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Vayeitzei: The Purpose of Fear

וייקץ יעקב משנתו ויאמר אכן יש ה' במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי. ויירא ויאמר מה נורא המקום הזה אין זה כי אם בית אלקים וזה שער השמים.

“And Yakov awoke from his sleep and said, ‘It is so that Hashem is here in this place and I didn’t know this!’ And he feared and said, ‘How awesome is this place; this is the house of G-d and here is the gate to Heaven.’” (Bereishis 28:15-16)

Why does the second verse start again that Yakov feared “and said,” when it is a continuation of what Yakov said in the first verse? What is the deeper meaning of Yakov’s second statement?

The tzaddik Rebbe Velvel of Zibariz writes in the name of the Maggid of Mezritch that when a person is overcome by fear he shouldn’t think that it is bad for him, or try to free himself of his fears. Instead, he should consider his fears a wake-up call and a reminder that he should take life seriously and not waste his days and years.

This can be explained with a parable: A person is sitting in his home when a group of soldiers suddenly burst in to arrest him. The poor fellow starts pleading with the soldiers. He begs them to spare him and let him go free, and even tries to bribe them in order to procure his release. All of his tears and pleas are to no avail, because the soldiers are merely obeying a higher order. They are not the ones who decided to arrest him, but were sent by their superior, and only he can decide to pardon the prisoner.

The same thing happens when a person is overcome by fear, explains Rebbe Velvel. He will not be able to help himself by fighting with the “soldiers” – the fears, but he has to turn to the One Who sent him these fears, our merciful Father in Heaven. He has to think deeply into the matter and try to understand what Hashem wants from him. He should correct what needs to be corrected, and then turn only to Hashem and pray to be saved from his fears.

This message is seen in the verse: “And Yakov awoke from his sleep and said.” When a Jew wakes up from oblivion, he should say, “It is so that Hashem is here in this place” – in this very place where I am now, “and I didn’t know this!”

The next verse continues: “And he feared and said.” If a person is overcome with fear he should say, “How awesome is this place,” if the place where I am is awesome and fearful, then I must know that it is not bad for me, but “this is the house of G-d.” The word house connotes the exterior. The word Elokim (G-d) is the Divine Name used for harsh judgment. When a person experiences fear, then on the outside it may appear to be harsh, it may appear to be a situation of din, but “here is the gate to Heaven,” this is the gateway for the person to reach fear of Heaven and grow closer to Hashem!


A group of Chassidim of Rebbe Moshe of Kobrin were too poor to travel frequently to their Rebbe, so they arranged a rotation system. Each week a different Chassid traveled to Kobrin for Shabbos, and upon his return he would relay the Rebbe’s Torah to all of the other Chassidim.

Once, during war time, the Chassid whose turn it was to travel to Kobrin experienced tremendous fear along the way. That week was Parshas Vayeitzei. The Rebbe quoted the above verse and said:

“And he feared, and he said, ‘mah norah hamakom hazeh!’” (How awesome is this place.) The Rebbe interpreted the words as follows: Mah norah – what is this fear? Why should I be afraid? Hamakom hazehHamakom is a reference to Hashem Who is called Makom, because His presence fills up every place. Hashem is everywhere; He is here with us, so why should we be afraid?

For weeks afterwards, during the difficult days of the war, the Chassidim strengthened each other with these words and often repeated them: “Why should we be afraid? Hashem is with us!”

When frightful things happen, people say that “Moshiach must come already!” This is also hinted at in the verse: “And he feared and he said…” The word ויאמר stands for “Yavo v’yigaleinu ruach apeinu Moshiach Hashem” – May he come and redeem us, the spirit of our nostrils, the anointed of Hashem.

There are people who are afraid to have yiras shamayim – fear of Heaven. They mistakenly think that it is difficult to have this fear. But in truth, it is quite the opposite! Fear of Heaven is a sweet sensation, as we say on Shabbos in the zemer Koh Echsof: “I want to taste the sweetness of Your fear!” Fear of Heaven is pure sweetness!

The letters in the word בראשית can be rearranged to spell ירא שבת “fear of Shabbos.” Although Shabbos is indeed an awesome day, this fear of Shabbos is extremely sweet, as we say in the same zemer, “Shabbos is a sweetness for the neshama, the seventh day is a pleasure for the spirit and a delight for the nefesh… to delight in Your love and in Your fear…” Just as loving Hashem is a pure delight, so too fearing Hashem is sweet for the soul and fills a person with happiness and joy.

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