No Shortcuts to Greatness
by RABBI BINYOMIN ADLER
ויחלם והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה והנה מלאכי אלקים עלים וירדים
“And he dreamt, and behold! A ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward; and behold! Angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it.” (Bereishit 28:12)
On the way to his uncle Laban, Jacob encountered the future site of the Holy Temple. While spending the night there, he had a dream about a ladder, extending from earth towards heaven, upon which angels of G-d ascended and descended.
The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 29:2) relates that G-d showed Jacob angels from the kingdoms of Bavel, Madai, Yavan, and Edom (Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome) ascending and descending the ladder. G-d told Jacob to ascend the ladder as well. Seeing Jacob’s fear, G-d assured him that he would ascend but would never descend. Jacob, however, did not believe G-d and did not ascend. The Medrash says that Jacob erred in his decision not to ascend the ladder. G-d told him, “Had you trusted in Me and ascended, you would never have come down again. Now that you did not trust in me, your children will be oppressed by the four kingdoms.”
The Medrash can’t be understood literally and contains elements which are beyond our comprehension. One component, however, may be understood in light of a teaching in the Talmud that states that a person’s dreams reflect his daily thoughts. Jacob was so preoccupied with spiritual growth that it extended to his dreams as well. (Interestingly, the Torah illustrates Jacob’s upwardly-spiritual focus through the way in which it records the years of his life: “seven years, and forty, and one hundred years: (Bereishit 47:28). The ascending order demonstrates that Jacob was constantly striving for higher spiritual levels and was never complacent with his current situation.)
Why didn’t Jacob ascend the ladder?
One reason Jacob refused to ascend the ladder was because doing so would have been tantamount to receiving spirituality on a silver platter. Such a gift was the antithesis of Jacob’s modus operandi of earning spiritual growth through hard work and struggling in this world to achieve a more meaningful reward in the next world. It is said that Rabbi Elijah of Vilna (the Vilna Gaon) was approached by angels who offered to study Torah with him. Surprisingly, he rejected their offer. Similar to Jacob, the great rabbi wished to work hard at his Torah study and not to receive it as a gift. As the Talmud teaches, the reward we will receive for a given action is commensurate with the amount of toil it takes.
We are often presented with situations in life which promise a shortcut to achieving greatness. Despite the attractiveness of a quick, easy solution, nothing can replace the lasting value achieved through hard work. With sustained efforts — and a little patience — the return on our investments will be self-evident.
Counting Down the Hours
by RABBI DOVID GILMAN
ויעבד יעקב ברחל שבע שנים ויהיו בעיניו כימים אחדים באהבתו אתה
And Jacob worked seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him a few days because of his love for her (Bereishit 29:20).
If time flies when you’re having fun, what does time do when you are working hard? One would think it would crawl at a snail’s pace.
At his mother’s behest, Jacob went to Haran, his familial home, to find a wife. When he arrived, he met Rachel and wanted to marry her. He offered Rachel’s father, Laban, seven years of work in exchange for her hand. The Torah tells us that those seven years flew by.
Rabbi Elya Lopian points out that usually, when someone awaits a special event, he counts the days – a slow, almost painful process of waiting. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, the time crawls. And yet the Torah says that Jacob worked for seven years to marry Rachel, and that it felt like a few days!
The verse informs us that the time flew by because of Jacob’s love for Rachel. What does love have to do with time flying by? A definition of love is in order before this question can be answered. Consider the following:
A man walks into a restaurant. The waiter asks for his order and the man replies, “I would love some fish.” A foreigner sits at the next table, listening. He pulls out his Blackberry, opens up a dictionary, and looks up “love.” Certain that he knows what to expect, he watches, anticipating the beautiful fishbowl the waiter will bring in which the other patron will care for the fish he requested. Instead, the waiter serves the fish steaming hot and the customer devours it. Clearly, the patron does not harbor love for the fish; he harbors love for himself. Love in the colloquial means that I will enjoy the gratification I receive from this food, object, or person.
In the eyes of the Torah, love is the degree of caring one invests to help another. In marriage, the ultimate expression of love, two spouses love one another and are always looking for ways to help each other. The love they feel is the genuine caring for another individual and putting the other person first. Jacob’s seven years flew by because he viewed every single minute of work as an act of giving to Rachel. It wasn’t a burden, it was a gift.
This idea doesn’t only apply to marriage, but to anything we do in life. If the goal of our job is to earn gratification, money, or honor, then the actual work quickly becomes tedious and we fail to find satisfaction in our jobs, our marriages, and our life.
When we are unhappy in life, we might want to examine our personal motivations. Changing from a mindset of taking to a mindset of giving can bring us true satisfaction.
Seven Years for Sensitivity
by RABBI OZER ALPORT
ויבא גם אל רחל ויאהב גם את רחל מלאה ויעבד עמו עוד שבע שנים אחרות
“Jacob married Rachel and loved her even more than Leah, and he worked for Laban another seven years.” (Bereishit 29:30)
Jacob was exemplary in his devotion to Torah study. At the age of 60, instead of traveling immediately to Laban’s house to seek a wife, he first stopped at a yeshiva to study Torah for 14 years. Upon arriving at the house of Laban, he agreed to work for seven years in order to marry Rachel. At the end of that period, Laban tricked him into marrying Leah instead.
When Jacob confronted him about the “bait and switch,” Laban proposed that he would allow Jacob to marry Rachel if he agreed to work for an additional seven years. Rashi writes that whereas the first time Jacob was required to work all seven years before the wedding, this time Laban allowed Jacob to marry Rachel immediately, after which time he was to complete his obligation to Laban by working a second set of seven years.
As it was Laban who had intentionally deceived him and reneged on their original agreement, why did Jacob remain in Laban’s house to work for him for an additional seven years? Jacob had fulfilled his obligation to work for seven years in order to marry Rachel. At this point, why didn’t he take leave of Laban and return to Canaan to study Torah?
Rabbi Dovid Feinstein explains that although Jacob wasn’t legally required to stay, had he left at this point, Leah would have been devastated. She would have felt that her husband viewed Rachel as being worth seven years of work, but not her.
Even though the extra seven years of work came at the expense of his ability to study Torah and to escape the evil influences of Laban, it was worth seven full years of hard work and spiritual sacrifice simply to avoid hurting the feelings of his wife, Leah.
The following story shows a modern day example of the great concern and sensitivity demonstrated by Jacob. Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the founder of the Lakewood yeshiva, was legendary for his devotion to studying and teaching Torah. Once, shortly after leaving his home on his way to yeshiva, he asked his driver to turn around and return to his home. His driver couldn’t imagine what he had forgotten that could possibly be so critical, but he immediately returned to Rabbi Kotler’s home.
