וַיָּבֹא יַעֲקֹב שָׁלֵם עִיר שְׁכֶם אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בְּבֹאוֹ מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם וַיִּחַן אֶת פְּנֵי הָעִיר
Yaakov arrived complete at the city of Shechem which is in the Land of Canaan, upon his arriving from Paddan Aram, and he encamped before the city. (33:18)
For Each Father, a Mitzvah
The pshat meaning of the word “ויחן” is simply that Yaakov encamped. However, the Midrash explains this as a reference to a halachah of Shabbos known as “techum”. Each person has their “domain” on Shabbos, an area of two thousand amos in every direction, beyond which they may not walk. When the pasuk says Yaakov “encamped before the city,” it is referring to him measuring the distance around his encampment in order to establish his techum for Shabbos.
The Meshech Chochmah is most intrigued by the following question: We have a tradition that the Avos kept all the mitzvos, beginning with the first of the Avos – Avraham. If Avraham kept all the mitzvos, including the halachos of Shabbos, then presumably he observed techum Shabbos as well. Why, then, does the Torah specifically associate this mitzvah with Yaakov?
In this regard, it interesting to note that Avraham himself has his own halachah of Shabbos associated with him. When Chazal state that Avraham kept all the mitzvos even before they were given, it expresses this by saying, “Avraham kept the entire Torah, even eiruv tavshilin.” As we know, eiruv tavshilin is a derabannan enactment which enables one to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbos when Yom Tov is on Friday. It turns out that while in terms of practice both Avos kept both mitzvos, somehow Avraham has a special connection with eiruv tavshilin, while Yaakov has a special connection with techum Shabbos.
What is the nature of these connections?
Avraham – Spreading the Word
An aspect which features very prominently in the life of Avraham is that of spreading awareness of Hashem’s existence and the life that should be led in accordance with this awareness. Even whuile still in Charan, Avraham had developed a following, these were “the souls that he made in Charan,” who travelled with him to the Land of Canaan. Indeed, his efforts in teaching people even while in Charan are reckoned by the Gemara as inaugurating the “two thousand years of Torah.” Why did Avraham feel it was so important to spread the word of Hashem? Although the simple answer is that the more people who know about Hashem, the better, nonetheless we see that this was something which is emphasized concerning Avraham specifically. Why?
The Meshech Chochmah explains. The mandate of the people of Israel is to serve as a setting where the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, can reside. Avraham understood that this function could only be achieved by a community and not by an individual – great though that individual may be. Indeed, we find in this respect that the Gemara says that the Shechinah does not reside among less than twenty-two thousand people of Israel. Additionally, the 600,000 people who received the Torah were all considered necessary for that event, as they represent the cross-spectrum of personalities, all of which are necessary to house together the Shechinah. In light of this fundamental idea, since Avraham was a lone individual, he saw it as a matter of high priority to assemble around him a group that could function as the “Shechinah community.”
Moreover, Avraham’s experiences with his first son, Yishmael, only served to intensify his outreach efforts. The pasuk tells us that Avraham set up an inn (“eshel”) in Be’er Sheva, where he “proclaimed the Name of Hashem.” The Gemara elaborates that after wayfarers had enjoyed his hospitality and came to thank him, Avraham directed their thanks to Hashem. The Meshech Chochmah points out something quite fascinating. We have never heard of Avraham setting up an inn prior to this stage. Why does Avraham choose to do so now? The answer, says the Meshech Chochmah, is in the preceding verses. Most of perek 21 of Bereishis discusses Yishmael’s untoward behavior which led to him having to be sent away. This served to impress upon Avraham the fact that he could not rely on his children alone to preserve and develop the community of Israel. Thus, as a result of his experience with Yishmael – his outreach efforts intensified and that is why he set up an inn at this stage!
Yaakov – Protecting the House
Within two generations, the situation had changed completely. Yaakov had emerged as the patriarch all of whose children were part of Hashem’s program, and from whom the future House of Israel could be built. At this stage, there was no longer any need to prioritize bringing others in. On the contrary, Yaakov’s focus now became that of protecting his family from outside influences. Thus, we find that when Yaakov went down together with his family to Egypt, they chose to live in Goshen, away from the general populace. Indeed, even earlier on, during the years he spent living with Lavan, we do not find Yaakov making any efforts to bring Lavan – his father in law – closer to his way of living.
Thus, it emerges that with regards to the question of how to relate to other groups and individuals, Yaakov’s approach contrasted directly with that of Avraham. While in Avraham’s time it was a value to bring them in, in Yaakov’s time it was more important to remain distinct from them, protecting instead the developing Jewish People. This shift in approach is what is being communicated by Chazal identifying Avraham and Yaakov as being associated with two specific mitzvos.
• Avraham’s area of endeavor was that of “Eruv Tavshilin” – combining cooked dishes – offering hospitality to all, with the goal of influencing them to enter the Shechinah Community. • Yaakov, in contrast, was involved in “Techumim” – setting boundaries – in order to protect his family from outside influences.
From the Avos to Har Sinai
Having discussed the relationship of the different Avos to the concept of “techumim,” the Meshech Chochmah proceeds to note something unusual about the way this mitzvah was received by their descendants. As we know, Shabbos was one of the few mitzvos that were given to the Jewish People even before they stood at Har Sinai. One of our earliest encampments in the desert was in a place called Marah, where the Torah relates we were presented with certain mitzvos, among them – Shabbos. Nonetheless, the Gemara states that we did not receive the mitzvah of techumim until we heard the mitzvah of Shabbos as part of the aseres hadibros at Har Sinai. This is rather perplexing. If we were already receiving the mitzvah of Shabbos itself at Marah, why would we not receive the aspect of techum there as well?
The Meshech Chochmah explains that this too relates to the idea behind techumin, namely that the setting up of boundaries is in order to allow the existing community to host the Shechinah. In the fullest sense, this requires not only that the correct people exist within the group, but also that the appropriate conditions apply. The Shechinah only rests among the Jewish people when there is unity among them. However, in all the places the people encamped upon leaving Egypt – including Marah – they had not yet achieved this state. This is expressed in the usage of the plural form “vayisu… vayachanu – they journeyed… they encamped” which describes all of their travels in the desert. Therefore, in the absence of having attained the state where the Shechinah would reside among them, they were not yet commanded with the mitzvah whose essence represents protecting this state.
However, upon arriving at Har Sinai, the Jewish People succeeding in attaining this level of unity, as expressed in the usage of the singular form describing their arrival there: “וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael encamped there.” Once they had achieved the state where the Shechinah could dwell among them, they were able to receive the mitzvah of techum Shabbos!
A Fitting Inheritance
The prophet Yeshaya describes the reward for those who keep Shabbos by saying that Hashem will grant them “נַחֲלַת יַעֲקֹב אָבִיךָ – the inheritance of your father Yaakov,” which the Gemara explains as referring to “נחלה בלי מצרים – An inheritance without bounds.” The Meshech Chochmah notes that the prophet’s description of Shabbos observance begins with the words “אִם תָּשִׁיב מִשַּׁבָּת רַגְלֶךָ – if you withhold your feet on Shabbos,” which the Gemara explains to be a reference to observing techum Shabbos. It is most fitting, therefore, that the reward for such conduct is referred to as “the inheritance of Yaakov,” for, as we have seen, this law has a special association with Yaakov. Moreover, this prophecy contains a profound application of the concept of midah keneged midah (measure for measure): in response to the Jewish People setting up boundaries where appropriate, they we will be granted an inheritance that is without bounds!