Parashat Vayeseh: The Enduring Impact of Our Actions
The opening verse of Parashat Vayeseh tells, "Va’yeseh Yaakob Mi’Be’er Sheba Va’yelech Harana" – "Yakaob left from Be’er Sheba, and he went to Haran." Rashi notes that the first half of this verse – "Yaakob left from Be’er Sheba" – seems redundant. After all, the Torah is now going to tell us of Yaakob’s experiences after leaving and heading to Haran, and we already know that he had been living in Be’er Sheba. There thus seems to be no reason for the Torah to inform us that Yaakob left from Be’er Sheba.
Rashi answers by stating, "This teaches that a righteous people’s departure from a place makes an impression…" The Torah mentioned that Yaakob left Be’er Sheba to emphasize that his departure "made an impression."
The standard understanding of Rashi’s comment is that a Sadik’s departure leaves a void that is palpably felt. A city, or a community, is simply not the same once a righteous person leaves. Significantly, this point is made specifically about Yaakob, who is described earlier (25:27) as a "Yosheb Ohalim" – "dweller of tents," referring to his diligent engagement in Torah learning. Yaakob was not a public figure. He did not give speeches or teach students. He spent his time devotedly engrossed in his studies. Nevertheless, his departure was discernibly felt, because his presence infused the town with an element of sanctity that was then lost when he left.
There is, however, also a different understanding of Rashi’s comment. The scholars of Kabbalah teach the concept of "Reshimu" – the spiritual impact of a person’s actions which endures forever in that location. Every Misva we perform leaves an indelible impression upon the place where we fulfilled it. If we learn Torah in a certain location, the sanctity of our Torah learning remains in that place for all eternity. This is why Halacha urges one who, for whatever reason, is unable to pray with a Minyan to nevertheless pray in a synagogue. Even though he will be praying privately, it is far preferable to pray in a synagogue, a place infused with the Kedusha of the countless prayers recited and words of Torah spoken there.
This, then, might be the meaning of Rashi’s comment, that a Sadik’s departure "Oseh Roshem" – "makes an impression." Even after he leaves, the spiritual impact of his many good deeds remains and continues to benefit the residents of his town.
Conversely, the sins we commit have a harmful spiritual impact that endures forever. Even if nobody witnesses the forbidden act, its spiritual effects make an impression that will have detrimental consequences many years later. For this reason, Rav Haim Palachi (Turkey, 1788-1868) writes that if one sees two people fighting in the street, he should ensure not to walk on that side of the street where the fight took place. Few sins are more grievous and spiritually harmful than anger and fighting, and so when two people quarrel, they leave an especially detrimental impact upon that spot – to the point where even innocent, uninvolved passersby are negatively affected.
Let us always remember that each and every action we perform has a profound spiritual impact, yielding consequences for many years into the future. This awareness should motivate us to always strive to perform Misvot and avoid wrongdoing of any kind.