The driver offered to run inside to fetch whatever was forgotten, but Rabbi Kotler insisted that he would go to the house himself. The curious driver followed to observe what was so important and was astonished to observe Rabbi Kotler tell his wife “Goodbye, and have a wonderful day,” and return to the car. Rabbi Kotler explained that every day he said goodbye to his wife before leaving. That day he had accidentally forgotten, and he didn’t want to hurt his wife’s feelings. Only after expending the time to return home and personally say goodbye was he able to proceed to yeshiva to teach his class.
The Mishnah in Ethics of our Fathers (3:17) teaches us that without proper character traits and sensitivity to others, there can be no Torah study, a lesson we learn from the actions of Jacob and Rabbi Kotler.
Elephants and False Beliefs
by RABBI MOSHE GEWIRTZ
ויבא אלהים אל לבן הארמי בחלם הלילה ויאמר לו השמר לך פן תדבר עם יעקב מטוב עד רע
G-d had come to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, ‘Beware lest you speak with Jacob either good or bad.’” (Bereishit 31:24)
Jacob spent twenty years with his father-in-law Laban without a moment of peace. In their first “formal agreement,” Laban agreed to allow Jacob to marry Rachel in exchange for seven years of labor. At the end of those seven years, however, Laban tricked Jacob into taking Rachel’s sister, Leah, as his bride. Although Laban subsequently allowed Jacob to marry Rachel, the privilege cost Jacob another seven years of labor. (Bereishit 29:15-30) Over the course of the next several years, Laban deceived Jacob 100 times! Despite Laban’s treachery, Jacob prospered.
At a certain point, G-d commanded Jacob to leave Laban and return to his father’s house. After securing his wives’ permission, Jacob escaped with his family, his livestock and the wealth he had accumulated. When Laban learned of Jacob’s departure, he pursued Jacob with the intention of killing him. G-d came to Laban in a dream and warned him: “Beware lest you speak with Jacob either good or bad.” As explained by the Kli Yakar commentary, G-d’s warning to Laban was not simply to avoid “speaking” good or evil to Jacob, but also not to harm him in any way.
When Laban relates his encounter with G-d, Laban told Jacob: “It is within the power of my hand to harm you, but the G-d of your father spoke to me last night saying, ‘Guard yourself not to speak to Jacob either good or evil.’”
Laban’s words raise a fundamental question: If G-d Himself commanded Laban not to harm Jacob, how could Laban imagine that he had the power to harm him? This is beyond self-deception – it is a blatant denial of reality!
The answer is that Laban was operating under certain preconceived notions that had become fixed into his way of thinking. Nothing – not even a direct encounter with G-d – could change his point of view with regard to his belief that he could, in fact, destroy Jacob if he chose to do so.
Laban’s absurd statement points to the foolishness of hanging on to preconceived notions of reality, and how doing so can prevent us from creating lasting and meaningful changes in our lives. The following illustration is an example of how preconceived notions have the power to limit vast, hidden potential:
In Thailand, loggers use elephants to do most of the heavy lifting. These ten-ton animals either pull trees out of the ground with their trunks, or push them out with their massive heft. After the tree is down, they carry it in their trunks to drop off locations miles away. The strength of these beasts is almost unconceivable. So how do their trainers, known as mahouts, keep them from running away at night?
All the mahouts do is take a rope leading from a ring on the trunk of the elephants and connect it to a stake in the ground. This one simple precaution is sufficient to keep the elephant from escaping. This trivial restraint accomplishes its goal because, as babies, the elephants are also tied to a stake in the ground. At that stage in their lives, however, they lack the strength to break free. After a few months, they stop even trying, and for the rest of their lives, the elephants “know” it is impossible to break free from that stake in the ground.
One preconceived notion keeps a ten-ton elephant tied to a forty-pound wooden stake for its entire 50-or 60-year lifespan. We, too, often allow our own preconceived notions to hold us back from what we truly want to do. Usually, it starts with the words, “I can’t.” “I can’t lose weight. I’ve tried a million times, and it doesn’t work”; “I can’t do public speaking”; “I can’t change my life. I’m just not a spiritual person.”
In small and large ways, this attitude prevents us from discovering new facets of our personality that could lead us to new levels of meaning and fulfillment. Allowing this to happen interferes with the greatest gift that G-d has given us, the gift of free-will and the ability to choose life.
Once we understand that nothing has the power to tie us down from pursuing what we truly desire, we become truly free to experience life with a constantly renewing clean slate, with unforeseen and unlimited opportunities opening up before us. As long as we don’t say “I can’t.”
The True Master
by RABBI LEIBY BURNHAM
תתן אמת ליעקב חסד לאברהם
“Give truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham.” (Micha 7:20)
Of all of our forefathers, Jacob is the one classified as an “Ish Emes,” a man of truth. The prophet Micha, when asking G-d to return Israel to its former state of glory, says, “give truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham” (Micha 7:20). In this verse, he mentions truth in connection with Jacob and kindness with Abraham, because these were their unique strong points. However, a cursory glance at last week’s and this week’s Torah portions makes us wonder if Jacob is indeed the man of truth he is made out to be.
In last week’s parsha, Jacob tricked his father into believing he was Esau in order to get the blessings that Isaac gave out before his death. In this week’s parsha, we learn of a new scheme of Jacob’s. While working for his devious father-in-law, Laban, Jacob seems to unfairly attain extra wages.
While Jacob was shepherding Laban’s flock, he worked out a deal with Laban that he would be entitled to any sheep that had a particular wool pattern, sometimes speckled, sometimes ringed, and sometimes spotted. In order to get more sheep Jacob would take twigs and carve onto them the designs to which he was entitled, and then put those twigs by the troughs. When the animals were in heat they would see those twigs while drinking, and the sheep born from the subsequent cohabitation would have the coat Jacob desired. That seems like a pretty devious way to get extra wages, and one you certainly wouldn’t expect to see from someone classified as an ish emes, a man of truth.
But the truth is (no pun intended) that to be a pillar of a particular virtue doesn’t mean that the virtue should be used all the time. It means knowing when to use the virtue and when to hold it back. It is not the person who takes the virtue to the extreme because extremism is dangerous in any character trait. Rather, it is the person who has perfect control over the trait, always knowing whether to use it or hold it back, that is considered a pillar of a trait.
In describing how he faithfully guarded Laban’s sheep, Jacob says, “These twenty years that I was with you, your ewes and she-goats never miscarried, and I did not eat any rams of your flocks. I never brought you a mutilated animal; I took the blame for it. You demanded compensation from my hand whether [an animal] was stolen from me by day or whether it was stolen from me by night. I was consumed by the burning heat by day and ice at night. My sleep was taken from my eyes” (Bereishit 31:38-40). Even though other shepherds would occasionally eat a sheep of their master, or go into a hut to protect themselves from the elements, Jacob never engaged in these practices. His watchfulness for the sheep in his care was exemplary. This was so even after Laban cheated him by giving him a different daughter than the one for whom he had worked for seven years!
