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Vayetzei 5784 - One Step at a Time

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Once Yaakov has told his future father-in-law that he would like to marry Rachel, he offers to work for seven years for that opportunity, and Lavan agrees.


And it is at this point that the Torah tells us something interesting about how Yaakov felt while working all this time for the opportunity to marry his wife-to-be.


Says the Torah:


(כ) וַיַּעֲבֹד יַעֲקֹב בְּרָחֵל שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וַיִּהְיוּ בְעֵינָיו כְּיָמִים אֲחָדִים בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ אֹתָהּ:

And Yaakov worked 7 years for Rachel.  And they were in his eyes like a few days because of his love for her.


And, of course, many of the commentaries are perplexed by this statement.  After all, if he loved her so much and could not wait to marry her, even a few days, weeks, or months would have been difficult to wait!  Yet, the Torah seems to say that BECAUSE HE LOVED HER SO MUCH, the WAIT WASN’T SO BAD!?  HOW CAN THAT BE?!


Rashi points out that the language of “yamim achadim” a few days does NOT come to reflect the fact that Yaakov felt that he didn’t have to work so long for Rachel.  Rather, it is referencing the initial command that Rivka, his mother, had given him when she sent him to Lavan’s house in the first place.


Rivka was worried that Esav was going to try to kill Yaakov for having stolen his bracha.  And so, she sends Yaakov away, and she tells him:


(מג) וְעַתָּה בְנִי שְׁמַע בְּקֹלִי וְקוּם בְּרַח לְךָ אֶל לָבָן אָחִי חָרָנָה: (מד) וְיָשַׁבְתָּ עִמּוֹ יָמִים אֲחָדִים עַד אֲשֶׁר תָּשׁוּב חֲמַת אָחִיךָ:

My son, listen to me, and go run to Lavan my brother in Charan.  And you should stay there for YAMIM ACHADIM, until the wrath of your brother has calmed down.


The Ibn Ezra there says what is “Yamim Achadim”?  It’s certainly not a reference to going for a FEW DAYS.  Rather, Yamim can refer to years, and ACHADIM, from she shoresh ECHAD, means SINGLE DIGITS, as he says, less than 10 years.


And then, Rivka tells Yitzchak that she wants Yaakov to go to Charan to find a wife.


So, when Yaakov gets to Charan, he finds the girl he wants to marry, and he is able to make the deal for only SEVEN YEARS.  And so, at that moment he feels that these were the YAMIM ACHADIM his mother had in mind.  He had found the woman he loved and was hoping to come back in time that had originally been allotted to him.  



Chizkuni, Seforno, and the Baalei Tosfos offer a different approach. Of course, they write, during the time he was working for Rachel, Yaakov did NOT feel like it was a short amount of time.  In fact, because he couldn’t wait to marry her, it felt like an EXTRAORDINARILY LONG time.  However, Yaakov realized just how special she was, and if Lavan would have asked him to work 14 years to marry her, he would have! 


So, in that sense, B’EINAV, in his eyes, according to his estimation, yes, it was hard to wait, but he would have been willing to do SO MUCH MORE because of  “Ahavaso Osa” how much he LOVED HER and how special he knew she was, the work he put in didn’t feel quite as difficult.


The Sfas Emes offers a third approach, and Rabbeinu Bechayei seems to say a similar idea as well:


When the Torah tells us how Yaakov felt about the time and effort he was going to have to put in to making his marriage with Rachel become a reality, it is not simply offering us insight into his inner thoughts and feelings about the length of time it would take.


Rather, the Torah is offering us a blueprint, and outline for how Yaakov was going to make it through this extraordinarily long time.  He loved her so much and could not wait to begin his life with her, but waiting SEVEN YEARS was going to be so difficult and painful.


So, what did he do?  He decided, I’m not going to look at this upcoming time as SEVEN YEARS, because if I do, I’ll never make it through in- tact emotionally.  Rather, I’m going to take it, literally, ONE DAY AT A TIME. Because if I look at this as one huge, long amount of time, I will be overwhelmed by the task at hand.  But, if instead of taking all 7 years on my shoulders all at once, I look at it as 7 days, and then another 7 days, one month and then another month, or even, quite literally, one day and then another day, then he felt he had a better chance of making it through the other side of this immense challenge.


Rav Aharon Soloveitchik, who was the brother of the Rav, and a Talmid Chacham and incredible Torah personality in his own rite, suffered from a debilitating stroke in his later years.


I have shared with you in the past that my rebbetzin growing up, Tova Siegel, is Rav Aharon’s daughter, so I had the zechus many times to see Rav Aharon when he would visit, and my father would at times care for his medical needs.


After the stroke, it was incredibly difficult for R’ Aharon to walk, as half his body was left paralyzed. Nevertheless, he worked very hard to regain his strength so that he would be able to continue to teaching Torah both in Chicago where he lived as well as at Yeshiva University.  And he would be accompanied each day by his talmidim, his students.


One day during therapy, one of the students noticed that Rav Aharon was saying something to himself as he struggled to take step after step. He thought maybe his rebbe was reciting Tehillim or reviewing mishnayos. 


But as he got closer he could hear him saying the following words: “Achas, Achas V’Achas, Achas UShtayim”.  This was the unusual manner in which the Kohein Gadol would count each and every time he sprinkled the blood of the korbanos during his unique Avoda on Yom Kippur.  “Achas, Achas V’Achas, Achas UShtayim.”


Rav Aharon understood that even as he undertook the sacred work of strengthening his body to allow him to teach Torah once again, he would only be able to do so if was willing to take it, quite literally, ONE STEP AT A TIME.


I heard this story many years ago, but I then saw it again in an article written by R’ Aryeh Zev Ginsburg.  Rav Ginsburg is the rav of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center of Cedarhurst, and had a very serious case of COVID, survived after a very scary few months, and eventually needed many months of rehab, himself, to regain his ability to walk.


He wrote an article for Mishpacha Magazine where he related that many years before he was ever sick, he had read this story about Rav Aharon Soloveitchik, and for whatever reason he had decided to write it down and later forgot about it. It was only once he found himself with the daunting task of rehab in front of himself that he rediscovered the story.


He writes that this story gave him such strength, and that as he took one step at a time, learning to walk again, he would recite the same words that Rav Aharon had used to help him take those difficult steps so many years prior.


There are so many times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed by the task at hand.  It might be a difficult relationship we need to handle, a physical or psychological illness, managing our emotions with all that is going on right now in the world, or a desire to make a change in our religious life.


No matter the challenge, when it feels so big, and it is difficult to imagine finding a pathway forward, remember that we don’t have to take everything on all at once.  Rather, we can take it one day at a time, one challenging interaction at a time, one new initiative at a time.


In fact, studies have found that when people take shorter, more concrete steps and celebrate small wins, the mind receives that feedback and increases motivation moving forward.


We all face challenges in our lives that feel like they are just too much to handle. But when we are willing to break challenges down into smaller parts - counting “achas, achas v’achas” – we set ourselves up not to necessarily make the long days feel short, but to at least give ourselves the strength and feedback we need to manage through the challenge and come out the other side.


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