17 Nov THE TAPESTRY OF HISTORY
Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Zt”l, Zy”a, makes a fascinating observation. When the Torah records historical events, it invariably starts the narrative with the letter ‘vav.’ Thus, we find in this week’s parsha, for example, “Vayeitzei Yaakov mi-B’eir Sheva…” Other examples include, “Vayikra Hashem el Moshe…” “Vayishlach Yaakov malachim…” “Vayehi bimei Achashveirosh…” “Vayehi bimei sh’fot hashoftim…” and numerous others. Rav Miller further points out that the letter ‘vav’ appears not only with regard to past events, but with future prophesies as well, like, for example, “V’hoya Hashem… b’yom hahu yihyeh Hashem Echad u’Shmo Echad…” and, “V’hoya b’acharis hayomim.”
He explains beautifully that the reason for the preponderance of ‘vavim,’ which is a prefix that means ‘and,’ is to convey a fundamental Torah lesson about history. Jewish belief is that history is not merely a random collection of disconnected occurrences subject to the whims of fate. Rather, the events of mankind are cause and effect, a finely woven tapestry, sequential in nature, and very subject to what occurred in days gone by. Thus, what the Talmud calls the ‘vav hachibur,’ the ‘connecting vav,’ is constantly used to convey this all-important message.
The story of the Exodus also begins with the connecting vav. When we went down to Egypt, the Torah begins, “V’eileh shmos B’nei Yisroel habaim Mitzraymah – And these are the names of the Jewish people who came down to Egypt.” So too, the next parsha, which discusses the bulk of the plagues, begins with a vav. “Va’eira – and I (G-d) appeared.” This is a perfect exhibition of Rabbi Miller’s theme, for our tragic persecution in Egypt was a direct result of historical events that preceded that horrific era. The Torah reveals to us that it was the enmity of the brothers to Yosef, and their selling him as a slave, that was the primary cause for their descent to Egypt and being forced into slavery by the cruel Paroh. Furthermore, going back a little farther, it was Yosef’s dibur ra’ah, evil tidings, about his brothers to Yaakov that caused the slanderous accusation against the Jews by Paroh – that if Egypt would be attacked, the Jews would join the enemy and topple the empire. (As an aside, this would be a precursor of history throughout the ages when the Jews would be falsely accused by their host nations of harboring traitorous designs towards the countries in which they resided.)
If we want to look for more connections we could go back even further. The Gemora tells us that it was Avraham Avinu’s request to Hashem, “Bamah eidah ki irashenah? – With what sign will I know that my descendants will inherit the land?” that caused his descendants to be punished with a difficult stay in a foreign country. Avraham Avinu, on his very lofty level, was expected to trust Hashem completely – without asking for signs.
The connecting vav of Purim, “Vayehi bimei Achashveirosh,” links Esther’s reign over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces (an unparalleled feat in the annals of history that a Beis Yaakov girl should be the First Lady and rule over the entire civilized world, and rule not from a Jewish throne but from a Persian one), is directly related to the fact that she was the worthy descendant of her great ancestress Sarah Imeinu, who lived one hundred and twenty-seven perfect years. So too, the rise of Haman and his horrifying threat of annihilation to our people was a direct result of king Shaul’s misplaced mercy for the Amaleiki king, Agag, many years before. This sin of omission by Shaul, who failed to exterminate Agag immediately – an act that would cause Shaul to be rejected by Hashem and lose the throne – was what allowed Haman to come into existence. About this, the Gemora in Megilah teaches us that in the interim between when Shaul captured Agag and his execution, Agag and his wife, M’dosa, managed to have a child who would be the ancestor of Haman. This is why Haman is introduced to us in the Megilah as “Haman ben Ham’dasa HaAgagi.” And, to come full circle, the vav also indicates that it would be Esther, a descendant of Shaul, who would repair his mistake – and she would do it partly with her trait of secrecy and modesty that she inherited from Shaul.
The Navi in Shmuel reveals to us that when Shaul was given the news that he would be the next king, out of modesty he failed to inform his uncle about this incredible news upon meeting him. Furthermore, when Shmuel HaNovi wanted to introduce Shaul as the next king of Israel, Shaul disappeared and was nowhere to be found. Hashem had to reveal to Shmuel that Shaul was “nechba el hakeilim,” hiding amongst some vessels, modestly shunning the limelight of Jewish monarchy. In this merit, he was zoche to have a descendant, Esther, who would conceal her identity as the queen – only to whisk it out and make herself known at the most propitious moment in order to save the B’nei Yisroel. Going back still further, we will find that Shaul acquired this attribute of modesty from his great ancestress, Rochel Imeinu, who kept secret from Yaakov her being switched with Leah at the chupah, and handed over the secret password to her sister in order to save her from terrible shame and exposure.
May it be the will of Hashem that we be the last link in Jewish history and see the coming of Moshiach speedily and in our days.