Tua Tagovailoa is the starting quarterback for the 8-4 Miami Dolphins, and more importantly, the starting quarterback for my Fantasy Football team. Despite being drafted high in the first round, Tua was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league the last two years, and by all accounts, appeared to be a bust. He recently said that last year he would often look at himself in the mirror, and ask himself if he was terrible. But then, his brand new head coach, Mike McDaniel put together a 700 play highlight video of Tua that he presented to him, reminding him of how great he is.
The results? He is currently 5th in the league in touchdowns, second in the league with fewest interceptions thrown, second in the league in completion percentage, and is a candidate for MVP.
When asked what changed from the last two years, he alluded to it being a change of perspective from his coach. Said Tua, “Having someone that believes in you makes all the difference. Having someone that calls me randomly about how much I mean to him– it’s cool–I’ve never had that– never experienced that.” I believe this concept is a theme that emerges from the beginning of Parshas Vayeitze, and I wanted to explore this a little deeper.
At the very beginning of the Parsha, we see Yaakov ready to escape from his brother Eisav, after having received the blessing from Yitzchak. The Torah tells us how “Yaakov went from Beer Sheva to Charan.” As we know, the Torah uses words very carefully, never leaving in unnecessary words. It is therefore, as Rashi points out, curious that the Torah mentions that Yaakov left Beer Sheva. Could it not have just said “Yaakov went to Charan?” I went to shred the gnar in Vail last week, but I don’t tell people that I left Denver and went to Vail! What is the lesson here?
Rashi explains that the Torah is teaching that when a righteous person leaves an area it makes an indelible impression– when he is in the city, there is a beauty and splendor, and when he leaves the city, that is absent. Yaakov was so righteous, that when he left Beer Sheva, his absence was felt. That is why the Torah emphasizes where he left.
Rabbi Efraim Shapiro quotes a question, asking why exactly the Torah focuses specifically on when Yaakov left a place before moving to a new home? We know Avraham also left Charan in Parshas Lech Lecha– yet the Torah doesn’t emphasize that– it simply says that Avraham should go to the Land that Hashem will show him. Why does the Torah emphasize specifically when Yaakov left?
Rabbi Yehuda Kellemer says that we all know how Avraham was the piller of Chesed– the paradigm of kindness. The Torah doesn’t emphasize the void left by Avraham when he moved from a place, because it is self understood that a pillar of chesed who always provides for people would leave a gaping void upon leaving his community.
I heard a story of the great Rabbi Machlis and his wife Henny of blessed memory, whose legendary kindness is world renowned. They hosted hundreds of people of all walks of life every week for Shabbos, something rabbi Machlis continues to do until this day. There is one time where Rabbi Machlis hosts the meal just for his family– the Passover Seder. One year, they publicized that they could not host the seder–yet people showed up nonetheless. The next year they had to move to a secret location. Their absence was profoundly felt by the dozens of people who rely on them. The gaping void of their absence is obvious and self understood. With Avraham too, when he left a community, his absence was profoundly felt.
However, when it comes to Yaakov– the Ish Tam Yoshev Ohalim (the simple man who dwelled learning in the tents)– we might not think this way. We might mistakenly think that as he was not as a world renowned Baal Chesed as Avraham that he didn’t make such an extraordinary difference. That, if he would leave, the void would not be so imminently felt. The Torah is therefore emphasizing his leaving of Beer Sheva to tell us not to make that mistaken conclusion!
Despite Yaakov being fundamentally different in nature to his grandfather Avraham, he made an indelible impact on the community and his absence was immediately felt. Despite the fact that he left behind a community still inhabited by his saintly father and mother, Yitzchak and Rivka, his leaving made a mark.
I believe there is a second example of this concept– only a few short verses later. The Torah tells us about how when Yaakov woke up from his dream of the angels going up and down the latter, ” Yaakov woke up from his sleep and said, ‘surely Hashem is present in this place and I didn’t know!” The Chasm Sofer comments that the word for “surely” is achein– alef, ches, nun. He notes that on the Kisei HaKavod– on G-d’s Divine throne, there is an image of an ari (lion,) kruv (cherub) and nesher (eagle). The first letters, of those words are aleph, ches, and nun– which spells achein. Yaakov is saying, I knew these things were on Hashem’s throne of glory– V’anochi lo yadati. Yaakov was unaware that the fourth thing on the Kisei Hakavod was none other than an image of himself. Before his dream where Hashem spoke to him he did not fully grasp his greatness– V’anochi lo yadati “but I did not know it.” Says the Chasm Sofer, if you add the first letter of his name (yod) to the Achein , and reorder the letters you get the word anochi. He did not realize he was included on the kisei hakavod until that moment. At this point, he was able to recognize his own innate greatness.
We as the Jewish People are referred to not as Bnei Avraham, or Bnei Yitzchak, but Bnei Yaakov, or Bnei Yisroel. We are named collectively as a people, after Yaakov Avinu. Perhaps one reason for this is to instill within us this lesson: that we all count, we all matter a lot. In the words of Rabbi Shapiro, we make an extraordinary, tremendous, and colossal difference. Each and everyone of us contribute in our own unique styles– to a family, to a shul, and to a community. We might think, “I can’t make a difference, I don’t have the money, the social clout, the prestige or the talents.
But the Torah is speaking to us– we might think we are not able to make a difference, but that would be a terrible mistake. If we would leave our cities, or communities, we too would be leaving a gaping void. We matter and are making a huge difference in our environments.
It is vital that we recognize our own tremendous value and worth– but another lesson for us is that we need to make sure that other people also realize how vital and important they are. We need to remind everyone around us how much they are needed and how much they mean to us. Our parents, siblings, children, colleagues, employees and everyone with whom we interact: We need to let them know how much we appreciate the contribution they are making in the the world and in our lives.
This is the lesson that Coach Mike McDaniel grasps that transformed his quarterback’s career–and this is the lesson that we need to internalize as well. In a broken, scary world, perhaps by doing this we can truly build a better future for all of us.