However, when it came to dealing with liars and miscreants who wanted to rob him of everything he deserved, Jacob knew how to withhold his integrity. Even though Jacob bought the firstborn rights from his brother, Esau still passed himself off before his father as the firstborn in order to merit the blessings Isaac wanted to give his firstborn. Jacob fired back with a round of trickery and got what he rightly deserved. Laban also played games. He switched Jacob’s salary terms one hundred times in an attempt to ensure that his son-in-law Jacob would leave penniless after working faithfully for twenty years! Jacob pulled another trick out of his hat, and ensured that he did get his proper wages.
Jacob was the quintessential Ish Emes — he was generally extremely truthful but, when necessary, knew how to suppress his natural honesty in order to prevent the perpetration of wrong. Picture a man who comes home from a long day of work, and is greeted by a gorgeous candlelit dinner that his wife spent 5 hours preparing. If the roast tastes like dirt and his wife asks, “so honey, how do you like the roast?” and he answers with a truthful “I’d much rather eat my hand”; he is not a man of truth, but an insensitive ingrate!
Kindness is a virtue, but there are times we need to hold back our kindness in order to help someone grow. Discipline is a virtue, but we need to be flexible at times. Honesty is much the same. So, let us take a lesson from Jacob, and use each of our character traits with a perfect balance, using it when it’s proper, and not using it when it’s not!
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
Following his mother’s advice, Jacob fled Beersheba and went to Haran. Along the way, he arrived at Mount Moriah – the exact location where the binding of Isaac took place – and, because the sun had set, camped there for the night. While asleep he had a dream of a ladder ascending into the heavens on which angels were climbing and descending.
Our sages teach us (Kli Yakar, Bereishit 28:12) that the ascending angels in Jacob’s dream can be seen as a metaphor for mankind’s ability to transcend physicality – to engage in spiritual pursuits despite having physical limitations. What metaphor might the descending angels illustrate?
As explained by Rashi, G-d caused the sun to set early in order to force Jacob to stop and camp out on Mount Moriah – the place where Isaac had been bound by Abraham as an offering to G-d. G-d could obviously have sent Jacob his dream anywhere. What might be the significance of this occurring on Mount Moriah?
“And it was when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban the brother of his mother and the sheep of Laban the brother of his mother, he drew close and rolled the stone off the mouth of the well and he watered the sheep of Laban the brother of his mother. And Jacob kissed Rachel and raised his voice and he wept.” (Bereishit 29:10-11)
In this obviously important description of the first encounter between Jacob and his future wife, Rachel is described as the daughter of the brother of his mother, and the sheep are twice described as belonging to Laban the brother of his mother. Why would the Torah repeatedly mention this seemingly superfluous detail about Laban’s relationship to Jacob’s mother?
Rashi explains that Jacob cried because he had a prophetic vision that Rachel would not be buried together with him, and because he had been stripped of his wealth along the way and had arrived empty-handed. Jacob’s life was filled with struggles. He was forced to leave home for more than thirty-six years. He was subject to Laban’s exploitation and deception. His son Joseph went missing for twenty-two years. His family was physically threatened by Esau and an army of soldiers. His wife Rachel died in childbirth upon reentry into the land of Israel. Despite his challenging circumstances, we never find that he was brought to tears. What was it about meeting his wife without bearing gifts or discovering that he wouldn’t be buried alongside her that caused him to weep?
When Jacob agreed to work for seven years for the privilege of marrying Rachel, he knew that his future father-in-law Laban would have no qualms about deceiving him, and put great effort into trying to prevent that from happening. Nevertheless, when the day of the wedding arrived, Laban successfully fooled Jacob into marring Leah (Bereishit 29:18-25).
1. If Jacob was, in fact, destined to marry both Rachel and Leah and establish the Twelve Tribes of Israel, why might it have been beneficial for this come about through trickery?
2. When Eliezer went to find a wife for Isaac, he prayed for very specific signs that would prove that the girl was suited to be the wife of the future patriarch Isaac. Jacob, however appeared to choose Rachel without any signs. (Bereishit 29:10-11)
3. Surely Jacob understood that he was the progeny of greatness and that he, too, was destined for greatness. Why then would he avoid testing Rachel’s suitability for the role she would play?
Jacob worked for Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel. The Torah relates (Bereishit 29:20) that because of his great love for her, it seemed to him like a period of only a few short days. How is this to be understood, as our anxiety and impatience during times when we must wait for things that we love and look forward to makes the time appear to pass not faster but significantly slower? (Seforno, Rabbi Meir Leibush Malbim, Lev Eliyahu by Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian)
Rashi writes (Bereishit 29:25) that in order to prevent potential trickery by Laban, Jacob gave certain simanim (signs) to Rachel that only she would know. When Rachel realized that her father Laban intended to send Leah under the bridal canopy instead of her, she feared the humiliation her sister would face and related the simanim to Leah so that she could convince Jacob that she was indeed Rachel. Although this act demonstrated tremendous compassion for her sister’s emotions, what right did she have to do so at the expense of Jacob’s feelings? (Lev Shalom by Rabbi Shalom Schwadron)
Q: After Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she named him Yehuda, saying (Bereishit 29:35) “This time I will thank Hashem.” Why did she only choose to thank Hashem after Yehuda’s birth and not after the birth of any of her first three sons? Rashi explains that Leah knew through Divine inspiration that there would be 12 tribes. Since Jacob had four wives, she assumed that each wife would merit giving birth to three of them. When Leah gave birth to a fourth son, whom she viewed as more than what she was expecting or entitled to, she decided to give special thanks to Hashem. The Talmud in Berachos (7b) teaches that in doing so, Leah became the first person in history to thank Hashem. This is difficult to understand. How can it be that the righteous Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, and Jacob never once thanked Hashem?
A: Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman answers that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs certainly gave thanks to Hashem constantly. However, many people have a feeling that once they have said “thank you,” they have fulfilled their obligation to express gratitude no matter how great the favor was that they received. Leah introduced the concept of eternalizing one’s feelings of gratitude by giving a child a name which connotes thanks. Every time that she spoke to her son or even thought about him, she would be reminded for all time how much appreciation she owes to Hashem — not just for this son, but for all of the good that Hashem has bestowed upon her. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Q: All Jews around the world are referred to as “Yehudim,” which has come to mean “Jews,” although it presumably is derived from the name of Yehuda, who was one of the 12 tribes. As the Jewish people are descended from all 12 of Jacob’s sons, why are we called by a name which specifically associates us with Yehuda, from whom we are clearly not all descended, rather than with any of the other tribes?
A: Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, author of Chiddushei HaRim, explains that after giving birth to her fourth son, the Torah tells us (Bereishit 29:35) that Leah chose to name him Yehuda, saying “this time I will thank Hashem.” Why did she only choose to thank Hashem after Yehuda’s birth and not after the birth of any of her first three sons? Rashi explains that Leah knew through Divine inspiration that there would be 12 tribes. Since Jacob had 12 wives, she assumed that each wife would merit giving birth to three of them. When she gave birth to a 4th son, whom she viewed as more than what she was expecting or entitled to, she decided to give special thanks to Hashem and give her son a name which would eternalize her expression of gratitude.
The Chiddushei HaRim writes that it is for this reason that we are called Yehudim. A thinking Jew should realize that Hashem does not owe him anything. Everything which we enjoy is because of Hashem’s infinite desire to give to us and to be good to us, but in no way is He indebted to us for anything we may desire or even need. A Jew must therefore view himself as a “Yehudi,” internalize the recognition that everything he enjoys in life is above and beyond the portion to which he is entitled, and give thanks to Hashem accordingly. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Q: The Torah tells us (Bereishit 30:22) that “Elokim” remembered the barren Rachel, heard her prayers and opened her womb. Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Pam questions the usage of the word “Elokim,” which corresponds to the Divine attribute of strict justice, when it should presumably have used the name Hashem, which reflects His attribute of mercy?
A: Rabbi Pam explains that Rachel was indeed barren and according to the laws of nature should not have had any children. However, when she gave the signs to her sister Leah so as not to embarrass her, she created such a tremendous merit for herself that Hashem’s sense of justice ultimately was compelled to change nature, make a miracle, and reward her with a child which she otherwise would not have had.
Imagine, writes Rabbi Elya Ber Wachtfogel, how Rachel must have felt. On the day of her wedding that she had been looking forward to for seven full years, she found out that her father was replacing her with her older sister. In a moment of pure selflessness, she managed to place her sister’s consideration before her very own. However, she was sure that the act she was committing would doom her to never marry Jacob and or to bear the holy tribes from him.
In Heaven, the reality was a bit different. Had she gone ahead and married Jacob, as was her right to do, she would have had a beautiful marriage, but unbeknownst to her, she was barren and would never have had any children from him. It was specifically through this act, which appeared to destroy her chances of having the children she so badly wanted, that she generated a merit for herself which would change her fate and that of the Jewish people. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Rashi writes (Bereishit 30:23) that after giving birth to Joseph, Rachel expressed her gratitude that she now had somebody whom she could blame for any utensils in the house which broke or any food which was consumed. How could this seemingly trivial reason be the motivation for her tremendous yearnings to bear a child, and was the relationship between Jacob and his beloved Rachel really so fragile that she needed to fear his blame over every accidental mishap which occurred? (Yishm’ru Daas by Rabbi Dovid Povarsky, Aleinu L’shabeiach by Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein)
Rachel’s intention in stealing her father’s terafim (idols) was to prevent him from idol-worship (Rashi Bereishit 31:19). As Laban caught up with Jacob and his family on the seventh day of their flight, Rachel had ample opportunity to discard them along the way. What purpose could she have had in keeping the idols in her tent (Bereishit 31:34), which is forbidden by the Torah, rather than throwing them out and burying them along the way? (Gur Aryeh by Rabbi Yehuda Loew)
Q: Those who pay careful attention to the parsha while reviewing it or during its public reading on Shabbat will note a curious fact: unlike almost every other parsha in the Torah, Parshat Vayeitzei contains no breaks from start to finish. It is written in the Sefer Torah without any of the customary spaces which indicate the beginning of a new section within the parsha. What is the reason for this anomaly?
A: Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that Parshat Vayeitzei contains a number of subplots: Jacob’s flight from Esav, Jacob’s dealings with his deceitful father-in-law Laban, Jacob’s relationship with his wives Rachel and Leah and the interactions between the two women, the birth of the tribes, and Jacob’s flight from Laban back to the land of his parents. When examining any of these episodes in its own light, a number of difficult and seemingly unanswerable questions present themselves.
The Torah intentionally structured Parshas Vayeitzei as one long and continuously unfolding narrative to teach that it is impossible to split up the various events contained therein and judge any of them in a vacuum. Rather, each episode is just one small piece of a much larger picture, one which can only begin to be understood when one steps back and views it in the context of the bigger picture.
As the Torah was written for all generations, it is clear that the lessons contained therein are applicable to every person throughout the ages. The lesson of needing to view events in the context of a larger perspective can be extrapolated to the situations which occur in each of our lives. We should realize that although we don’t always understand the ways of Hashem, we nevertheless must trust that everything that happens is part of His larger master plan, which we will one day merit to comprehend. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
By RABBI ELAZAR MEISELS
KNOW YOUR PLACE
“He encountered the place and spent the night there…” Bereishit 28:11
The Place – The Torah does not indicate which place it was? It must be referring to “the place” mentioned in an earlier narrative; Mount Moriah, where Abraham bound Isaac on the altar, as it says, “And he saw the place from afar.” Rashi
Why did the Torah choose to conceal the identity of the place and force us to extrapolate its identity from the verse regarding Akeidat Yitzchak (Binding of Isaac)? Perhaps this is to alert us of a profound association between the two incidents. The reason Jacob would now experience a prophetic vision that would promise him divine protection and the Land of Israel, was due, in part, to the great sacrifice his grandfather and father made at this very spot many years prior. The Jewish people did not emerge suddenly on the strength of a surprise revelation to a random individual. They are a result of generations of devoted and loyal service to Hashem in the face of unlimited adversity.
GOT YOU CORNERED
“Your offspring shall be as the dust of the earth. You shall spread to the west, to the east, to the north and to the south. Through you will be blessed all the families of the earth, and through your descendants.” Bereishit 28:14
Your offspring shall be as the dust of the earth – This refers not to our massive numbers, for Abraham already received that blessing. Rather, this refers to the Jewish people in a lowly state. Even in their lowly state, they will be a great force to be reckoned with and their presence will be felt throughout the four corners of the earth. – Ha’amek Davar (Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin)
Will be blessed…your descendants – Even while the Jewish people are in exile, the nations of the world will reflect on their unique blessing by virtue of the fact that they survived persecutions and exiles over a span of thousands of years. Had they remained safely and securely in their Land throughout, this would not appear to be a great feat. It is only thanks to their degradation and persecution that this reality shines forth so starkly and the protective hand of the Almighty is so clearly evident to all. – Heemek Davar
West, East, North, South – The four corners of the earth are granted to one who fully embodies the purpose for the creation of the universe. For this reason the verse in Proverbs [10:25] calls the righteous man, “Yesod Olam” – the foundation of the universe. Jacob, a true Tzaddik, was therefore presented with the four corners.
