This week's parsha, in continuing the episode of Yaakov and Eisav’s rivalry, tells of Yaakov's journey from Be’er Sheva to Charan. Rashi (verse 10) notes that his leaving was significant because “the departure of a Tzaddik makes an impression, for as long as he is there, he is their magnificence, he is their splendor...Once he leaves, the [city’s] magnificence has gone away, its splendor has gone away...” Clearly both Yaakov's presence in and exiting of the city was impactful.
One may wonder why Yaakov in particular is used as the illustration for this idea. We have already heard of a few departures of the righteous from their towns, some of the most notable being Avraham from Ur Kasdim and Yitzchak to Gerar to see Avimelech. Surely these also made an impression on their cities, yet we have no mention of this idea in those instances. What is so significant about Yaakov's departure in comparison with the others that warrants this special status?
As we know from the Midrashic sources, in the period between his leaving of his family and his setting off for Charan, Yaakov went to study in the Yeshiva of Shem V’Ever for 14 years. But when and where did this happen? The Meharsha in Megillah (17a) points out that if it is true that he spent 14 years in the house of Shem V’Ever, it would seem to contradict the verse itself – which implies that he left Be’er Sheva and went directly to Charan, without any stops along the way. Furthermore, the Midrash Rabbah and the Gemara in Chullin (91b) explain that the dream of the Ladders and the Angels actually occurred when Yaakov was still in Be’er Sheva, even though it is mentioned after the passuk has already told us that Yaakov was on his way. This would again imply that once Yaakov left Be’er Sheva, there were no detours before his arrival in Charan.
To resolve this issue, the Meharsha gives an answer that is meaningful on many levels. The Meharsha explains that the Yeshiva of Shem V’Ever was actually in the city of Be’er Sheva itself. Therefore, when the Torah says that Yaakov left Be’er Sheva to go to Charan, it was already after the 14 years of study. This is stunning; we know that throughout that time, Eisav was seeking retribution from Yaakov for stealing the Bracha. If Eisav were to find him, he would surely have exacted revenge upon Yaakov. Yet, according to the Meharsha, Yaakov remained in the very same city with the person looking to kill him and was never caught! This obviously bespeaks of the great Hatmada (diligence) Yaakov in his learning – he must not have left the Yeshiva throughout the entire 14 years, for had he done so, he would have been found by Eisav.
According this Meharsha we can now answer our question. Why was Yaakov chosen to illustrate the concept of the impact of a Tzaddik on his city, when we already have prior examples to learn from? As explained previously, for much of the time that Yaakov was in Be’er Sheva, he remained hidden behind the walls of the Yeshiva, and probably did not make much contact with the people outside. Yet even with all this secrecy, the Midrash says “the departure of a Tzaddik makes an impression, for as long as he is there, he is their magnificence, he is their splendor...Once he leaves, the [city’s] magnificence is gone away, it's splendor has gone away...” Yaakov, being a complete unknown, is in actuality “the splendor” of the city, and his departure is marked as a loss despite the complete lack of awareness of the residents! The very presence of a ben-Torah in the town is a merit, even when he does not make an active effort to interact with others. Of course we understand that one who goes out and speaks to the people directly can influence them for the good, but only from Yaakov could we learn that a person who sits indoors and does his avodat Hashem privately, makes a strong impact on the public as well, if not even more so.
What an important lesson for us all - we all want to make our mark and do all we can for K’lal Yisrael. Whether we find ourselves in the public sphere or not, we need to remember that first and foremost, our personal efforts in serving Hashem make the greatest impression.
May we all be able to be a source of merit for the entire nation in all that we do.