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(5741) The twenty years during which he stayed in the house of Lavan, he did not sleep. And what did he say? The fifteen Shir HaMaalos psalms in the Book of Tehillim (Ber. Rabbah 68:11)



1. Commenting on the verse: "and he lay down in that place," the Midrash writes: "In that place he lay down, but throughout the fourteen years during which he was secluded in study in the house of Eiver he did not lie down".

An alternative view is: "In that place he lay down, but throughout the twenty years during which he stood in Lavan's house he did not lie down." (As it states: "Sleep departed from my eyes").

Further in the Midrash (Ber. Rabbah 68:11) it continues: “And what did he say?”

  • R’ Yehoshua ben Levi says: he said the fifteen (psalms which open with the words) Shir HaMa’alot, in the Book of Tehillim. What is the reason? It states ‘Shir HaMa’alot - A song of ascents of David. Had it not been for the Lord who was with us, let Yisroel declare now’. This refers to ‘Yisroel Saba - Israel, the Elder’ (Yaakov Avinu).

(Note: “Yisroel Saba”, generally refers to Yaakov Avinu as the father of the twelve tribes. In Kabbalah, it also refers to the lower Partzuf of Chochmah which, in general, is called Abba (“the father”)).

  • R’ Yishmael bar Nachman says: he said the entire book of Tehillim, what is the reason? It states ‘And You are holy, enthroned by the praises of Yisroel’ (Tehillim 22). This refers to ‘Yisroel Saba.”

The simple understanding of the question: “And what did he say?” cannot be “what did Yaakov Avinu occupy himself with in Lavan's house”. For it explicitly states that he labored in tending Lavan‘s flocks with all his strength, so much so that it states: “in the day . . in the night and my sleep wandered from my eyes”.

However the question is:

What did Yaakov say (praying, or learning) in order to overcome the hardship in Charan and in the house of Lavan?

In Lavan's house, Yaakov was in a condition and state of Galut for he left the house of his father Yitzchak to be in Lavan’s house.

And there he was occupied with the “Tzoan Lavan/ צאן לבן” – Lavan’s flocks.

So much so that the residing in Lavan’s house caused a degradation (ירידה) in in Yaakov’s status, as Rashi states, that Yaakov said “If he (Laban) comes to deceive me, I, too, am his brother in deception”. This means that he possessed, as it were, the characteristic of deceit, similar to the deceit of Lavan.

Therefore the question arises:

How was Yaakov able to endure and withstand this aspect of Galut? This must certainly be because the “voice is the voice of Yaakov” which nullifies the “hands” and the opposers of Yaakov and his aspects, as the Sages state. Therefore the question is: “what actually did he say?”

The Midrash answers that he said the “fifteen Shir HaMa’alot, in the Book of Tehillim” or “the entire book of Tehillim”. This gave him the power to overturn (דורכמאכן) the aspect of Galut.

2. One must however understand:

It is well and good, according to the view that he said “the entire book of Tehillim” for one can understand the relationship between the reciting it to Yaakov’s condition in the time that he “stood in the house of Lavan”. For since he was in a condition where, plainly, he could not deeply learn Torah (at the least – not in the manner that he studied while he was “immersed in the house of Eiver”) – nevertheless he was able to say praises (תהלות) to G-d, and such praises that contain the reward like (the study of) Negaim and Oholot (The study of plagues and tents of impurity).

However what is the special connection between the “fifteen Shir HaMa’alot in sefer Tehillim” to his condition in the Lavan’s house?

One can understand this by prefacing that which the Chida cites, namely that the “fifteen Shir HaMa’a lot, that David said corresponded to the fifteen years that all the Patriarchs lives together”.

[For Avraham Avinu lived for “one hundred and seventy five years” and Yitzchak was born when Avraham was “one hundred years old” and Yaakov was born when Yitzchak was “sixty years old”. It therefore comes out that there were fifteen years that all the Patriarchs lives together”]

According to this one could say that Yaakov said the “fifteen Shir HaMa’alot in sefer Tehillim” in order to awaken the merit (also) of his fathers - Avraham and Yitzchak. This means that, in addition to his own merits and powers, he should also draw down the powers of Avraham and Yitzchak. For specifically through them, would he be able to overcome the hardship in the Lavan’s house, as he said: “Had not the G-d of my father, the G-d of Avraham and the Fear of Yitzchak, been for me etc.”