The scholarly work Lechem Lfi HaTaf, points out that the word for a righteous person “Tzaddik,” is spelled Tzaddik, Daled, Yud, Kuf. The letter Tzaddik is also the first letter of the word Tzafon [North], Daled is the first letter of the word Darom [South], Yud of the word Yam [West], and Kuf of the word Kedem [East]. In this manner, the Tzaddik truly represents the four corners of the earth because his influence is felt throughout, and is an appropriate recipient of the gift of having offspring in all four corners.
GATEWAY TO HEAVEN
“And he became frightened and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of Hashem and this is the gate of heavens.’” Bereishit 28:17
The House Of Hashem – This is not an ordinary place, but a sanctuary of Hashem’s name and a place suitable for prayer. – Targum Yonason
How Awesome Is This Place – From here we derive that one who prays in this spot in Jerusalem is considered to have prayed before the Heavenly Throne. – Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer
This Is None Other Than The House Of Hashem – This mountaintop is unlike the surrounding mountains, which were all used for idol worship. This mountain is the House of Hashem, and has never been used for that profane purpose. – Yismach Moshe, VaYeira, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (1759-1841)
Gate of Heaven – “One who prays outside of Eretz Yisroel should direct his heart toward Eretz Yisroel…One who stands in Eretz Yisroel should direct his heart toward Yerushalayim… in Yerushalayim toward the site of the Beit HaMikdash…in the Beit HaMikdash toward the Holy of Holies…what emerges is that all Jews [wherever they stand] direct their heart [and thoughts] to one place. – Talmud, Tractate Brachot 30a
The Western Wall, the last remnant of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), is cherished by Jews the world over for Hashem’s receptive attitude toward the prayers offered there. This belief is not built upon a modern myth or politically motivated claims, but on an age-old legend whose origins lie in this verse. Long before Christianity or Islam came into existence, the Patriarch Jacob proclaimed the value of this particular mountain by referring to it as the “Gates of Heaven” through which all our earthly prayers ascend.
WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND
“Then Jacob took a vow, saying, ‘If Elokim will be with me and will guard me on this way that I am going and will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in peace to my father’s house…I shall repeatedly tithe to you.’” Bereishit 28:20-22
If Elokim will be with me – If G-d will fulfill these promises that He made to me to be with me… – Rashi
Jacob did not actually doubt that G-d would keep His word, but he worried that perhaps his sins would impede G-d’s ability to do as He had spoken. – Ramban [The use of the Divine Name of Elokim, which represents “strict judgment,” implies that Jacob desired to earn this Divine protection in a sin-free state. – Ahavas Yonasan]
If Elokim will be with me – Although he had already been promised that this would be the case, the promises covered only physical protection. Jacob sought spiritual protection as well, and this is why he expressed doubt regarding this matter. It hadn’t been promised by G-d and is usually left to the person himself. – Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
Why did Jacob ask only for bread to eat and clothes to wear and nothing more? Shouldn’t loftier concerns have occupied his mind at this propitious moment? Rabbi Simchah Bunim of Peshischah explained that Jacob’s prayer was not for his immediate existence, but rather was directed toward the future. He foresaw that in the period leading up to the Messianic Era, there would be people who would struggle just to earn enough for a piece of bread or a shirt to wear. Fearful that their days would be spent foraging for these necessities rather than focusing on the spiritual bounty that would be readily available, Jacob pleaded with the Almighty to provide his descendants with these basic necessities so that they could occupy their minds with more important issues. We are currently living in that era, and his words ring truer than ever.
“And G-d saw that Leah was unloved, so He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.” Bereishit 29:31
Leah was unloved – Jacob greatly resented the fact that she had deceived him, and upon discovering that she had done so, he considered divorcing her. But G-d saw that her intentions were only pure, and that she only desired to marry a righteous person like Jacob. Rather than punish her, “He opened her womb,” and by the time Jacob discovered her deception, she was already pregnant. Reasoning that he could not divorce the mother of his future child, Jacob agreed to continue the marriage. – Ramban
What troubled Jacob was not the fact that he was deceived by Leah. Rather, he worried that she did not value the sanctity of marriage and would be unfaithful to him in the future as well. To confirm the sincerity of her motives and purity of character, the Almighty attached His Name to her plight. The last letters of the words, “G-d saw that Leah was unloved” spell out the Divine Name [Yud, Hey, Vav, Hey] and testify that Leah was chaste and righteous. – Baal HaTurim
Leah was unloved – Of course Jacob loved Leah and the verse does not mean to suggest otherwise. Rather, his greater feelings for Rachel made it seem as if she was unloved. – Rabbeinu Bachya, Raavad
Our sages teach that Leah feared that as the elder of the two daughters of Laban, she would be forced to marry Esau, the elder son of Isaac. So appalled was she at the prospect of marrying so lowly a person, that she purposely did all she could to make herself appear unattractive in his eyes. She sought to make herself hated by him, even if it meant that she would have to discard her natural beauty. It was in the merit of making herself unloved that G-d blessed her with so many and such wonderful children. This is the meaning of the verse, “G-d saw that Leah was unloved, so He opened her womb.” Indeed, on this earth, her beauty left much to be desired, but in heaven, it was highly valued and esteemed.
THE GRATITUDE ATTITUDE
“She conceived again, gave birth to a son, and she said, “This time I will praise Ad-noy.” She therefore named him Yehudah. She then stopped giving birth.” Bereishit 29:35
I will praise Ad-noy – She was always grateful for her children, but this time she specifically chose to praise this name of Hashem from among many others, because it is the first name of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and represents Hashem’s willingness to accept a person’s teshuvah [repentance]. This would prove prophetic in later years when Judah would require this faculty following the incident with Tamar and would also provide the inspiration for his brother Reuben to repent for the sin of switching the beds. – Rabbeinu Bachya
Named him Yehudah – “For I have taken more than my share, therefore, I must be thankful.” – The name Yehudah stems from the word Hodaah, which means “gratitude.” – Rashi
Jews are often referred to as Yehudim. The source for this is a verse in The Book of Esther [2:5] which refers to Mordechai as “Ish Yehudi” – a Jewish man, and another verse in Zechariah [8:23]. Why is Yehudah the one we’re called after from among all the 12 Tribes? Chiddushei HaRim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rothenberg Alter) explains that the source of his name was Leah’s feeling of overwhelming gratitude for having received more than she was truly entitled to and this is the hallmark of every believing Jew who recognizes that the entire universe is a gift from the Almighty and more than we deserve. In that sense we’re all Yehudim regardless of from which tribe we originate.
