April 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

How Did Yaakov Sleep at Night?

How did Yaakov sleep at night? Imagine the anxiety of a young man who is forced to flee from his home out of concern that his brother will try to kill him. He is told to run to a far-off destination to find refuge with family members he has never met. He has heard stories over the years, and knows that this part of the family has cultural and moral norms that are counter to many of the values he has been imbued with at home. As a “pure man who dwells in the tent,” travel is foreign to him, and he wonders whether he is prepared for the long and arduous journey. Yet he leaves his home, stops at night and is able to fall asleep?

Chazal in Midrash Rabba address this question. Rabbi Pinchas quotes a phrase from Mishlei 3:23-24: “Then you will go safely on your way, and your feet won’t stumble. If you lie down to sleep do not be scared, and your sleep will be sweet.” Rabbi Pinchas explains that these verses refer to Yaakov, who did not need to be scared of Esav or Lavan, and was able to go to sleep as the pasuk in Vayetzei (Bereishit 28:11) tells us “and he lay down in that place.”

What is the message of this Midrash? What is Rabbi Pinchas teaching us? The commentary in the Midrash Rabba Hamevuar edition of Midrash Rabba explains that the context of this verse in Mishlei is a parent giving moral and spiritual direction to their child who is about to embark on a journey. As such, the connection to our narrative is the fact that Yaakov listened to his parents’ directives, as stated in last week’s parsha (Breishit 28:7) “and Yaakov listened to his father and mother, and he traveled to Padan Aram.” Apparently the sense of tranquility that Yaakov had in his travels stemmed from a place of confidence in his mission, knowing that his parents stood behind him on his journey and he was following their desired path.

I would add that this message is especially poignant when one considers that in the previous parsha, Yaakov found himself in a predicament, caught between the conflicting intentions of his father and mother over the distribution of the brachot. Receiving a singular message now from both of them, that he was to continue on to Padan Aram, restored any doubts he may have harbored that his parents were on different pages regarding his future. He now clearly understood that they had disagreed over specifics related to the intent and role of the brachot, but were united in their view of his overall future and the path he should take.

This Midrash teaches us that a clear sense of mission that stems from one’s educational upbringing can provide an individual with a sense of tranquility and resoluteness that gives them the confidence to push forward despite challenging circumstances.

Studies show that students today exhibit unprecedented levels of anxiety. As teachers, we are constantly balancing the need to ensure rigorous academics and sophisticated levels of competence in our classrooms with the management of students’ social and emotional well-being. We also recognize the world that our students will be entering upon graduation, where they may be faced with challenges such as antisemitism and attacks on Jewish values at levels that we have not seen in decades.

Schools and families can partner to model the experience that Yaakov felt in this Midrash by transmitting a unified and clear set of educational values that our students can connect to and embrace. We can develop trust relationships with our teens that convey to them that our lofty aspirations for them are attainable and relevant, and assure them that they will be met with support at every level. Our goal is to empower students with a sense of resilience and self-efficacy that will foster a level of confidence that will propel them forward and allow them to embark on their own spiritual journeys with a sense of tranquility and confidence.


Rivka Alter is a yoetzet halacha and teaches Judaic studies at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles