Picture of the author
Picture of the author
War bannerWar banner

An Orphan’s Wedding in Jerusalem

Hours before a Wedding, a Conversation on Despair and Hope

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

    2023 views
  • November 26, 2015
  • |
  • 14 Kislev 5776

Bride Sarah Litman and groom Ariel Beigel sing during the wedding ceremony at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on November 26, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

  • Comment

Class Summary:

The Talmud relates a story: Three sages, Rabbi Gamliel, Rabbi Yehusha, and Rabbi Akiva, went to a meat market to buy meat for the wedding feast of Rabban Gamliel's son. While in the meat market, Rabbi Akiva asked Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehosuah, about the meaning of the verse in Vayishlach that the sun rose for Jacob: "Did the sun just shine for Jacob? It shone for everyone!"

There are many conversations people can have in meat markets. Why did Rabbi Akiva decide to discuss the sun shining for Jacob after his fight in the midst of night? And what were the three greatest sages of the generation doing in a meat market purchasing a cow? These were the greatest scholars of leaders of the generation. Could they not ask one of their pupils or assistants to go and buy the meat for the wedding?

Perhaps it is in this story that we encounter one of the most empowering truths about our people and our history.

Dedicated by Martin and Ellen Cury to our brothers and sisters in Israel

The Litman-Beigel Wedding

As these words are being written, I am watching a live webcast of the wedding of Techiya Litman with Ariel Beigel taking place tonight in Jerusalem. Like many in the audience, I shed a tear when the crowd under the chupah sung the melody “If I forget you Jerusalem…”

Their wedding was postponed after Arab terrorists murdered the bride’s father and brother less than two weeks ago. The bride’s father, Rabbi Yaakov Litman, and 18-year-old brother Netanel were shot dead in a November 13 terrorist attack while driving to a celebration in southern Israel to mark the imminent marriage. (Other family members in the car — the mother, a 16-year-old boy and three young girls aged 11, 9 and 5 — were lightly wounded, suffering mostly from bruises and shrapnel injuries.)

Sarah Techiya and Ariel were due to be married on November 16, just four days after the attack, but the celebration was postponed as the Litman family sat shiva (Jewish mourning period) for Ya’akov and Netanel. Now, the bride invited the “entire world” to her wedding. The public wedding invitation, which the couple posted on social media, begins with the biblical quote: “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy, for I have fallen but I have gotten up” (Micah 7:8).

And as I watched the wedding, I could not help but remember a story about another wedding, that took place some two millennia ago, in the same land.

The Sun Shone for Jacob

As many of you are enjoying your Thanksgiving dinner, I want to share with you an episode recorded in the Talmud which took place in a poultry and meat market, in preparation for a wedding.

In this week’s portion (Vayishlach) the Torah relates how after Jacob fought with that mysterious man in middle of the night, "The sun rose and was shining upon him as he passed Penuel [the location of the quarrel], and he was limping on his thigh.”[1]

וישלח לב, לב: וַיִּזְרַח-לוֹ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָבַר אֶת-פְּנוּאֵל; וְהוּא צֹלֵעַ, עַל-יְרֵכוֹ.

The Talmud[2] relates a story involving Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Yehoshua, and Rabbi Akiva, three of the greatest sages living in the second century CE, a few decades after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 CE.

חולין צא, ב: אמר ר' עקיבא שאלתי את רבן גמליאל ואת רבי יהושע באיטליז של אימאום שהלכו ליקח בהמה למשתה בנו של רבן גמליאל כתיב ויזרח לו השמש וכי שמש לו לבד זרחה והלא לכל העולם זרחה אמר ר' יצחק שמש הבאה בעבורו זרחה בעבורו...

These three sages, the Talmud relates, went to a meat market in a place called Emeum, to buy meat for the wedding feast of Rabban Gamliel's son. While in the meat market, Rabbi Akiva asked Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehosuah, about the meaning of the above verse in Genesis “The sun rose and was shining upon him”: "Did the sun just shine for Jacob? It shone for everyone!"

To which Rabbi Yitzchak responded: "The sun that set for him, rose for him." Twenty-two years earlier, when Jacob began his journey from the Holy Land to the city of Charan in Mesopotamia, the Torah states, “He encountered the place, and slept there, because the sun has set.”[3] That sun which set for him, now rose for him.

Four Questions

Four questions come to mind:

  1.         What is the meaning of the Talmud's answer, that the sun which set for him, now rose for him?  
  2.         Why was it necessary for the Talmud to tell us the details regarding when and where this discussion took place—in a meat market?
  3.         There are many conversations people can have in meat markets. Why did Rabbi Akiva decide to discuss there the sun shining for Jacob after his fight in the midst of night?   
  4.         What were the three greatest sages of the generation doing in a meat market purchasing a cow? These were the greatest scholars of leaders of the generation. Could they not ask one of their pupils or assistants to go and buy the meat for the wedding?