A SPARKLING SUCCESS
“And he [Jacob] heard the words of Laban’s sons saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that belonged to our father and from that which was our father’s, he gathered all this wealth.’” Bereishit 31:1
From that which was our father’s – Jacob arrived penniless and now he’s wealthy. He used our father’s possessions to create his own wealth. Of course, they conveniently forgot about how wealthy Jacob made their father in the process as well.
Jacob has taken all that belonged to our father – How could they claim that when Laban was still a very wealthy individual, perhaps even more so than Jacob? They referred not to material wealth, but spiritual wealth which Jacob had successfully extracted from Laban during his time there. – Mei HaShiloach, by Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Isbitza
Our sages tells us that the sin of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge was such a catastrophic event that it caused great damage to the spiritual world and caused many holy sparks to be scattered into remote and unlikely locations throughout the universe. Sometimes, they’re found in the most improbable and unholy of sources such as within the wicked Laban. The job of the Jewish people is to locate those sparks wherever they’re found and help them return to their pure source. In fact, this is the underlying reason for our numerous exiles. Jacob heard Laban’s sons claiming that Jacob took all that belonged to their father and realized that their words carried a message from the Almighty that he already succeeded in redeeming all the captive sparks and he was now free to leave this wicked environment
“Jacob summoned Rachel and Leah to the field…and said to them, ‘I have noticed that your father’s face is not to me like in earlier days, but the G-d of my father was with me.’” Bereishit 31:4,5
Your father’s face is not to me like in earlier days – In earlier times, he looked at me favorably, but he no longer does so. Now his countenance toward me is full of animosity. – Ibn Ezra
But the G-d of my father was with me – Although he detests me and would do nothing to assist me, the G-d of my father was with me and assured my success. – Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor
The commentators explain that Jacob was not concerned with how Laban looked at him, but rather with how he looked at Laban. “In earlier times,” he explained, “I would look at your father and grow ill over the thought of his corrupt ways. I detested his thuggish nature and abhorred his treacherous acts toward others. After having spent so many years in his presence, however, I’ve grown accustomed to them and no longer experience the same sense of revulsion when I witness them. This is a sure sign that it’s time for us to leave.”
“And Laban awoke in the morning and he kissed his children and his daughters and he blessed them. And Laban went and returned to his place.” Bereishit 31:55
He Blessed Them – His blessing was insincere. He blessed them with his lips but not with his heart. – Panim Yafos Parshas Balak, Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz (1731- 1805)
He Kissed His Children And His Daughters – But Jacob, his son-in-law, he did not kiss goodbye. His expressed desire to forge a peace treaty between them could not erase his enmity for Jacob. – Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l in the name of the Chafetz Chaim zt”l
And Laban Went And Returned To “His Place” – To his old station in life. He left the encounter completely disaffected by his meeting with Jacob as if he knew him not. – Meshech Chachmah Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (1843-1926)
Laban was a classic anti-semite. His hatred toward Jacob knew no bounds and was not driven by logic. Jacob enriched him greatly during his stay there, married his daughters and treated them life royalty. Jacob tolerated all of Laban’s shenanigans in silence and asked for a raise only once in twenty years. Rather than appreciate him, Laban heaped scorn upon him and practically forced him to abscond. Even after his departure, Laban refused to reconsider his despicable behavior and resolve their differences in a meaningful way. In recognition of his blind hatred of Jacob and intense desire to harm him, Laban was immortalized in the Pesach Haggadah where we speak of how Laban “sought to eradicate the entire nation.”
Hey, I Never Knew That
Hey, I Never Knew That
by RABBI MORDECHAI BECHER
As Jacob and his family left the home of Laban, Rachel stole some of her father’s idols, the teraphim (Bereishit 31:19). Rashi maintains that she did this in order to stop her father from practicing idolatry. Based on ancient texts excavated in Nuzi, it is apparent that Sumerian society believed that whoever was in possession of the teraphim was not only assured of success, but would, by common practice, inherit the household of the teraphim. Laban was worried therefore, that someone in Jacob’s family had the teraphim and would claim his inheritance. Rachel may have stolen the teraphim not only to show that these idols could not protect themselves and certainly could not protect their owners, but also to be able to claim a legitimate right to Jacob being the inheritor of Laban’s wealth (Leah Bronner, Biblical Personalities and Archaeology, p.20).
“Now therefore come, let us make a covenant, you and me; and let it be for a witness between me and you. And Jacob took a stone, and set it up as a monument. And Jacob said to his brethren, ‘Gather stones.’ And they took stones, and made a heap; and they ate there upon the heap. And Laban called it Yegar Sahadutha; but Jacob called it Galed” (Bereishit 31:45-47). Galed is a Hebrew composite word meaning “heap of testimony,” and “Yegar Sahadutha” is the Aramaic translation of the same phrase. This is the only place in the Torah where a word or phrase is given in Hebrew and then translated into another language (Shabbat 115b). The Midrash tells us not to treat Aramaic lightly but rather with respect, since the Torah itself uses that language (Midrash Rabba, Bereishit 74:14). Later on in history when the Jewish People were in exile in Babylon, they adopted Aramaic as their language, and indeed the Babylonian Talmud is written in Aramaic, as is the Midrash, the Zohar, and the famous Kaddish prayer. The Talmud (Shabbat 77b) actually deduces Torah thoughts from the Aramaic language, and according to the commentaries it is able to do so because Aramaic derives from Hebrew and therefore has some level of sanctity (Maharsha, Chidushei Aggados, ad loc.).
Word of the Week
by RABBI MORDECHAI BECHER
המקום – The Place
“And Jacob left Beersheba, and went toward Haran. And he came upon the place — המקום — hamakom, and remained there all night…” (Bereishit 28:10-11). Hamakom, translated here as “the place,” is understood by the Talmud and commentaries as referring to the ultimate place, Mount Moriah, the site of the future Temples (Chullin 91b, Rashi). The Talmud understands hamakom as one of the names of G-d, and reads the phrase “he came upon the place” as saying that Jacob prayed to G-d (Berachot 26b). How is “the place” a name of G-d? The Midrash states (Midrash Rabba, Bereishit 28:9), “Because He is the place of the world, and the world is not His place.” Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin (Nefesh Hachaim,sha’ar 3) explains that “place” refers to the framework in which all things exist (in contemporary physics, “space-time”), so that G-d is the ultimate “place,” i.e. the framework within which everything else exists. “He is the place of the world,” and yet He does not require the world for His existence; “the world is not His place.”
