Our parasha, Vayetzei, begins with the well-known words: “And Ya’akov left Be’er Sheva, and he went to Haran.” (28:10)
In his Commentary on the Torah, Rashi explains this pasuk with a midrashically-suffused gloss:
And Jacob left. Scripture had only to write: “And Ya’akov went to Haran.” Why did it mention his departure? But this tells [us] that the departure of a righteous man from a place makes an impression, for while the righteous man is in the city, he is its beauty, he is its splendor, he is its majesty. When he departs from there, its beauty has departed, its splendor has departed, its majesty has departed.
Rashi’s celebrated interpretation tells us a good deal about how Be’er Sheva was affected by Ya’akov’s exit. He had been its “beauty, splendor and majesty,” and his leave-taking signaled an abrupt end to all three. What we do not know, however, is how Ya’akov was impacted by his exodus from Be’er Sheva.
The Rav (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik) says that Beer Sheba “was the first home of the covenantal community, the center of spiritual life for the adherents of Abraham’s teaching. Beer Sheba was rooted in a wellspring of kedushah [holiness]. It was a fulcrum for offerings to G-d and a conduit for the Divine Presence. … Later on in Jewish history, that kedushah found its home in the place that Jacob encountered on his journey from Beer Sheba: the holy city of Jerusalem.”
Be’er Sheva was, in the Rav’s view, the Beit HaMikdash of the Avot and Emahot in that it was the “center of spiritual life for the adherents of Abraham’s teaching … a fulcrum for offerings to G-d and a conduit for the Divine Presence.”
This depiction of Be’er Sheva’s singular import places us in a much better position to understand Ya’akov’s experience when, as the Rav suggests, “he was uprooted by forces beyond his control, [and] compelled to leave a place he loved … to which he had become bonded.” Beyond a doubt, Ya’akov must have felt existentially adrift upon leaving this this holy place, and entering galut.
The Rav posits that Ya’akov may also have feared “that if he left the home of his father and grandfather and the center of their teaching, he would lose his role as leader and the teacher of the covenantal community,” because his “departure from the city of Beer Sheba temporarily detached him from the spiritual destiny of the Jewish people.”
In my estimation, this may have been the impetus for Ya’akov’s prophetic vision upon leaving Be’er Sheva:
“And he dreamed and behold! A ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of G-d were ascending and descending upon it. And behold, the L-rd was standing over him, and He said, ‘I am the L-rd, the G-d of Avraham your father, and the G-d of Yitzchak; the land upon which you are lying to you I will give it and to your seed. And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth. … And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you’.” (28:12-15)
In his dream, Ya’akov was reassured by Hakadosh Baruch Hu that although his connection to Eretz Yisrael, and by extension Be’er Sheva, had been temporarily rent asunder, it would be reestablished. Hashem promised Ya’akov, “I will restore you to this land,” and assured him that both he and his children would inherit it.
May the time come, soon and in our days, when we will witness the fulfillment of Michah’s oft-quoted phrase, “You [Hashem] shall give the truth of Ya’akov (emet l’Ya’akov)” (7:20), when Ya’akov Avinu will take his place as the rightful leader and teacher of the entire Jewish people once again. V’chane yihi ratzon.