VAYEITZEI (Genesis, 28:10-32:3) — “Feeling the Void — Filling the Void”

Jacob left Beer-Sheba and he went to Haran. (Genesis, 28:10) 

The Torah doesn’t waste words. Rashi points out that the Torah only had to write Jacob went to Haran. The point of the story is that he was now on his way to Haran to find a wife. Obviously, he had to leave his home in Beer-Sheba in order to get there. What is the point of telling us that Jacob left Beer-Sheba?  

The answer, says Rashi, is that Jacob’s departure from Beer-Sheba was a significant event. Rashi tells us: “The departure of a Tzaddik (pious person) from a city makes an imprint. While the Tzaddik is in town, he is its (source of) pride, splendor, and beauty. When he leaves, its pride, splendor, and beauty leaves.” Beer-Sheba without Jacob was going to become a very different Beer-Sheba. 

[This concept is borne out by the fact that to this day the city of Vilnius (Vilna) and the entire country of Lithuania take great pride in having been the home of the great Vilna Gaon.  In 1997, Lithuania officially commemorated the 200th anniversary of his death. There is a Valstybinis Vilniaus Gaono Zydu Muziejus (Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum) at 12 Pamenkalnio, Vilnius 2001, Lithuania. 

The family of the Chofetz Chaim (Brief biographies of the Chofetz Chaim can be found here and here.  Read his obituaries in the New York Times and Time magazine here) has brought their great-grandfather’s simple wooden house from Radin (Belarus) to Monsey, New York. (It will serve as a monument and museum.) There were editorials in the local (there) press, complaining that the Chofetz Chaim belongs to Belarus, and his home should not be sent to the U.S. The city of Radin plans to build a monument at the site to mark the spot where the Chofetz Chaim once lived. 

The amazing thing is that Lithuania and Belarus have no clue whatsoever as to who and what these great Torah giants were. Yet, they revere them . . . just as Beer-Sheba would miss Jacob.]


In my work as a chaplain for senior citizens, it is often my lot that I administer to the needs of a family in mourning. (L”A) Rashi’s point about the departure of a distinguished person is illustrated when one sees a family that has lost a loved one. Like Beer-Sheba, the family without their mother/father, etc., is not the same family that it was before. There is a void that cannot be filled. 

As sad as it is to see a loved one pass away, it is sadder still to see someone die with no one to miss them. 

Several years ago, I was substituting in a nursing home for a rabbi who was on vacation. One of the residents, a man with no children, passed away. I spoke with his stepdaughter in California, who had kind words for the gentleman who had been married to her mother in the couple’s later years. No, she would not be coming for the funeral, but she called several friends of the family to tell them when and where it would be. 

The next morning, the funeral director picked me up in his minivan. The casket was in the back. (No, there would be no shiny hearse; there was no one to impress.) We arrived at the cemetery. The cemetery workers – no, there were no pall bearers  – carried the casket to the grave. The cemetery workers stepped away to allow me to conduct the service. The funeral director went back to his minivan. There I stood, alone with the casket. A eulogy to say, and no one to hear it! 

The purpose of a eulogy is to arouse the assembled to feelings of grief. A eulogy is supposed to bring the listeners to tears as they confront the community’s loss. Under the circumstances, there was no need to recite a eulogy. I could go straight to the few prayers and go back to my office. 

I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t see allowing a man to spend eighty-something years on this planet without a few words of tribute to accompany him to the next world. I stood there, probably to the annoyance of the “busy” cemetery workers and funeral director. I spoke to the air and to the departed (and to G-d) about the life of this simple, but distinguished gentleman. Maybe no one else felt the void of his death. But I was able to make sure that, at least for the moment, I felt it.


 The one nice thing, if I can use such an expression, about mourning, is that it shows that the person was appreciated. It shows that he was missed. 

There are several important lessons we can learn: 

1) If you love someone, don’t wait for a funeral to show it. 

2) Live your life in a manner that insures that when your time comes, after 120 years, people will miss you. 

3) You know that person who has no friends? You know who I mean. Yeah, him, the “nudnik.” He’s a bit . . . different. That’s okay. We all are. Why don’t you go over to him and say hello? He’s special, you know. He’s created in the Image of G-d. (See Genesis, 1:26-27) 

Don’t wait to wring your hands at his funeral and complain that there is no one to feel the void left by his departure. Go fill the void in his life now! 