“Reuben went out during the wheat harvest and found דודאים — dudaim in the field… (Bereishit 30:14). This is usually translated as “mandrakes” (Targum, Ibn Ezra, Radak), a type of plant, an herb belonging to the potato family. It has a split root, resembling human legs and leaves that resemble arms. The plant was used as a fertility potion, and hence its Hebrew name is related to the word דוד —dod, meaning love, or beloved. In Song of Songs (7:14) it is described as a very fragrant plant, which would be an appropriate gift for one to give to his beloved.
The Talmud maintains that one should avoid making promises and oaths, in order to avoid the very serious consequences of transgression (Nedarim 9a). The verse in Ecclesiastes (Koheles 5:3-4) quoted by the Talmud implies this: “When you vow a vow to G-d, defer not to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools; pay what you have vowed. It is better that you should not vow, than that you should vow and not pay.” In their commentary on the Talmud (Tosafot Chullin 2b), the authors of Tosafot ask how Jacob could have made an oath: “And Jacob vowed an oath, saying, ‘If G-d will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and garments to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace; then shall the L-rd be my G-d’ ” (Bereishit 28:20-21).” Tosafot answer (based on the Midrash) that one is permitted to make an oath at times of stress and danger, the prohibition being applicable only during normal times. Since Jacob was escaping from his brother Esau who had vowed to kill him, this was certainly a time of stress and danger, and it was appropriate for Jacob to make an oath.
Is it permitted to hold the weddings of two sisters at the same time? The Mordechai (Moed Katan 8) maintains that a verse in the Torah portion this week requires one to wait for the end of the sheva brachot (the week-long celebration after a wedding) of one daughter until making the wedding for the next daughter. After Laban agrees to let Jacob marry Rachel, he says, “Complete this week” (Bereishit 29:26), which is understood by the Jerusalem Talmud to mean the week of celebration, because one should not “mix one joy with another” (Moed Katan 6a). Rabbi Moshe Feinstein however points out that this would only be true in the case of one man, like Jacob, who is marrying two sisters, in which case his personal obligation to rejoice with one bride will interfere with his obligation to rejoice with his other bride. Nevertheless, Rabbi Moshe Isserless (Code of Jewish Law, Even Haezer 62:2) does forbid holding the weddings of two sisters simultaneously, but for a different reason. Thus Rabbi Feinstein concludes that holding the wedding ceremonies one after the other, providing the crowd disperses in between, or holding one before sundown and the other after nightfall, is permitted (Igrot Moshe, Even Haezer 4:89).
JACOB AND HIS WIVES
Dear Rabbi Meisels,
I am troubled by the idea that our Patriarch Jacob married two sisters when this is something that is explicitly forbidden by the Torah. For a nation that prides itself on its holy roots, this would seem to be an inauspicious beginning. Please explain.
Your question is actually discussed at length by many of the Torah’s classic commentators. I will share with you a few of their explanations, as space does not permit me to cover the full gamut.
The prohibition against marrying two sisters [while both are alive] is explicit in the Book of Leviticus [18:18] where the Torah writes, “And a woman with her sister you shall not marry…”
However, it is worth noting that this prohibition was only formally introduced once the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. The generations that preceded that occurrence were not bound by these laws whatsoever. Thus, from a technical standpoint, Jacob certainly committed no sin by marrying these two sisters.
Nevertheless, there is room to wonder why he would have agreed to do so, since according to our sages [see Tractate Kiddushin 82a, Bereishis Rabbah 79:6] the Patriarchs voluntarily conducted themselves in accordance with the laws of the Torah which they intuited through Divine Inspiration. Furthermore, the Talmud writes that in the future, the Almighty will host a meal for all the righteous people and at the conclusion of the meal He will honor one of them with leading the assembled in Birchat HaMazon (Grace after Meals). Jacob will demur the honor reasoning that he is unfit since he married two sisters, a practice that the Torah would later forbid. Apparently even he was uncomfortable with his decision, to some degree. Why then, did he agree to do so?
Nachmanides [Bereishit 26:5] explains that although Jacob observed the commandments voluntarily, he limited this extra piety to the times that he lived within Israel proper, where the Divine Presence is much stronger than elsewhere and they are more effective. [This option is not valid once the Torah has been given as we are instructed to observe it’s commandments throughout the entire world.] His marriage to Rachel and Leah took place during the time he spent with his father-in-law Laban, in Haran, which was outside of The Land of Israel.
It has been noted in support of this approach, that Rachel passed away as he was ascending to Israel; just prior to their entering the Land. This may have been G-d’s means of ensuring that in the Land, he did not violate the prohibition against marrying two sisters.
For this reason as well, adds Nachmanides, we find that Jacob was not as strict with his children and allowed them to maintain items in their home in Haran that were tainted with idolatry, and only insisted that they be removed once they were poised to reenter the Land [Bereishit 35:2.] His diligence in observing the laws of the Torah was restricted to Israel alone.
Thus, while he was perfectly within his rights to marry both sisters, it was also understandable that he would later express a degree of discomfort over the fact that he still behaved in a manner frowned upon by the Torah.
Rabbi David Ibn Zimra, known as The Radva”z [Shu”T Chelek 2, 696] explains that Jacob would not have agreed to marry them until they converted. Jewish law maintains that a convert is considered like a newborn child in regards to ancestry. Their previous non-Jewish relatives are no longer considered to be related to them. Once Rachel and Leah converted, they no longer had a halachic status of sisters. The fact that Jacob later hesitated to lead the righteous people in Birchat HaMazon was only because it was something that the Torah would later frown upon. It is a middat chassidut [an extra act of piety] to refrain from something which has an appearance of being forbidden, but it was certainly permitted.
Rabbi David HaLevi, known as The Ta”z, writes [Bereishit 25:5] that in reality there was no problem with doing so prior to the revelation on Mount Sinai. Rather, any decision to act in accordance with the laws of the Torah was at most an exceptional level of piety that was beyond the realm of most, with the exception of Abraham. Jacob certainly followed in Abraham’s footsteps, but not to the same degree, and he had no real qualms about marrying two sisters. His reason for refusing to accept the honor of leading the Birchat HaMazon was simply because there were those who deserved it more than he since they practiced greater levels of piety, not because he felt that he committed a sin of any kind.
I would add that it was never Jacob’s intent to marry both sisters. He only did so because he was forced to thanks to Laban’s deceit and Rachel’s decision to share the signs rather than allow her sister to be publicly shamed. Perhaps he took this as a heavenly sign that this is how things were supposed to turn out and that in this instance, his stringent lifestyle must be set aside in order to build the Jewish people through these holy and pious individuals. Rachel and Leah were unquestionably the most outstanding women in their times and certainly the ideal candidates through which to begin the Jewish nation. Quite possibly, they were the only ones who could provide the auspicious foundation that the Jewish people depended upon for their creation.
