Rabbi Yoni Levin, the assistant rabbi at Aish Kodesh, delivered the drasha this Shabbos while Rav Weinberger was at YU for Shabbos. He spoke in honor of the bar mitzvah of Avi Goldstone. Mazel tov! Below is the drasha which he typed up and emailed to me. Thank you Rabbi Levin for allowing me to share it!
Believing in Your Potential - Being Engraved on the Leg of the Throne of Glory
It’s astounding how each year we read the same stories, we read the same פרשיות, and they never seem to grow old. We are in the midst of a cliffhanger, a story of suspense. We are on the edge of our seats waiting to see what happens to יעקב אבינו as he runs into the dark of the night all alone, all by himself, scared, and lost.
I’m not sure about each of you, but I could never read the same book twice.
But when it comes to the תורה for some reason, each year, the story becomes more exciting. We are reliving the stories of the אבות. Personally, I get most emotional when we read the end of the תורה, and each year משה רבינו dies again, and it almost brings me to tears, the loss of משה רבינו, our leader, the one who lead us out of מצרים, through the מדבר.
Our נשמות are so connected, they are so involved in each of these stories, in the lives of our ancestors, to the point that the פרשיות truly come to life.
Story of יעקב
So here we are in the middle of ספר בראשית and יעקב is running away since last שבת. He’s running as fast as he could. He has been sent off by his parents to escape his brother עשב. His destination: the house of לבן, his uncle.
And during this marathon, he keeps looking over his shoulder. He keeps looking to his right. He looks to his left. He is tense and uneasy not knowing where he may confront עשו. He’s scared from any חיות רעות, he has no support system, no one to protect him, no one to talk to. He is fighting a battle all by himself.
And as יעקב wanders off on his own, scared, lost, in a cloud of darkness, confusion, he winds up falling asleep in the מקום המקדש. ה' יתברך puts יעקב אבינו to sleep particularly in the very place that will eventually become the בית מקדש. יעקב is lying down in this place of קדושה, where he senses this powerful energy, this מקום full with the potential of greatness.
While sleeping in this place of the Divine, יעקב is overwhelmed with power, energy and קדושה. יעקב is overtaken by this dream. He experiences this vivid, clear, and dominant dream of מלאכים ascending and descending the ladder והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה.
Message of the Dream
יעקב is at a very delicate moment of his life. What message is Hashem giving יעקב אבינו at this very tender life-changing moment?
יעקב is transitioning to a life of independence. יעקב is feeling lonely and lost, without parents and teachers to guide him.
What is הקב"ה teaching יעקב through this dream? He is expected to be independent and responsible for himself. He is being forced to grow up. What חיזוק could הקב"ה possibly give יעקב אבינו at this very sensitive point in his life?
Each one of us has possibly felt this same feeling at some point in our life. Some of us might be feeling them right now - this feeling of darkness and loneliness. Perhaps we are struggling with פרנסה, stuck in an unsuccessful business, no place to turn, no place to look. We might feel this when we get sucked into the darkness of תאוה, drawn into the world of עבירות – this sense of guilt, a sense of regret, depression, fear. We might feel this in a relationship, this feeling of loneliness, abandonment.
On a global level, as a nation, as part of humanity, we might be feeling lost as we see waves of terror throughout ארץ ישראל. This past week we lost more קדושים. We are constantly running away in the darkness from a different brother of ours, ישמעאל. We are constantly looking over our shoulder. ה' ינקום דמם.
France was hit with a big shock last Shabbos. Unfortunately, they were hit with reality, a reality that Jews face every day in ארץ ישראל and many cities throughout Europe.
What is an appropriate message that can help build us back up, strengthen us, put us back on track, both as individuals and as a nation?
And יעקב Wakes Up…
When יעקב אבינו wakes up, he makes an interesting comment.
ויאמר אכן יש ה' במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי
What does the word אכן mean? The Artscroll defines the word to mean “surely”. And יעקב said “surely Hashem exists in this very place, but I was unaware”. יעקב sensed this magnitude of energy in this מקום המקדש. It was so certain to him, it was so clear, it was אכן, this place was undoubtedly filled with an overflow of קדושה.
However, there is another understanding of the word אכן. Not in the פשט, but in the רמז, the hint behind this word, concealed within each letter of the word אכן.
The Acronym of אכ"ן
Many מפרשים explain that the word אכן is actually an acronym. יעקב אבינו was sleeping in the מקום המקדש, the center of the world, the center of the universe, the center of שמים. He was lying below the center of the עליונים, the upper spheres. He was lying directly below the כסא הכבוד, Hashem’s Throne of Honor, beneath the very legs that upheld the כסא הכבוד.
This כסא הכבוד, this throne on which the שכינה resides, had 4 legs no different than any other throne that a king might be sitting on.
