For many years, my family had an unstable neighbor who would constantly walk on our lawn and throw sticks and garbage onto our property. We tried speaking to her, with no success. This past summer, we installed a fence and a wall of trees between the two properties. During the fence installation, the lady approached us to dissuade us from placing this barrier, promising she would not trespass or litter. Although her intentions were sincere, we felt that she needed a visual inducement in order to be able to follow through on her commitment. We apologized and told her, as the saying goes, “Good fences make good neighbors!” Baruch Hashem, despite our remaining apprehensions, the physical barrier created a psychological barrier, and she has not crossed or tossed anything onto our property since then.
A couple of years ago, I was speaking with Dr. Alex Gildin during the week of Parshas Vayeitzei. Dr. Gildin loves sharing divrei Torah, and told me a novel insight about the wall erected as a barrier between Yaakov and Lavan. Lavan chased after Yaakov, and when he caught up with him, he said he wanted to make a pact between them not to cause each other harm. They built a pile of stones as a testament to their truce that neither will cross this divider to cause harm to the other.
Dr. Gildin noted that this wall appears many years later in the Torah: When Bilam was traveling to curse klal Yisrael, he was riding his donkey and they became surrounded by a wall on both sides of the road. The donkey walked to the side (to avoid the angel standing in the middle of the road) and crushed Bilam’s leg against the wall. Targum Yonasan ben Uziel says that the two walls on each side were the monument and pile of stones that Yakov and Lavan had set up. The Gemara tells us that Bilam was a reincarnation of Lavan. Hashem was signaling to Bilam/Lavan: “You made a pact with Yaakov that you won’t harm him, and now you are breaking the deal by crossing to the other side.”
This reminded me of a shiur I heard from Rabbi Yosef Greenwald, the rav of Khal Dexter Park, Monsey, and dayan Beis HaVa’ad. He posed the following question: Yaakov named the pile of stones “Galeid.” But Lavan called it “Yegar Sahadusa,” an Aramaic name. How is that significant?
Rabbi Greenwald related the following deep insight from HaGaon HaRav Moshe Shapiro zt”l: Yaakov wanted to create a separation between himself and Lavan to protect his family from Lavan and his schemes. Therefore, Yaakov erected a wall so that each should stay on their own side and live entirely separate lives. But really … Lavan could just walk around or climb over!?
The physical wall was in fact a representation of a spiritual wall to separate and protect klal Yisrael. Our true protection is the Torah we learn. Yaakov erected a barrier and called it Galeid to signal that klal Yisrael would be living apart, in its own dimension. Lavan realized that the Torah was the invisible element of the wall, and he tried to contaminate it. Lavan gave it an Aramaic name, thereby intending to leave his muddy imprint on the Torah itself by introducing a foreign language. Lavan wanted to project his ideology onto Yaakov’s children.
But Hashem made Lavan’s plan backfire: Just like Hashem transformed Bilam’s attempts to curse Bnei Yisrael into blessings, so too Hashem transformed the Aramaic language into a holy language which would be incorporated in Torah. Indeed, our greatest Torah study is focused on Gemara (Talmud), which is written in Aramaic. Moreover, when Hashem gave the Torah, He taught it specifically in Aramaic, which is why there is a weekly obligation to learn the parsha of that week twice in Hebrew and once in Targum (Aramaic).
Lavan maliciously injected the Aramaic language into the Torah, which is written in lashon hakodesh (Hebrew), but this created the seed for the Aramaic language to become purified and used as the language of Torah study for the Jewish nation. The great wall that protects klal Yisrael is created by the Torah we study and the values of the Torah by which we live. These are the impregnable barriers that protect us and our families from the negative influences of the world.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.