All the best,
Rabbi Elazar Meisels
A ROSE AMONG THORNS
I’ve just finished the Torah Portions that heavily stress marriage (Chayei Sarah/Toldot/YaVeitzei) and am surprised that Isaac and Jacob married women from their greater family. My partner told me that they did so because of the fine character of these people. However, Betuel is portrayed as cunning and money-hungry and Laban as a trickster extraordinaire. What kind of noble character did these family members have, after all? Wouldn’t their toxic personalities rub off on all their offspring? What were Isaac and Jacob thinking?
I see from your inquiry that you are truly a thinking person, so I will need to answer you with the depth your question deserves.
The Torah calls Laban, Laban HaArami (Laban the Aramean), but the commentators point out that the word“HaArami” is an anagram for “Ramai,” ‘deceitful,’ or ‘trickster,’ as you called him. Names, in Torah thought, define a person’s essence. Therefore, the question you pose is all the stronger—the very nature of Laban was deceit. Why, then, would anyone be interested in marrying into this lineage? In addition, we could add another troublesome point. Our Sages tell us that, on the whole, an individual’s sons resemble their mother’s brothers. This would mean that, on the whole, Isaac’s sons (Jacob and Esau) would resemble Laban. How objectionable!
I believe the key to unlocking this puzzle may be found in the words of the Midrash. When the Torah introduces Rebecca in the beginning of Toldot for a second time, the Torah repeats that she was the “daughter of Betuel, the sister of Laban.” Rashi explains that the Torah is expressing its praise of Rebecca — her father and brother were morally unprincipled, but she was righteous. This comment of Rashi is often interpreted to mean that despite the fact that her father and brother were evil, she was able to transcend their influence and conduct herself in a righteous manner. However, your question concerning the disregard of ignoble character is only intensified by this understanding.
We find that the Midrash compares Rebecca to a “rose among a bed of thorns.” The symbolism is that Rebecca is the rose and her father and brother are the thorns. However, this is not congruent with the traditional interpretation of Rashi’s comment above: a rose does not become a rose despite the fact that there are thorns on the same stem. To the contrary, a stem from a rose bush produces two different growths. Some growths turn into flowers and some into thorns. What the Midrash is teaching us is that the very stem (character) that produces roses (righteous individuals) also produces thorns (charlatans). Why is that?
I believe the answer is that a charlatan has great insight into human nature and extraordinary empathy for another’s plight. It’s for that reason that he is able to sell an immigrant the Brooklyn Bridge. He understands that the foreigner does not know the local language, has children to feed, and is desperate for money. He is looking for a way to support his family without having to know the subtleties of his new host culture. That extraordinary trait of empathy can, of course be used for chesed (kindness) as well — to help others in extremely thoughtful ways, based on a deep understanding of human nature. In essence, the very “stem” of exceptional empathy can morph into the “rose” of kindness or the “thorn” of self-aggrandizement.
Isaac and Jacob were focused on the “stem” when they were building their families, so they went back to their roots to find life partners with outstanding capacities of empathy to build the future Jewish people. The fact that Laban was a very successful opportunist was proof that this potential for empathy would carry over to Isaac’s line, for the difference between exceptional kindness and opportunism is in one’s life orientation, not one’s nature. A person who is oriented toward serving G-d will use this talent in its noblest sense, which we see is exactly what occurred in the lives of these great people. Betuel and Laban, who were idolaters, used their talent to serve their base natures.
One of life’s challenges, Allison, is to find opportunities to use our talents to serve the highest callings in life, for Heaven knows that there are many people out there who are using their talents to only serve themselves.
Rabbi Reuven Drucker
Parsha at a Glance
Jacob left Beer-Sheva for Haran. He (unknowingly) encountered the future location of the Temple, and spent the night there. He arranged stones from there around his head and went to sleep. He dreamed of angels going up and down a ladder, which was rooted in the earth and extended to the sky. Hashem spoke to him, promising that this very land would be for him and his descendants, and that He would always protect him.
Jacob awoke and, recognizing the holiness of this place, erected a monument to Hashem.
He continued on his journey, and came across a well surrounded by shepherds and their sheep. Laban’s daughter Rachel came with her father’s flock. Jacob removed the heavy rock from the mouth of the well. Rachel ran to tell her father about the visitor. Laban came out to greet Jacob, and took him into his home.
They made a contract stating that after working for seven years, Jacob would be able to marry Rachel. (Laban had an older daughter named Leah as well.) Jacob reminded Laban of the deal at the end of seven years. The wedding took place – but, unbeknownst to Jacob, Laban surreptitiously switched Leah for Rachel.
Jacob only discovered the truth the following day and confronted his father-in-law. Laban claimed that it was the custom in his land not to marry off the younger daughter before the older daughter. Jacob agreed to work for another week, marry Rachel, and then work for another seven years. They married after the week was over.
Hashem saw that Jacob had a deeper love for Rachel, so He made her barren and Leah fertile. Leah gave birth to four sons: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, and Yehudah.
Rachel became jealous of her sister and complained to her husband. Jacob became angry with her, and told her that it was Hashem’s will (not his) that she did not yet have children.
Rachel gave him her maidservant Bilhah to father a child for her. Bilhah bore two sons, Dan and Naftali.
Leah did not give birth to more children, so she gave her own maidservant, Zilpah, who then bore Gad and Asher.
Reuven collected special flowers called dudaim from the field and gave them to his mother. Rachel asked her sister for the dudaim. Leah complained to her, so in exchange for the dudaim, she could have Jacob for the night. When Jacob returned from the field, Leah informed him of the deal.
Leah bore two more sons, Yissachar and Zevulun, and one daughter, Dinah. Hashem remembered Rachel and opened her womb, and she bore Yosef.
Jacob asked Laban permission for him and his family to return to his own home. As his wages, he requested Laban’s spotted or speckled goats and sheep in return for all his work. Laban agreed, tried to deceive Jacob again, but failed.
Hashem told Jacob to return home and that He would be with him. Jacob confronted his wives about how their father had tried to deceive him, and they wholeheartedly agreed that it was time to leave. He began to prepare for their journey. While Laban was shearing his sheep, Rachel stole his teraphim (idols).
On the third day following Jacob’s departure, Hashem appeared to Laban in a dream, warning him not to harm his son-in-law. Laban confronted his son-in-law about the idols. Not knowing that Rachel had stolen them, Jacob said that the person with whom the idols would be found would not live. She hid the idols under her saddle. When Laban searched her tent, they were not discovered.
Jacob and Laban made a treaty. The next morning, Laban blessed his daughters and grandchildren, and Jacob went on his way.