Every person is special; everyone is significant. It’s our job to find that greatness and bring it out. And in so doing, we bring out our own greatness as well.   

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links. 



 “How to Say ‘You’re Wrong’ ” (2009) 

I once saw a picture in National Geographic that struck me as strange.  The article was about life in Utah, and included a picture of a Mormon family. The father posed with his children and their four mothers.  Polygamy, although in violation of state (and currently, Mormon) law, continues to exist in Utah.

As an Ashkenazic Jew and member of Western Civilization, I find it very difficult to envision the concept of having more than one wife.  Successful polygamy requires a level of “sharing” and cooperation that goes beyond the mores of our culture. It is not a good system…  

Read more.


“Are You My Bride? … Are You SURE??”  (2006)

Jacob came to Haran  (in Iraq) in search of a bride. 

Rachel was the one…  A wedding feast took place and Jacob took his veiled bride home to his tent.  It wasn’t until the next morning that Jacob discovered that he had married the wrong woman!  It was Leah!  He had been had!  His uncle had cheated him!… 

…How did all of this happen?  How did an intelligent man like Jacob allow himself to be hoodwinked by his uncle?  How did Laban pull it off?  And how could Leah participate in this fraud?  And where was Rachel?  Why didn’t she step in and stop the wedding?…  

Read more.


 “Time to Pray!”  (2005) 

It is well known that religious Jews pray three times a day… But it wasn’t always that way.  Although Davening Mincha (the Afternoon Service) and Maariv (the Evening Service) are very Jewish things to do, Abraham apparently didn’t do those things.  Isaac, quite a religious Jew, didn’t Daven Maariv either.  That was Jacob’s innovation… the morning, afternoon, and evening services were instituted by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob respectively.  We, their children, follow their example… each of the Patriarchs had different experiences that led to each of their prayers… 

Read more.


 “The Gift of Life” (2003) 

… Jacob cried…His nephew, Eliphaz had confiscated all his possessions…. we find Jacob’s reaction surprising.  After all, isn’t spirituality more important than money?  Don’t we usually view a Tzaddik, a righteous person as one who eschews material possessions?  In fact, Jacob had asked G-d to provide him with …bread to eat and clothing to wear. (Ibid, 28:23) All Jacob desired was the barest of minimums – a shirt on his back and a simple meal.  Why suddenly the tears?…  

Read more.


“Feeling the Void – Filling the Void” (2002) 

Jacob left Beer-Sheba and he went to Haran. (Genesis, 28:10) 

The Torah doesn’t waste words. Rashi points out that the Torah only had to write Jacob went to Haran. The point of the story is that he was now on his way to Haran to find a wife. Obviously, he had to leave his home in Beer-Sheba in order to get there. What is the point of telling us that Jacob left Beer-Sheba? 

The answer, says Rashi, is that Jacob’s departure from Beer-Sheba was a significant event…  

Read more.


“To Dream the Impossible Dream” (2000) 

Jacob had a tough life.  …he lived in constant fear that he would some day be killed by his jealous brother, or forced to kill Esau in self-defense…  Laban … tricked him into marrying the wrong woman.  … Jacob negotiated a salary for future work – Laban kept changing the terms …When Jacob and his family finally packed their bags and left, Laban pursued them, hoping to kill Jacob… Rachel was unable to have children and there was friction between the two wives.  …sibling rivalry caused additional grief.  He would eventually suffer the anguish and indignity of his daughter’s abduction and violation by a Canaanite.  Then he had to deal with the ensuing violence committed by his sons against the hometown of his daughter’s attacker.  For twenty years, he thought his beloved son Joseph was dead. 

…Where does one find the strength to deal with such adversity?  How did he manage to continue his life in the face of such pain? … 

Read more.


This is the weekly message at Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel ( and chaplain in  Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on November 14, 2002 at 11:22 am  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i know that you didn’t make up rashi’s question, but i don’t understand it. unless yeshivas Ever was in Be’er Sheva, from the beginning of the posuk to the end took 14 years. he left be’er sheva to go to yeshiva. 14 years later he went to charan. what’s rashi’s problem?

  2. Your poignant story of the funeral with no witnesses is what make you who you are. Your human connection, even more that your Torah insights, keep us coming back for more,
    May G-d give you the strength, the intellect and the humanity to to continue the good works that you do (including these emails)
    Have a truly good Shabbos,

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