In B’reishis (32:5), Yaakov Avinu instructs his angels to relate to his brother Eisav: “To my lord to Eisav, so said your servant Yaakov: I have sojourned with Lavan [Laban, in English] and have lingered until now.” Rashi notes the Hebrew word “garti” for “I have sojourned” has the numerical equivalent of 613, the number of mitzvos contained in the Torah. The message Yaakov is conveying, explains Rashi, is that although I was living with my father-in-law Laban, I kept faithful to the Torah and did not learn from his wicked ways.
The question that beckons is, why would Yaakov brag about his being faithful to the Torah? Is it the way of one our greatest and most humble forefathers to preen proudly his achievements? Rav Meir Shapiro zt”l, founder of Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin and of the Daf Yomi program, had a significant insight. Yaakov was not bragging. To the contrary, he was bemoaning the fact that despite spending all this time in the company of Laban, he did not learn from him how to be so zealous in keeping to the Torah as Laban was to his evil practices.
The United States of America just suffered one of the most humiliating surrenders in its history. Despite trillions of dollars and enlisting the most powerful army in the world, after 20 years we simply walked out, abandoning personnel, equipment, and citizens to the Taliban thugs. I don’t think President Biden’s biggest apologists can truly accept the way he acquitted himself thorough this debacle. Disgraceful is the first word that comes to mind.
Yet, we need to ask ourselves: How did this happen? How did these throwbacks from a barbaric era, equipped with little else than machine guns and swords, manage to stand tough and repel not just the United States, but the NATO forces and the Russians before them?
It seems these Taliban are disciples of Laban. As backward and evil as they may be, they are dedicated to their beliefs. That seems to be what is sustaining them and allowing them to overcome the greatest of hurdles.
Learn from Yaakov’s mistake. We need to learn – even from these people. We need to be filled with energy and zeal for our cause.
With the social decay in America, which has produced a society that is physically and figuratively ripping down its long-cherished establishments, our country finds itself floundering. What are we fighting for? What is worth dying for? We don’t care about the integrity of our own borders. We don’t care about the sacred institution of marriage. We don’t care about the uniqueness of each gender. We are all racist. Our leaders dismiss serious issues with a laugh or an awful cackle. We have no restrictions in how we are entertained. We malign our police. So, what do we stand for? Ask the Taliban. They have an answer, as unpleasant as it may be. Ask Laban.
As Jews, we suffer from the same malaise. You know how I feel about our useless established organizations. But what about ourselves? When a yeshivah boy was wantonly gunned down last week in Denver, the reaction for some strange reason was muffled. It should have been earth-shattering.
We need to approach the upcoming Yamim Nora’im with a renewed commitment to take our attachment to our fellow Jews here, in Israel, and to Hashem. We are no doubt living in very trying times, especially with COVID still playing havoc upon us, but we must rise to the occasion. Learn from the best… or the worst, if necessary.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.