Dire Times

The three sages mentioned in the story, Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Yeshusah and Rabbi Akiva, lived during one of the most difficult periods of Jewish history, when Roman oppression reached its peak, with a clear ambition to destroy all of Jewish life in Palestine, the new name the Romans gave Judea. Millions were massacred, and hundreds of thousands sold into slavery. The Bar Kochva revolt would be crushed with the greatest barbarity, resulting in the apparent end of Jewish life, faith and culture. Rabbi Akiva himself, as well as Rabban Gamliel’s son Shimon, were tortured and executed by the Romans. Jews were downtrodden, desperate, and many of them, hopeless.

The situation was so terrible that the sages considered the idea of prohibiting marriage and procreation, so as not to bring children to a world which would destroy them. Why did they not issue forth the decree? Asks the Talmud. There are two versions for the Talmudic answer: 1. The Jews would not obey such a decree. 2. We ought not to meddle in the workings of history. We must do what G-d told us to do—bring children to the world, and G-d will have to take care of the rest.[4]

The spirit of the times bordered on despair.

Laughter

Enters Rabbi Akiva into the scene of Jewish history.

There is another Talmudic story involving these very above mentioned sages—and Rabbi Akiva:

“Again it happened that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Akiva went up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus, they tore their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies. The others started weeping; Rabbi Akiva laughed.

Said they to him: "Why are you laughing?"

Said he to them: "Why are you weeping?"

Said they to him: "A place [so holy] that it is said of it, 'the stranger that approaches it shall die,' and now foxes traverse it, and we shouldn't weep?"

Said he to them: "That is why I laugh. For it is written, 'I shall have bear witness for Me faithful witnesses—Uriah the Priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.' Now what is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah was [in the time of] the First Temple, and Zechariah was [in the time of] the Second Temple! But the Torah makes Zachariah's prophecy dependent upon Uriah's prophecy. With Uriah, it is written: 'Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field; [Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the Temple Mount like the high places of a forest.]' With Zachariah it is written, 'Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.'

"As long as Uriah's prophecy had not been fulfilled, I feared that Zechariah's prophecy may not be fulfilled either. But now that Uriah's prophecy has been fulfilled, it is certain that Zechariah's prophecy will be fulfilled."

With these words they replied to him: "Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!"[5]

As the foxes came crawling out of the Holy of Holies, as Zion was plowed as a field, as grief and melancholy saturated the Jewish world, Rabbi Akiva—with his lenses of Jewish eternity conferred upon a few great giants in each generation—saw 'Old men and women who shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.' Rabbi Akiva, in his vision for the future, could see Jewish boys and girls dancing in the thoroughfares of Jerusalem, he could see millions returning to their home land, he could see the coming of Moshiach, and the rebuilding of the Temple, the Divine presence returning to the world. Not because he was naive, but because he understood that G-d may be concealed but He is not dead; that evil may be powerful but it is not eternal; that the tyranny of Rome may be all-pervasive, but not everlasting.   

Rabbi Akiva understood that even the darkest sunset was a prelude to sunrise.

Time to Dance

Now Rabbi Akiva went with his colleagues to buy meat for the wedding of Rabban Gamliel's son. Rabban Gamliel, perhaps, was thinking, "What am I doing—I am marrying off my son so that I should see grandchildren who will be murdered by the Romans?" We will dance at a wedding, celebrating life and love, when we know that on that very day the Romans murdered another Jewish community? How can we buy meat—representing the joy and passion of a wedding feast—when the Jewish world is weeping?

This would be the same question Holocaust survivors would ask themselves after the demise of their closest kin: How can we bring children into a world which stood silent as one and half million children were gassed?

There was something even more dramatic at stake. Rabban Gamliel was the “Nasie,” the leader of the Sanhedrin,[6] the spiritual leader of the Jewish people. He was also the scion of King David, and it was his family which held the office of royalty within the Jewish nation. In fact, the sage Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, convinced Vespasian, the Roman commander in charge on the destruction of Jerusalem (who later became the Emperor of Rome), to spare the “dynasty of Rabban Gamliel,” not to murder the royal family of Israel.[7] Why? Because Moshiach, as we know, is a descendant of King David and the sages did not want the seed of Moshiach to be destroyed.

Now Rabban Gamliel was marrying off his son. This was the child who carries  within himself the promise of the future redemption; the child who would continue the chain of King David till Moshiach. The Rabbis got involved in preparing the meat for this great event, for it was not just another wedding; it was the wedding that would symbolize the eternity of Israel.

But Rabban Gamliel was broken. The sun has set on Jewish life.

