by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – November 30, 2011
The first verse of the Torah section of VaYetze reads: “And Jacob departed from Beer Sheva and went to Haran” (Bereshit 28:10). On this verse the great medieval exegete Rashi comments: “It need only have written ‘And Jacob went to Haran.’ Why does it mention his departure? This teaches that the departure of a righteous person from a place makes an impression, for at the time that a righteous person is in a city, he is its magnificence, he is its splendor, he is its grandeur. Once he has departed from there, its magnificence has gone away, its splendor has gone away, its grandeur has gone away.”
Rashi explains the superfluous mention of Jacob’s departing as the Torah’s emphasizing something noteworthy of Jacob’s parting. It was not just of note that Jacob went to Haran. It was also of importance that he left Beer Sheva. That is because Jacob’s very stay in Beer Sheva was noteworthy, and therefore his leaving was noteworthy. When someone the likes of Jacob is in a town, he brings with him something special that becomes evident in the town and, when he leaves, that special quality that he brought to the town leaves with him.
A question is raised on the aforementioned explanation by the great latter day Torah giant R. Moshe Sofer (1762-1839), known as Chatam Sofer. He asks why a similar mention of departure is not found with regards to Abraham in order to emphasize “that the departure of a righteous person from a place makes an impression.” In response, Chatam Sofer notes that Jacob was in the midst of Isaac and Rebecca who could readily appreciate his absence and upon whom his presence left an impression. Abraham, on the other hand, was among myriads of idol worshippers who could not appreciate his absence and upon whom his stay left no impression.
Indeed, Chatam Sofer is telling us that while the presence of someone as great as Abraham and Jacob is one whose stature would be one to be leaving an impression upon his surroundings, an impression from which others can learn and grow, such an impression can only be left if his surroundings are receptive to it. May we all be of good enough character to be receptive and truly appreciative of the presence of those special people around us and may their special qualities leave their due impression upon us, from which we can learn and which can help us to grow, develop and prosper.