Parashat Vayeseh: Like the Dirt of the Earth
We read in Parashat Vayeseh of Yaakob Abinu’s famous dream, in which G-d promised to protect him along his journey to Haran. G-d also promises to produce a great nation from Yaakob, announcing, "Your offspring shall be like the dirt of the earth" ("Ve’haya Zar’acha Ka’afar Ha’aretz" – 28:14). G-d’s blessing that Yaakob’s descendants shall be "like the dirt of the earth" obviously refers to their numbers. Just as the world has earth on the ground in abundance, Am Yisrael will be a large nation that will fill the world.
Still, we must wonder why G-d would compare Beneh Yisrael to the earth of the ground, which hardly seems like a flattering comparison. Elsewhere, in promising the patriarchs that they would produce a large nation, G-d uses other analogies, such as the stars, or the sand of the seashore, which has a certain aesthetic quality to it. But why would he compare us to dirt?
The Midrash answers that the dirt of the ground is constantly tread upon, and yet it always remains in existence. The earth on the ground will stay there no matter how many people step on it, and no matter how many times this happens. Beneh Yisrael were blessed with this same quality. Like the earth, we, too, have been "stepped on" – oppressed and humiliated by enemy nations – throughout our long history. And yet, we are still here. Despite centuries of efforts of virulent anti-Semites, the Jewish people are still around, and will always be around. We are blessed with the quality of dirt, which remains intact no matter how many times it is trampled on.
But there is also another explanation for why G-d blessed the Jewish people that they will be "like the dirt of the earth." People look disdainfully upon dirt, they step on it and they are repulsed by it, but the earth lies there silently, tolerantly and patiently enduring the abuse, and ultimately "wins." Once a person’s soul departs from this world, his body is covered by dirt. The dirt endures the person’s scorn and derision throughout his life, but ultimately, it comes out on top, so-to-speak.
Indeed, we should all endeavor to be "like the dirt of the earth." Our Sages speak of the greatness of those who do not respond to insults, who keep quiet in the face of humiliation, saying that they will in the future shine brightly like the sun. We should follow the example of the dirt, and not react when we are offended. As we learn from the dirt, that is ultimately the best strategy for ensuring that we will ultimately come out on top. We thus recite in the Elokai Nesor section after the Amida, "to those who curse me – my soul shall be silent; my soul shall be like dirt to all." We ask Hashem to give us the strength to remain silent, to maintain our composure in the face of insults, following the example of the earth, and in fulfillment of His blessing to Yaakob Abinu that his descendants should be like the dirt of the earth.