Enters Rabbi Akiva yet once again, the man same who laughed when he saw a fox emerging from the Holy of Holies.

Rabbi Akiva, perhaps, saw that Rabban Gamliel was in a state of despair. He was not rejoicing over his son's wedding. Rabbi Akiva wanted to breathe life and spirit into his friends, and by extension, into the people. So he invoked the verse in this week’s portion, describing Jacob’s quarrel with a frightening adversary, causing him to limp. “And the sun rose and was shining upon him.” “Did the sun shine only for him and not for the rest of the world?” Rabbi Akiva asked. And the answer he gave (in the name of Reb Yitzchak) was this: “The sun which set for Jacob, now shone for Jacob.”

Here was Rabbi Akiva’s message: Look at what happened to Jacob 22 years earlier. The portion of Vayeitzei opens up with the lonely words: “And Jacob left Beer Sheba and he went to Haran. And he encountered the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place. And he had a dream…”

For the first time in his life—not the last—Jacob was alone. His parents have sent him away from home; his brother craved to kill him. He was still single, on a journey to the unknown, to his uncle Laban, where he would encounter some extraordinary new challenges. He did not have anything to call his own. He could not even afford to sleep in a motel. He used rocks as a pillow, as he rested in the open terrain. When he arises from his sleep, he asks of G-d to give him “bread to eat and a cloak to wear.” All he asks for is bread and clothes.

“The sun set…” says, the Torah, “and he lay down.” This is more than a physical description. It represents a mental state. Jacob encountered the darkness of night, the uncertainty of life, the fragility of his future. The sun has set for him, and he was unsure when dawn will break.

And yet, as he lay there on the bare terrain with a rock as his pillow, he dreamt of a ladder that may be etched on the ground but its top would reach heaven! Jacob did not give up. He went on to persevere and thrive. He married, got cheated, but went on to build a family that would become the foundation of the Jewish nation. Finally, after two decades, he thought he would return to his Homeland and suddenly an adversary rises in middle of the night and maims him. When he thought night was over, he realized, that “it’s not over till it’s over,” and the fight for survival still continues.

But Jacob fought. He was hurt, he was maimed, he was limping, but he did not stop the fight. Because he knew that dawn would break, that the sun which set would rise again.

And what happened? Says the Torah: “And the sun rose and shone for him.” The very same sun which once sent on him—now rose to shine on him. After a long exile, “Vayavo Yaakov Shalam,” Jacob arrived wholesome.

At the meat market, preparing for a wedding, Rabbi Akiva was telling his colleagues this: Our sun has set. But our sun will also rise. We will persevere—as long as we will not stop dreaming of the ladder that links earth to heaven. As long as we will not give up the fight, as long as we will not hesitate to stand up to our enemies with unwavering resolve and confidence and full strength, as long as we will remain connected to eternity, to our G-d and to our faith. We must dance and celebrate at the wedding of Rabban Gamliel’s son, because life, love, and hope will prevail. The sun that has set on us, will rise for us once again.

Rabbi Akiva, we know now, was on target. 1900 years after that conversation in the meat market, we are still here. And Moshiach will come![8]

Techiya Litman married tonight Ariel Beigel,[9] as the blood of her father and brother had not dried. Two weeks ago, the sun has set in their lives; tonight it rose again. Mazal Tov, Techiya and Ariel.

[1] Genesis 32:32

[2] Chulin 91b

[3] Genesis 28:11

[4] Bava Basra 60b and Meiri ibid

[5] Talmud End of Tractate Makos

[6] Talmud Berachos 27b

[7] Talmud Gitim 57b

[8] Some ideas in this essay are based on a commentary by Sefer Meneachem Tzeyon. Cf. Emunas Etecha Parshas Vayeitzei. For the explanation of story at the end of Makos, see Sichas Yud Shevat 5725 (1965). For the connection of Rabban Gamliel to Moshiach, see Sichas Shabbos Shmos 5752 (1992.)

[9] Tonight, 14 Kislev 5776, is also the wedding anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who married Rebbezin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, the daughter of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, in 1927.

Please leave your comment below!

  • A

    Avraham -4 years ago

    It is a beautiful vort you wrote over from the Menachem Tzion. I have one important question. He understood that Rabbi Akiva was citing Rav Yitzchok for the answer to his own question. The thing is that most people understand that Rav Yitzchok himself answered. I will paste from the chida and har tzvi to that effect.
     
    Is there any proof that rabbi akiva was actually the one citing rav yitzchok which is the essence of the whole vort. we have in kerisus 15a the same three tanaim walking in the meat market buying for the wedding with rabbi akiva asking and them answering. here we have rabbi akiva as well asking them with rav yitzchok seeming to answer. I am really looking for a source predating rav zaks that reads rabbi akiva as citing rav yitzchok? thank you!!!
     
