Sunday, December 25, 2005

Parshas Vayeitzei

Rashi quotes the Gemora in Megilla which tells us that on his way to the house of Lavan where he would marry and have children, Yaakov Avinu first stopped in the Yeshiva of Shem and Eiver for 14 years. Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin offers a cute explanation why: Yaakov had been told by Rivka that Eisav wanted to kill him, and he should therefore run for his life and hide. Thought Yaakov, what better place could there be to hide from the wicked Eisav than the beis medrash (study hall), a place Eisav would never even think to enter!


Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that the dream Yaakov had involving the ladder and the angels wasn’t an ordinary dream, but was in fact a prophecy. However, the Darkei Mussar points out that one of the requirements to receive prophecy is happiness – ein ha’nevuah shora ela mi’toch simcha. If we stop to consider Yaakov’s circumstances at this time – he was fleeing from his loving parents’ home because his wicked twin brother wanted to kill him (for taking the blessings which were rightfully his and which his mother had insisted that he receive), and along the way along comes Esav’s son Elifaz and takes all of his earthly possessions, leaving him with nothing – it is unfathomable to us how such a person could indeed be in a state of joy. Yet if it weren’t clear to Hashem that Yaakov was indeed b’simcha, then He wouldn’t have given him the prophecy. We can only conclude that Yaakov was on such a high level of trust in Hashem that his faith (and accompanying internal joy) couldn’t be shaken no matter what apparent tragedy befell him. His unwavering belief allowed him to realize that “kol ma d’avid Hashem, l’tov hu d’avid,” whatever Hashem does to us is ultimately for the good (even when in the midst of it we can’t see or even fathom the good).


Rashi tells us that Elifaz chased the fleeing Yaakov at his father’s command to go and kill him. However, he was hesitant to do so, so instead he simply took all of Yaakov’s possessions, as the Gemora in Nedorim tells us that one who is poor is considered like a dead person, so this was considered a partial fulfillment of his father’s instructions to kill Yaakov. If so, asks the Paneiach Raza, how is it that Yaakov, upon awaking, took the rocks which had protected him through the night, set them up as a pillar, and poured oil on them? If he was robbed of all of his possession, from where did he suddenly obtain oil? He answers that the one item which he kept for himself was his staff. Because he was so dedicated to learning, his staff was indeed hollow to allow him to store oil inside, so that he would always have oil available by which to learn late at night, and it was this oil which remained to him and which he used to pour on the pillar.


Upon seeing Rochel, Yaakov kisses her and then raises his voice and begins crying. Rashi explains that he saw through Divine inspiration that she wouldn’t be buried with him. I once saw in a book on shalom bayis (marital harmony) an interesting thought: when non-Jews get married, they promise to take one another “till death do us part,” which while it sounds very long-term, is indeed not permanent. At the very moment that they are beginning their married lives, they are already talking about an eventual separation. Yaakov, on the other hand, teaches us the Jewish view of marriage, that it is an eternal bonding the souls which not even death can separate.


The Gemora records that when Rochel related to Yaakov that her father Lavan is a trickster, he replied “Achiv ani b’rama’us” – I am his brother in deceit! Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein (in Tuv’cha Yabi’u) relates an interesting halachic query he once received. A young man went into a barber shop and requested an extra good haircut, adding that he is a chosson (groom) who would be getting married that very evening. As the barber knew that there were no barber shops in the surrounding area and this chosson would obviously be pressed for time, he informed the customer that the price would be double the usual charge. The chosson was disgusted at the greedy barber’s taking advantage of the situation, but he had no choice but to agree. However, at the end, when it came time to pay, he exclaimed “Why should I pay you even a penny for this haircut? Don’t you know that I have miraculous hair that just hours after being cut, grows back to exactly the length it was previously? In which case, your haircut hasn’t helped me at all and I shouldn’t owe you anything!” The astonished barber assured him that if he came back that afternoon looking as he had before the haircut, he would happily give him another one free of charge. The chosson now came to the Rav to inquire – “Since the barber treated me unfairly and made me pay double, am I permitted to send in my identical twin brother, who hasn’t had a haircut recently, to get for free the 2nd haircut I was unfairly forced to pay for?” Although the barber certainly doesn’t deserve our pity and the idea was quite a “Yiddishe chap,” Rav Zilberstein wasn’t keen on the proposed method of being the barber’s “brother in deceit.”


The Seder Olam (as quoted in Matamei Yaakov) writes that Rochel and Leah were in fact twins!


