Lavan, an evil place steeped in corruption, Yaakov wanted a tallis to signify that he was consumed in holiness, that he would preserve his exemplary characteristics, and that he would sanctify the Name of Hashem.
Ultimately, the Torah testifies that he was successful: “By day scorching heat consumed me, and frost by night; my sleep drifted from my eyes” (Bereishis 31:40). Yaakov Avinu merited to stand strong throughout.
A very wealthy man once suffered a severe downturn in his business, and his family’s survival was at stake. His wife reminded him that she still had many pieces of expensive jewelry he had given her over the years when his business had been doing well. “Use them as collateral,” she suggested, “so that you can obtain a loan and start anew.” The husband agreed and soon he was bringing in adequate income to provide for the family.
One day, the husband said to his wife, “Thank G-d, we are beginning to get some income. While it is true I am no longer a wealthy man, at least our basic needs are being taken care of.”
The woman was very upset and said, “I am deeply pained. I see that you have forgotten that I agreed to put up all my jewelry as collateral. It sounds like you are not interested in trying to redeem my jewelry and are content with the current situation.”
On Shemos 38:21, Rashi comments that the word mishkan is stated twice consecutively to allude to the fact that the Beis HaMikdash – the dwelling place of the Shechinah, the site that brought the Jewish nation closer to Hashem – was taken as collateral for the sins of Bnei Yisrael.
Unfortunately, notes R’ Avraham Berish Flaum, over the years of our long exile we have become content with our circumstances. We no longer remember the Holy Temple and have forgotten that we were once very wealthy spiritually. We daven and learn Torah, but we are not troubled that we are spiritually deprived.
It is incumbent upon us in this exile to seize the opportunities – no matter how small – to accrue merit that will help us return to our former glory. We must take the few moments to learn Torah, to pray, to do chesed and make a difference in the world. In that way, our spiritual prosperity will grow incrementally and we will be worthy to see the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.