Parashat Vayetzei: Invisible Shield

“And behold! Hashem was standing over him…” (Beresheet 28:13)

When Rivkah became aware of Esav’s intention to murder Yaakov, she convinced Yitzchak to instruct Yaakov to leave home to go find a suitable wife. During his escape, Yaakov slept on the site of the Akeidah — Har Hamoriah — and dreamt the “ladder dream.” He saw angels going up and down a ladder whose feet were on the ground and whose top reached the Heavens. Above it all, Hashem was standing and watching over worldly events. In the dream, Hashem promised Yaakov that He would forever be his protector from all harm.

The Torah points out a seemingly insignificant detail that is crucial to our understanding of Hashem’s providence: “He took from the stones of the place that he arranged around his head, and lay down in that place” (Beresheet 28:11). Rashi explains that he put the stones around his head like a roof gutter because he feared wild animals. Just two pesukim later Rashi says that standing over him was with the purpose of protecting Yaakov.

One might ask, if Yaakov was afraid of animals, then what good was a band of stones around his head? Even if the rocks would protect the head, the rest of his body was exposed to danger. And if Yaakov did properly protect himself from harm, then what is Hashem’s contribution to his safety?

Rabbi Yehudah Tzadkah, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivat Porat Yosef Yerushalayim, explained that Yaakov was aware of the fact that the stones were a flimsy barrier against wild animals. However, when leaving home to go into exile among idol worshippers and people who hold values contrary to our Torah, it was of utmost importance to guard the head. The wiles of the evil inclination in our generation are focused on a constant barrage of philosophy, values and lifestyle choices that can affect the pure thoughts of a Jew. The danger to the head is of utmost importance in galut and so he took steps to symbolically protect that part of his body.

A man was walking through a forest with his walking stick in hand. Suddenly he saw a grizzly bear running in his direction to kill him. With no other means available, the potential victim raised his stick to ward off the bear. Suddenly, he heard the pop of a rifle and saw the bear fall to the ground and die. The simpleton was pleasantly surprised and concluded that his walking stick had magical powers and killed the bear. In fact, a hunter was hidden in the brush and he fired at the wild grizzly with marksman-like accuracy.

When Yaakov constructed his protective wall, he was exerting permitted effort — hishtadlut. Immediately, he fell asleep and Hashem appeared to him — “standing over him — demonstrating that although the human being must exert reasonable effort in all earthly endeavors, the results are due to Hashem’s involvement.

Today, in a society riddled with terror and contempt for law, fear of physical harm makes it wise for people to set up barriers and devices for protection and safety. Cameras, alarms and gates are all part of the protection plan. We must categorize all that we do as hishtadlut. But after we’ve done our part, it is incumbent on all to acknowledge that “unless Hashem watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Tehillim 127:1). We do our best to remain safe from all those who wish us harm — but truly, only Hashem is our Invisible Shield.

Shabbat shalom.