3. The reason that he needed to rely on the merit of all the Patriarchs in order to withstand the trials of Lavan, can be understood by the advice that that is cited (by the Tzemach Tzedek) on how to be victorious in the war of the Yetzer (hara), in general - which is derived from an actual war, which occurred in the time of the Alter Rebbe.

The tactic of “setting the battle” (מערכות המלחמה) is that “each side divides his army into three divisions. One in the middle . . and two flanks to the right and left. And the other side also divides his army into these three divisions, and they fight one against the other”.

And the victory in the battle (which was in that time) came about by setting “these three camps” opposite to one camp of the enemy, which “through this it will certainly, overcome it”.

Similarly, one can learn from this, regarding the spiritual battle, the battle of the Yetzer:

In order to be vanquish the Yetzer, one must awaken “all the three Middot of holiness (love, fear, and mercy) (כל ג׳ מדות דקדושה (אהבה יראה ורחמים)) in opposition to the one Midah of Klippah- and through this it will certainly fall and he will vanquish it”.

Therefore one must utilize the “fifteen Shir HaMa’alot” which correspond to the “fifteen years that all the Patriarchs lives together” in order to overcome and withstand the aspect of Galut –

The three Avot are (correspond to) the three Middot of Holiness, love, fear, and mercy. And when one has all the three Avot together, meaning that one gathers together all the three Middot of holiness – then one has the power to withstand all the trials of Galut and to nullify them.

4. According to this, one could say that the allusion (according to the manner of Chassidut) and the preciseness of the number “fifteen Shir HaMa’alot” (and the “fifteen years that all the Patriarchs lives together”) is:

The number fifteen depicts the first two letters of G-d’s name - Yud and Hei (י׳ ה׳) (which have the numerical value of fifteen). The difference between the first two letters – Yud-Hei, and the final two letters – Vav-Hei (ו״ה) is that

  • The letters Vav-Hei refer the level of Middot (and Malchut/kingship)
  • Whereas the letters Yud-Hei refer to the level of Mochin/Intellect (for the letter Yud corresponds to Chochmah/Wisdom, the letter Hei corresponds to Binah/Understanding).

And this is the aspect of the “fifteen years that all the Patriarchs lives together”:

In order for all the three Middot to be together (and revealed), the – the Avot living together”- the Middot must be illuminated with the light of Mochin (Yud-Hei). For since Mochin/Intellect is higher than the manner of the division of Middot, they can, therefore, effect, the inclusion of the Middot (התכללות המדות).

5. This is however seemingly not sufficient:

The fifteen Shir HaMa’alot are called the name “Shir” (song/ שיר). Shir is connected with an aspect of Simcha (joy). Therefore how could Yaakov say Shir HaMa’alot, an aspect of song (שירה), when he was in a condition and state of Galut?

It is indeed true, that in these psalms, it speaks concerning my help etc. (עזרי), the imbuing of power to withstand Galut. Yet how can one stand in a state of revealed happiness,

(Of which it is fitting to say Shira (and as the Sages state: “one does not say Shira, unless it is on wine” (אין אומרים שירה אלא על היין))

when one finds oneself in Charan, the “anger from G-d against the world” ( חרון אף של מקום)  and in Lavan’s house?

The explanation of this is:

The descent of Yaakov Avinu to Lavan’s house was in in order for the ascent, namely in order that “And the man became exceedingly wealthy”. And since Yaakov saw the purpose of the intent of his descent (which was the ascent which would come out of it), therefore he recited, even while in the Lavan’s house, Shir HaMa’alot.

6. Every aspect’s expression, is emphasized in its beginning and head. Similarly, in our case, the ascent which comes through the descent in Galut is emphasized in the first of the “fifteen Shir HaMa’alot”.