On each of the 4 legs was engraved a different image. There was a lion, an אריה, which is hinted by the letter א'. Another leg had a כרוב, one of the כרובים, an image of a baby, hinted by the letter כ'. And a third leg was engraved with the image of an eagle, a נשר, hinted by the letter נ'. This spells out the word אכן, אריה, כרוב, and נשר.
And what was the 4th image on the 4th leg? אכן יש ה' במקום הזה, יעקב says that he knew the three legs, the אכן but אנכי לא ידעתי. The fourth I didn’t know, he says. The word אנכי contains the three letters of אכן plus the letter י. The 4th leg is represented by the letter י'. What does the letter י' stand for? חז"ל tells us that the image of יעקב was engraved on the 4th leg. The letter י' represents יעקב himself. Now when יעקב says אנכי לא ידעתי it means he didn’t know the letter י, he didn’t know himself, he didn’t know אנכי. He didn’t realize that he himself was the 4th leg.
The Image of יעקב
יעקב was in a difficult stage of his life. He was forced to grow up. He was off on his own. And during this very challenging stage הקב"ה shows him a dream. ה' יתברך shows יעקב אבינו how much potential he has. He shows him the tremendous heights that he can reach. יעקב says אנכי לא ידעי, I didn’t know how far I can reach, I didn’t know that my image touches the כסא הכבוד. I didn’t realize my actions have ripple effects in the World above.
This message of teaching יעקב אבינו how much he could accomplish is also the message behind the ladder. The ladder is rooted in the ground והנה סלם מוצב ארצה but ראשו מגיע השמימה that we can reach tremendous heights.
Our Image in the 4th Leg
The truth is, if you look at the גמ' in חגיגה which records the 4 legs of the כסא הכבוד doesn’t say that יעקב is the 4th leg but the 4th leg is אדם – any person. Each one of us has our image imprinted on that 4th leg. Avi - you have your image on the 4th leg of the כסא הכבוד. You have the ability to reach tremendous heights and lofty goals.
This 4th leg is a mirror. And when each one of us look up at this mirror we see ourselves imprinted on the כסא הכבוד. This is both a daunting realization, yet an empowering message. We have the ability to shake the world above, make waves in שמים.
We have to internalize how powerful our actions are, how high they can reach, how we can turn over worlds, we can make changes in the עליונים.
There is a striking Gemara in גיטין that records a debate about the details that surround the story of פילגש בגבעה.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת גיטין דף ו עמוד ב
ועוד, הא ר' אביתר הוא דאסכים מריה על ידיה, דכתיב: בותזנה עליו פילגשו, רבי אביתר אמר: זבוב מצא לה, ר' יונתן אמר: נימא מצא לה, ואשכחיה ר' אביתר לאליהו, א"ל: מאי קא עביד הקב"ה? א"ל: עסיק בפילגש בגבעה, ומאי קאמר? אמר ליה: אביתר בני כך הוא אומר, יונתן בני כך הוא אומר, א"ל: ח"ו, ומי איכא ספיקא קמי שמיא? א"ל: אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים הן זבוב מצא ולא הקפיד, נימא מצא והקפיד. אמר רב יהודה: זבוב בקערה, ונימא באותו מקום, זבוב - מאיסותא, ונימא - סכנתא. איכא דאמרי: אידי ואידי בקערה, זבוב - אונסא, ונימא – פשיעותא
What is most striking though is that when Hashem is learning this topic, he is quoting ר' אביתר and ר' יונתן. And the same holds true, when we are learning and we are מחדש something, Hashem will quote us. That is as if to say, we are placing the words in Hashem’s mouth. We are dictating what is being said upstairs in שמים!
If we can just take this idea to heart and realize how far reaching our speech, our thoughts, our actions can go, it will drive us to do only good.
We need to be confident in ourselves, confident in our actions - how we act really does make a difference.
A Little Bit About Avi
When you take a look at Avi, one thing immediately comes to mind; and that’s his precious smile - that smile that goes from cheek to cheek. Avi is forever in the state of שמחה.
שמחה is key to reaching one’s true potential, one’s true heights. It indicates a healthy dose of confidence that will enable Avi to reach immeasurable heights.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף קל עמוד א
תניא, רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר: כל מצוה שקיבלו עליהם בשמחה כגון מילה, דכתיב שש אנכי על אמרתך כמוצא שלל רב - עדיין עושין אותה בשמחה,
Avi is starting off his life as a בר מצוה boy with an unthinkable amount of שמחה.
Now Avi, as you embark on this new journey supplied with the proper tools to succeed, you need to believe in yourself and your ability to succeed. You already have shown us an enormous amount of success with your dedication to daven, perform מצוות and learn. You need to remember והנה סולם מוצב ארצה, that the ladder is grounded, you need to stay firm and grounded with a strong base, a healthy one. But you also need to look forward and find your mission in life and to realize that you can be מגיע השמימה.
We look forward to seeing you continuously grow and you should only bring Nachas to your family and continue to inspire all of us around you with your smile, your happiness, your dedication to Torah, Tefila and Mitzvos!
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