I once heard from HoRav Nachman Bulman that American Jews feel so comfortable and trusting in that the government respects and acknowledges our equal rights to practice our religion. However, it is no coincidence that the President’s residence, the White House, when translated into Hebrew becomes … Beis Lavan – the house of Lavan, who seemed externally to be fair and just, yet in reality was wicked and as we learn in the Hagadda bi’keis Lavan la’akor es ha’kol, Lavan wanted to destroy the Jewish people and their entire future. So while we must be appreciative for the unprecedented freedom and rights granted us in the US, we must remember that we are still in golus (exile) and must never completely let our guards down.


A yeshiva student was once in the house of the Tchebiner Rav, who was discussing with him a girl whom the Rav felt would be a good match for the boy. At one point, the boy requested to see a picture of the girl before deciding if he was interested in meeting her. Overhearing the exchange from the kitchen, the Tchebiner Rebbetzin exclaimed (in her Polish pronunciation which is critical to the punch line) “Lo ye’ase kein bim’komeini la’ses ha’tzeira lif’nei ha’bchira.” Literally, Lavan was defending his trickery of Yaakov in switching his daughters, maintaining that the local custom is not to marry the younger daughter before the older one is married off. With her pronunciation, however, it could be reinterpreted to mean “Our custom is not to give a picture (tzura = tz’eira) before you meet the girl (b’chira = bochura)!”


All Jews today are collectively referred to as “Yehudim,” presumably after the name of Yehudah, one of the 12 tribes. Many explanations have been offered as to why we are specifically associated with Yehudah, when clearly not all Jews are descended from him. The Chiddushei HaRim offers a particularly beautiful approach. The verse tells us that Leah chose to name her 4th son Yehudah, saying “this time I will thank Hashem.” Rashi explains why it only occurred to her to thank Hashem now: Leah knew through Divine inspiration that there would be 12 tribes, and since there were 4 wives, she assumed each would merit to give birth to 3. Therefore, it wasn’t until the 4th son, which she viewed as more than what she was expecting or entitled to, that she decided to give a special thanks to Hashem. It is this idea, he explains, for which we are called Yehudim. A Jew should view everything he has in life as above and beyond the portion to which he is entitled, and give thanks to Hashem accordingly.


The verse says “Vayiz’kor Elokim es Rochel, va’yishma ale’ha Elokim va’yiftach es rachma.” Rav Pam questions the usage of the word Elokim, which corresponds to the Divine attribute of strict justice (midas hadin), when it should presumably have used the name Hashem, which reflects His attribute of mercy. He explains that Rochel was indeed barren and should not have had any children. However, when she gave the simanim 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, says Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel (in his sefer Even Me’irah) how Rochel must have felt. On the day of her chassuna (wedding) which she had been looking forward to for 7 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 never to marry Yaakov and certainly to bear the holy Shvatim from him. In Heaven, however, the reality was a bit different. Had she gone ahead and married Yaakov, 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 davka (specifically) through this act which appeared to destroy any chance she would have of having the children she so badly wanted, that she generated for herself a merit which would change her fate and that of the Jewish people. One never loses out from doing a mitzvah!


We know that Yaakov was exemplary in his dedication to Torah study, and indeed spent 14 years learning non-stop before arriving at Lavan’s house to find a wife. After working for 7 years for Rochel and being tricked into marrying Leah, Lavan agrees that if he will work another 7 years he may marry Rochel as well. However, this time Yaakov isn’t required to wait until the end of the 7 years, but rather marries Rochel just one week after his marriage to Leah. If so, asks Rav Dovid Feinstein, why did he remain in Lavan’s house and work for another 7 years, when he wasn’t required to do so, as it was Lavan who had tricked him and reneged on their initial agreement. They had agreed that he would work 7 years for Rochel, and indeed he already did; he never promised to work 7 years for Leah as well. Rav Dovid Feinstein answers that even though he wasn’t required to do so, had he in fact left prematurely Leah would have been devastated. She would have felt that her husband viewed her sister as being worth 7 years of work, but not her. Even though the extra 7 years of work came at the expense of further toiling in Torah study (not to mention being forced to remain outside of Eretz Yisroel in the home of his wicked father-in-law), it was worth all 7 years simply to avoid hurting the feelings of his wife Leah. Indeed, derech eretz kad’mah l’Torah!


