By Shalom Olenksky
This week in the Torah:
Jacob spends twenty years in the house of his uncle, Lavan, who is an idolater and a swindler; although, Lavan’s daughters are righteous and Jacob marries them and together they raise a Jewish family.
Midrash (Rabbah 68:11):
“Jacob did not lie down to sleep for those twenty years…What did he say? Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says Jacob [prophetically] recited the fifteen Song-of-Ascents [i.e. Psalms, 120-134]…Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman says Jacob [prophetically] recited the entire book of Psalms.”
This recital of Psalms obviously uplifted Jacob’s spirits so as to withstand the trials and tribulations of his exile in tending to Lavan’s sheep day and night for twenty years. But how is this connected to the specific fifteen Psalms mentioned above?
Rabbi Chayim Yosef David Azoulai:
“Jacob said these fifteen Psalms to commemorate the fifteen years he lived together with his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham”; i.e. to evoke the merit and power of his righteous ancestors to assist him in overcoming the challenges of living in Lavan’s house.
Just as three, if united, are sure to win a battle against one, so too the powers of the three Patriarchs, expressed in loving-kindness (Abraham), fear of G-d (Isaac) and compassion (Jacob), if united, are sure to defeat one impure adversary.
Hence, the significance here of the number fifteen, the numerical value of the first two letters (Yud and Hei) of G-d’s four-letter name; they represent intellect, when compared to the last two letters (Vov and Hei) representing emotions. The intellect is the force that influences the three different emotions to unite; three Patriarchs (emotions) united by fifteen years (intellect).
But how was Jacob able to recite these fifteen songs – something joyous – while suffering through his exile?
Indeed, he focused on the great spiritual and physical wealth that was to come out from his exiled years – hence “A Song of Ascents”, i.e. being able to sing by focusing on the great ascent that is to come out from this descent.
Never give up hope. Even if surrounded by darkness, sing, because great light follows the darkness and this is the purpose of the darkness to begin with.
(Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 20, Vayetzei)