The conclusion and end of the first (psalm of the fifteen) Shir HaMa’alot

(which follows the dictum: “everything follows its end” (החתום הכל הולך אתר))

is “I am at peace, but when I speak, they [come] to [wage] war.” (אֲנִי שָׁלוֹם וְכִי אֲדַבֵּר הֵמָּה לַמִּלְחָמָה).

This means that even though he wants peace, nevertheless “they come to wage war with me”. For the (spiritual) war is the concealment and hiddenness of Galut. And specifically, it is the aspect of the tests which prevent and hinder one’s Avodat HaShem. And they “come to battle”, opposing this service.

However by saying the “Shir HaMa’alot” on “they are for war”, it stresses the great virtue which comes as a result of the battle.

The explanation in this is:

A Yid must not allow, nor even place himself, in a condition of tests (במצב פון נסיונות). On the contrary, he must ask “Do not lead us . . and not into the hand of temptation “ (אל תביאנו כו״ ולא לידי נסיון). Therefore he says “I am at peace” meaning the he seeks an Avodah in a manner of peace (which is not connected with war and trials).

However nevertheless, due to the virtue which comes specifically through war and trials, G-d sometimes creates a situation where “they come to wage war with me” – that among the “they” (המה) ( in the plural – meaning “this physical world etc.”, which is called the domain of the many (Public Domain/ רשות הרבים)) - there are those that come to fight and obstruct one from his Avodat HaShem.

On this aspect he says Shir HaMa’alot:

For not only do the tests, not prevent him from serving G-d nor do they effect within him a weakening of his Avodah, but on the contrary, they evoke within him an additional power and strength, with a greater vigor and strength (“yeser s'ais v'yeser oz/ יתר שאת ויתר עז”). And this brings him to a point where he stands in a condition of “Shir”.

7. Every aspect in Torah is an eternal lesson. And therefore it is understood that all the aforementioned is a lesson for the entire duration of Galut and a special lesson for our time, the hardship of Galut (קושי הגלות), the generation of the heel of Moshiach (דרא דעקבתא דמשיחא).

When one thinks about the redoubled darkness of the generation of the heel of Moshiach, so much so that according to Torah, there is a place to ask “from where will my help come”, one can fall into depression, G-d forbid.

The lesson - is from what was stated:

Since the descent of Yidden into Galut (which is similar to “Yaakov left . . and went toward Charan”) is for the sake of the ascent, namely in order that there will be the “Yisron haOr min haChoshech” - the benefit of the light that proceeds from the darkness, and the benefit of wisdom from the folly (יִתְרוֹן לַחָכְמָה מִן הַסִּכְלוּת) - there must be the “I shall raise my eyes”, meaning that one must look

(and in a manner of lifting one’s eyes)

to the purpose of the intent of Galut – the ascent which will be with the Future Geulah.

When one does this, not only does one not get affected from the darkness of Galut, but on the contrary, he stands in a condition and state of revealed happiness – “Shir HaMa’alot”.

[However, one must not imply, G-d forbid, that one must be happy about the condition and state of Galut and think that this is a condition and state that is fitting for Yidden. G-d forbid (that one say that)! For Galut is an aspect of “darkness” and “folly” etc., and the Torah of truth explicitly states that a Yid in Galut, is a “son that was banned from the table of his father, the king”. And if the son feels differently and speaks differently – it is understood that it is reflective of the special darkness and lowness of his Galut.]

However one must contemplate the intent of this. There must be the “benefit of the light that proceeds from the darkness”, and “the benefit of wisdom from the folly”].

And through this, it will be revealed that one feels the answer

(To the question “from where will my help come” (מֵאַיִן יָבֹא עֶזְרִי))

in the question itself – according to the inner explanation of the phrase, namely that the “help” (עזר) will be drawn down from the level of “Ayin” (אַיִן) – from a level that one cannot grasp for it is higher than intellect and understanding etc., higher than names (שמות).

And the “help” will also be drawn down into Seder Hishtalshelut, and in a revealed manner and it will effect there the: “My help is from the L-rd, the Maker of heaven and earth”, so much so that it affects the actual heaven and earth.

m’Sichas Shabbat Parshat Vayeira 5740

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