The Medrash Tanchuma (13) as well as the Targum Yonason and Paneiach Raza (31:52) tell us an amazing fact – that Bil’am was indeed none other than … Lavan! And the fence against which his donkey will press him was none other than the pile of rocks upon which Yaakov and Lavan made a covenant not to cross to the side of the other. When Bil’am attempted to violate the agreement, it was those very rocks which testified to his breach and executed his punishment! The Moshav Z’keinim goes one step further, adding that when they made the covenant they stuck a sword into the pile of rocks, and it was this very sword with which he was later killed. The verse relates (Bamidbar 31:8) that he was killed “be-charev,” which means with the known and familiar sword, although in the context there it’s not clear which sword is familiar. The answer is that it is referring to the one placed in the rocks when they made the covenant!


Those who paid attention to the Chumash during Krias HaTorah, or those who review the Parsha not verse-by-verse but small parsha by small parsha, will note that in this week’s parsha there are no breaks, no “pehs” or “somechs” from start to finish, as there are to break up almost every other Parsha in the Torah. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that this is because it is impossible to break up the events of the Parsha and judge or evaluate any individual component in a vacuum. Rather, each episode is a part of a bigger picture, which can only be understood when viewed with a total perspective. Obviously, this lesson is not unique to this Parsha but is to be extrapolated to all events in our lives, to realize that we don’t always understand the ways of Hashem, but must trust that everything that happens is part of His larger plan, which we will one day merit to understand.
In this vein, the Darkei Mussar tells a cute, but profound, story about a Chassidic Rebbe who merit to live well past 100. When he was asked what merit he had to such a long and healthy life, he replied with words packed with wisdom: “Don’t think that I’ve had an easy life. I’ve had my share of difficulties just like everybody else, and if anything, because I’ve lived longer, I’ve had more occasions to suffer. It would have been very easy for me to complain to Hashem, ‘Why did this have to happen? And why couldn’t that have turned out differently?’ But I was afraid that if I began demanding a justification for Hashem’s ways, the Heavenly Court would say ‘This Rabbi wants answers, let’s call him up here and set him straight!’ So I never asked any questions. Not that I had any more answers than anybody else, but because I never asked, they kept me down here for quite some time!”


Questions for further thought and study, and sources that discuss them:

1) We find that when Eliezer arrived at Besuel and Lavan’s house, he had to be told that the house had been cleared of idolatry, because until then, even the camels of his master Avrohom Avinu refused to enter. If so, why do we find that Yaakov entered immediately upon his arrival and didn’t wait for the house to be cleared as even the camels did? (Pa’neiach Raza)

2) We find in the Torah 3 different places where people meet their matches by wells – Eliezer and Rivkah, Yaakov and Rochel, and Moshe and Tzipporah. Obviously, even something that is recorded only once in the Torah is no mere coincidence, and all the moreso when it happens 3 times. What is the deeper significance of wells and meeting one’s match by them?

3) We are told that in order to prevent trickery, Yaakov gave “simanim,” or some sort of secret password to Rochel to prove that it is really her on the night of the wedding, which she then told to her sister Leah to prevent her embarrassment. What right did Rochel have to save her sister … at the expense of her betrothed!? We find in fact that I was angry at Leah and Lavan for the trickery, so what right did Rochel have to push aside his feelings for the sake of her sister? And further, why don’t we find any of his anger directed at Rochel, without whose betrayal the plan would never have succeeded? (Lev Shalom and Mishmeres Ariel)

4) Numerous explanations are given for how Yaakov was allowed to marry two sisters, something forbidden by the Torah. For example, the Ramban maintains that the Avos only kept the laws of the Torah in Eretz Yisroel, and Yaakov married them in Chutz L’Aretz. If so, what will be their status after the coming of Moshiach and the resurrection of the dead – to whom will he be rightfully married and allowed to stay married? (Shu”t Rav P’alim by the Ben Ish Chai)

5) Even though the name Yissochor is spelled with two “sins,” the prevalent custom is to pronounce it with only one. Which “sin” is pronounced and which one is silent? (Rashi and Radak, Divrei HaYomim 1 15:24; for the reason why only one is pronounced, see Moshav Z’keinim and Da’as Z’kenim 30:18).

6) Why did Rochel keep the t’rofim which she stole from her father? We are told that Lavan caught up with Yaakov and his family on the 7th day of their travels, so she had ample opportunity to discard them along the way. What purpose could she have had in keeping idols in her tent, which is forbidden by the Torah? (Gur Aryeh, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

7) We learn from Rashi at the end of the parsha that there are different sets of angels for Eretz Yisroel and for Chutz L’Aretz and that they may not cross the border from one to the other. If so, how do we find at the beginning of next week’s Parsha (Vayishlach) from Eretz Yisroel to which he had returned to his brother Eisav, who was outside of Eretz Yisroel? (Even Yisroel by Dayan Yisroel Yaakov Fisher)

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