Expanding Your ‘I’

Vayikach me’avnei ha’makom vayasem me’ra’ashosav vayishkav ba’makom ha’hu (Bereishis 28:11)

Rashi writes that before Yaakov went to sleep, he placed stones around his head to protect him against a potential attack by wild animals. The stones began to fight with each other, as each one desired to be the one upon which the righteous Yaakov would actually rest his head.

To appease them, Hashem miraculously combined all of the rocks into one large stone. However, this is difficult to understand. Since Yaakov’s head would still only lie on one small part of the overall rock, how were the stones that occupied positions upon which he was not sleeping mollified by this solution?

Harav Shloma Margolis, zt”l, answers that when Yaakov initially placed 12 discrete rocks around his head, each rock viewed the others as separate and distinct, and they therefore fought over which one would merit supporting Yaakov’s resting head. Once they were merged into one large stone, they now viewed themselves as one combined entity, in which case there was no longer any reason for disputes, even for those parts of the new rock upon which Yaakov did not place his head. All the stones recognized that they were now united as one, and there was no longer any purpose to jealously quarrel and compete with the other stones.

My dear cousin Shaya Gross, z”l, adds that this concept also applies to marriage. Just as a person views his entire body as one united entity and does not get upset at his stomach if it is hungry or at his foot when it is in pain, so, too, if each spouse views the other as connected to him or her as part of one larger unit, they will intuitively understand that it is senseless to fight with one another.

Unfortunately, human nature is such that we are all born selfish, primarily focused on fulfilling our own needs. At the same time, Hashem expects us to move beyond these innate tendencies and feel compassionate and helpful toward others. What is the secret to overcoming our natural propensity toward self-centeredness?

In the introduction to his work Shaarei Yosher, Harav Shimon Shkop, zt”l, explains that rather than try to deny our innate focus on ourselves, each of us should instead work on expanding our definition of “I.” Most people are able to extend their definitions of self to include their families, while more magnanimous individuals manage to also include their friends and neighbors, and truly great people are able to enlarge their concept of self to incorporate all Jewish people, and all of Hashem’s creations. By striving to expand our perspectives to include as many people as possible and to view them as part of who “I” am, we will automatically find it easier to get along with them, just as we are naturally at peace with ourselves, and just as Yaakov’s stones resolved their dispute by merging into one larger entity.

Q: Although the Torah seems to indicate that upon leaving Be’er Sheva, Yaakov traveled directly to Charan to seek a wife, Rashi writes (28:9) that this wasn’t the case. When piecing together the biographical information provided by the Torah about Yaakov, 14 years of his life are unaccounted for. This corresponds to the time that he spent studying in the yeshivah of Eiver prior to setting out for Lavan’s house. If Yaakov was commanded by his parents to run away from his bloodthirsty brother and to go find a wife (28:2), why did he first stop at the yeshivah of Eiver to study for 14 years and only then return to the ultimate purpose of his journey?

Q: The Gemara in Megillah (13b) relates that when Yaakov encountered Rochel at the well, he asked her to marry him. She replied in the affirmative, but warned him that her father Lavan was a trickster. In what way do Jews living in America thousands of years later still need to protect themselves from Lavan’s deceit?

Q: When Lavan kissed his children and grandchildren to bid them farewell (31:55), what deleterious spiritual effect did this have on them?

A: Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, explains that Eiver lived through the generations of the flood and the dispersion. As a result, he possessed a unique “Torah” that described how to deal and interact with wicked surroundings. It was specifically at this time, on his way to live with the evil Lavan, that Yaakov felt it necessary to stop and absorb the lessons that would protect and insulate him from the spiritual dangers that awaited him.

Rashi writes (37:3) that Yaakov taught Yosef everything that he had learned from Eiver. Why didn’t Yaakov also share this Torah with his others sons, especially those who were known for their high level of diligent Torah study? Rav Yaakov explains that Rashi is referring to the teachings that he absorbed about how to deal with challenging spiritual environs, which were specifically appropriate for Yosef in his dealings with Potifar’s wife and all that would confront him in Egypt.

A: Although American Jews feel comfortable that the government respects our rights, Harav Nachman Bulman, zt”l, pointed out that it is no coincidence that the president’s residence, the White House, when translated into Hebrew becomes “Beis Lavan — the house of Lavan,” who seemed externally to be fair, yet in reality wanted to destroy the Jewish nation. While we must be appreciative for the unprecedented freedom granted us, we must remember that we are still in exile and never completely let our guard down.

A: Harav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, suggests that when Lavan kissed all of his children and grandchildren, they were influenced by his powerful love of deceit and trickery, and he imbued each of them with a powerful evil inclination for falsehood, which was absorbed and passed over to future generations.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.