     
    Pesach Einayim:
     
     א"ר יצחק שמש הבאה בעבורו וכו'. צריך להבין דר"ע שאל לר' גמליאל ור' יהושע ומאי שיאטיה דר' יצחק הכא הול"ל דר"ג ור' יהושע השיבו לו כך או תשובה אחרת. וצ"ל דהא דר' יצחק הוא בריתא אלא שהוא ידעה בדורו שקבלה מרבותיו ומייתי לה הש"ס וממילא מובן דזו תשובת ר"ג ור"י לר' עקיבא. א"נ דאינה בריתא והם דברי ר' יצחק. ומייתי ליה שהוא כיוין לתשובת ר"ג ור' יהושע מדנפשיה דלא שמע ויכוח זה וממילא נבין דזהו תשובת רבי גמליאל ור' יהושע. א"נ דמי שהיה שונה מעשה זה שכח תשובת ר"ג ור"י ובא ר' יצחק והשיב ומסתמא כך השיבו ר"ג ור"י אבל הש"ס מייתי דברי ר' יצחק דשכחום לדר"ג ור"י והוא החזירם בדעתו. א"נ דר' יצחק הוא האומר ענין זה והו"ל כאלו בתחילה אמר בש"ס אמר ר' יצחק אמר ר' עקיבא שאלתי וכו' והוא ע"ד שכתבו התוס' ריש פרק אלו מציאות ע"ש. ואחר זמן בא לידי סדר הדורות הנדפס מקרוב וראיתי שם בהקדמתו דף ד' ע"ב דמייתי להא דידן וכתב שבספר שנות חיים תהי עלה והרב המ' תריץ יתיב קרוב לאיזה דבר ממה שצדדנו ע"ש והביא סמוכות מדברי התוס' ע"ש באורך.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

    • Anonymous -4 years ago

      שאלה גדולה שאל. אבל דומני שזהו ממש הביאור האחרון בפתח עינים. ומביא מהתוספות בב"מ, ע"ש ודוק.

      Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

      • Anonymous -4 years ago

        it was very kind of you to respond, and so soon to me. I was zocheh to write a well recieved sefer published by Feldheim (Classics and Beyond, Parsha Pearls... Avraham Bukspan) and am working with my editor on a second volume. Her husband is a rebbe in Ner Yisroel who is bodeik the Torah content and are sticklers for emes. I am a big fan of Rabbi Zaks who was a neighboor of my mother growing up in Chicago. As they say, A nice vort is 15 steps away from Emes...emes v`yatziv.......v`yafeh. I thatn you for helping me get there. Is there a way I can send you a copy of my sefer, can i have your address or email address? 

         thank you 

        avraham bukspan

        Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • T

    Tzirel -6 years ago

    Hope in Dark Times

    This dvar Torah is absolutely beautiful and full of inspiration!!!  Thank you Rabbi Jacobson for your encouraging words of hope with an eternal message!!!!!

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • S

    stealthman5 -8 years ago

    One small mistake: Ya'akov's encounter with Esav preceded by wrestling with Esav's angel, was 20 1/2 years after dreaming of angels and ladders in Beit El. After his encounter with Esav, he spent a year in Sukkot and spent another half a year near Shekhem, Beit El, and Migdal Eider.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • S

    Sandy -8 years ago

    Rabbi, you're an amazing man with incredible insight. How you interwove the events is superb.

    Regards from your friend Sandy, in Vancouver.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

Essay Parshas Vayishlach

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • November 26, 2015
  • |
  • 14 Kislev 5776
  • |
  • 2023 views
  • Comment

Dedicated by Martin and Ellen Cury to our brothers and sisters in Israel

Class Summary:

The Talmud relates a story: Three sages, Rabbi Gamliel, Rabbi Yehusha, and Rabbi Akiva, went to a meat market to buy meat for the wedding feast of Rabban Gamliel's son. While in the meat market, Rabbi Akiva asked Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehosuah, about the meaning of the verse in Vayishlach that the sun rose for Jacob: "Did the sun just shine for Jacob? It shone for everyone!"

There are many conversations people can have in meat markets. Why did Rabbi Akiva decide to discuss the sun shining for Jacob after his fight in the midst of night? And what were the three greatest sages of the generation doing in a meat market purchasing a cow? These were the greatest scholars of leaders of the generation. Could they not ask one of their pupils or assistants to go and buy the meat for the wedding?

Perhaps it is in this story that we encounter one of the most empowering truths about our people and our history.

Related Classes

Please help us continue our work
Sign up to receive latest content by Rabbi YY

Join our WhatsApp Community

Join our WhatsApp Community

Ways to get content by Rabbi YY Jacobson
Connect now
Picture of the authorPicture of the author