The Impact of the Righteous

Parashat Vayeitze (Genesis 28:10-32:2)

Our parashah begins, “Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran” (Genesis 28:10). Rashi makes a keen observation on this verse. He asks a question that should be obvious to us: “Why does the Torah mention Jacob’s departure from Beersheba?” If we’ve been paying attention, we should remember that the Torah had just mentioned this fact a few verses prior. Verse seven says, “Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram.” Haran is located within the region of Paddan-aram. Therefore, we’ve been told twice within a few sentences that Jacob went toward Haran. If the Torah doesn’t waste words, then why does it repeat itself in this case? Rashi says that we are supposed to learn an important lesson through this repetition:

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 reference to and quotation of Genesis Rabbah 68:6)

According to Rashi, the repetition of Jacob’s departure is to teach us “that the departure of a righteous man from a place makes an impression.” When Jacob left Beersheba, his absence was felt. The people in that region missed him terribly and realized that his presence made a difference in their lives. When he was with them, nothing was lacking. Maybe they didn’t necessarily recognize the benefit of his presence while he was with them and noticed the void only when he departed. Nevertheless, once he had left, his absence was palpable. The departure of a righteous person should be obvious.

This is why Yeshua’s departure from this world made such an impression on the entire planet. The complete tzaddik—the completely righteous one—departed from this earth and left an enormous vacuum that no one else will ever be able to fill. The hearts of his disciples felt like they were torn from within them. They wandered about like abandoned children, bemoaning the loss of their beloved rabbi. Yet when he appeared to them after his resurrection, their hearts were ignited once again. They said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). In order to fill this vacuum left by his presence, he sent the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to take his place in the hearts of his followers. Yes, his disciples still long for his return even to this day, but we at least sense his presence through this agent.

Too many times we live our lives with little to no impact on the people around us. Sadly, many times people quit their job, move out of state, or even pass away from this life without many people noticing. For disciples of Yeshua, however, this should not be the case. We should be making a significant impact not only on those closest to us, but also to the world in general. As our Master has told us, a light “hidden under a bushel” doesn’t have much influence on the darkness around it. We don’t have the luxury of hiding our light. Our job is to reflect the light of our Master and shine it brightly into the world. Do people know that you are a disciple of Yeshua? Have they seen your good works and begun to glorify your Father in heaven? When you’re not around, is your absence felt? Or does anyone even notice? Both the presence and the departure of a righteous person should be noticeable.