In Parshat VaYeitzei, when Yaakov was fleeing from his murderous brother Esav and heading to the home of his uncle Lavan, the Midrash tells us that he stopped for an extended time to study Torah at the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever. Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky points out that this seems strange. Yaakov grew up, after all, in the home of his father Yitzchak, with his grandfather Avraham nearby. Presumably, the Princeton-equivalent Torah education he received from these illustrious forefathers of the Jewish people should have been sufficient for Yaakov. Why outsource his education to Shem and Ever?
Rabbi Kaminetzky explains that the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever offered a unique graduate-level specialization. Shem and Ever had lived through the experiences of the Flood and the Tower of Bavel, respectively, which were times of enormous physical and social upheaval, when moral depravity had sunk to its lowest levels. Yet, they had remained models of tenacious fidelity to G-d and morality despite the challenging times in which they lived. When Yaakov was on his way to the house of Lavan, an amoral swindler and con-artist, he needed an extra, multi-year tutorial; a “How-to” guide for upholding values and character in a morally hostile environment.
Yaakov needed a Torah education that would give him the widest range of tools for dealing with Uncle Lavan. He needed the Torah that came from living in the inspired, spiritual environment of Torah giants like Avraham and Yitzchak. But he also needed the Torah of Shem and Ever that would equip him to withstand the temptations of a dishonest work environment and the low moral standards of his new destination.
Torah, which embodies the wisdom of a G-d Who is beyond time, contains the antidote for the particular challenges of every age.