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Jacob’s noble in-tents

  • ParsahNosselToldot
The Torah introduces us to our forefather Jacob as a “yoshaiv ohalim” - one who sits in tents. What on earth is a tents-sitter? And why is this specific quality singled out in the Torah to introduce us to and perhaps even epitomise Jacob?
by RABBI Dr DAVID NOSSEL | Nov 30, 2016

Rashi’s explanation is: “The tent of Shem and the tent of Eiver. How does that help us? What happened in the tent of Shem and what happened in the tent of Eiver? Why were they separate and why did Jacob sit in both? And why is mention made of their tents?

“For sure at least Shem had a study hall - beit midrash - for according to Rashi when Rebecca sought out Hashem, she visited Shem in his study hall! So, why was Jacob sitting in Shem's tent?

“Shem, so it would appear, had both a study hall and a tent. When people were seeking out Hashem they would go to the study hall and Shem would assist them. In addition, Shem sought to benefit his fellow person by providing a service within the community and so he would also go out as a ‘field-worker’, set up camp, and stay in a tent.”  

The tents of Shem and of Eiver were like “mobile clinics” that went out into the community to benefit and serve it. Shem and Eiver took on the task of providing the community with the two primary life skills that the members of a community need.

Shem means “name”. The tent of Shem provided the people with identity, individuality, self-worth and dignity. Shem's tent was set up in the community to teach people that everyone has a name, because everyone is special and has a valuable contribution to make.

Shem's tent taught people: “Make a name for yourself”, or even better, it showed them: “You already have a name. Now live up to it.” 

Eiver means “beyond”. The tent of Eiver taught the people about transcending beyond themselves. It was set up to encourage the members of a community to overcome self-focus and to strive to become altruistic.

Shem and Eiver were super-specialists in each of their fields. Shem taught the importance of self-worth; Eiver taught the value of caring about others. Sometimes they were to be found in their consulting rooms and sometimes they were available out in the community.

Jacob was mankind’s giant generalist. He combined the teachings about self-worth and care-for-others and he is praised for doing his internship not in the privacy of the consulting room, but publicly, out among the people of the community.

And this is why we need more in-tents-sitters, more carers and builders of community - more Jacobs - in the world.

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