Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayeshev
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

Kislev 20 5781
This week's Torah reading begins with a simple statement that our father Yaakov settled in the land where his father had lived his entire life – the land of Canaan. Why is it so important that the Torah should bother to mention that this land was the land of Canaan? It seems obvious that we know from previous chapters where the family of Yaakov lived, and that it was the land of Canaan that would later be called the land of Israel. What special significance is there now when the Torah adds to the original text the descriptive phrase that it was the land of Canaan?

As usual, in discussing such issues the commentators over the centuries have added their insights and wisdom to help us understand and appreciate the greatness and message of the biblical text itself. Nothing appears in the Torah at random, though there are a few instances when the Talmud does identify certain words and phrases as being additional decorations of beauty on the Torah text. Considering these extraneous words, many explanations and comments have been offered throughout the millennia of Jewish life and scholarship. Each of these elucidations adds understanding to the holiness of the text.

My addition to this wealth of scholarship is the idea that the phrase "the land of Canaan" occurs at the very end of the verse, after it is stated that Yaakov dwelled in the land of his father. The order of the phrases is important because it teaches us an important lesson on how to view our attachment to the land of Israel.

Yaakov came to live there not because it was the land Canaan – its physical location, its landscape, and its geographical structure. Rather, his entire attachment to it was that it was the land where his father had dwelt, and that his father did so under the commandment of the Almighty. Thus, the attachment and bond of the Jewish people, the descendants of Yaakov are not based on purely external considerations. Rather, it is based upon our religious heritage and family tradition that has, over the ages, taught us that this is our home, this is where we belong and where we should live.

Over the long exile of the Jewish people, this attachment to the land has never wavered or waned. It is interesting that even when the Zionist movement had to vote whether to accept the country of Uganda as a substitute for the land of Israel, even the most secular of labor Zionists refused to allow this to happen. For the Jewish people throughout the ages, it was always about settling in the land of Israel and nowhere else. The failed colonies of Baron Hirsch in South America and the rest of the world, as compared to the successful colonies of the Baron Rothschild in the land of Israel, only serve to illustrate this point in historical terms. Yaakov is going home, and he knows exactly where home is located.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Berel Wein

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