Friday, December 01, 2006

Parshas Vayeitzei

ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה (28:10)

Those who pay careful attention to the parsha while reviewing it or during its public reading will note a curious fact: unlike almost every other parsha in the Torah, Parshas Vayeitzei contains no breaks from start to finish and is written in the Sefer Torah without any of the customary spaces which indicate the beginning of a new section within the parsha.

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that Parsha Vayeitzei contains a number of subplots: Yaakov’s flight from Eisav, Yaakov’s dealings with his tricky father-in-law Lavan, Yaakov’s relationship with his wives Rochel and Leah as well as the interactions between the two women, the birth of the tribes, and Yaakov’s flight from Lavan back to the land of his parents. When examining any of these episodes in its own light, a number of difficult and apparently 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 or evaluate any of them in a vacuum. Rather, each episode is just one piece of a much larger picture, one which can only begin to be understood when one steps back and views it using in the context of the bigger picture.

The Darkei Mussar relates a profound story about a Chassidic Rebbe – the Yaroslover – who merited to live until well past the age of 100. When he was once asked in what merit he had enjoyed such a long and healthy life, he responded with words packed with wisdom: “Don’t think that I’ve had an easy life. I’ve had my share of difficulties and pain just like everybody else. If anything, because I’ve lived longer, I’ve had more occasions and opportunities to suffer. It would have been very easy and natural 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 and explanation of Hashem’s ways, the Heavenly Court would say, ‘If this Rabbi wants answers so badly, let’s call him up here and give them to him!’ So I never asked any of these types of questions. I didn’t have any more answers than anybody else, but because I never asked, they let me stay down here for quite some time!”

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 must be extrapolated to the situations which occur in each of our lives. We must realize that although we don’t always immediately 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 understand.


ויאמר לבן לא יעשה כן במקומנו לתת הצעירה לפני הבכירה (29:26)

A young yeshiva student was once in the house of the great Rav Dov Berish Weidenfeld, better known as the Tchebiner Rav. The Rav began to tell the young boy about a certain girl whom the Rav believed would make a good match for the boy. At one point, while discussing the girl’s background and her various strengths and weaknesses, the boy asked if it would be possible to see a picture of the girl before rendering a final decision about meeting her. Overhearing the conversation from the kitchen, the Tchebiner Rebbetzin demonstrated her quick mind and remarkably sharp wit in rebuking the boy for his suggestion by calling out, “לא יעשה כן במקומנו לתת הצעירה לפני הבכירה!”

Literally, Lavan was defending his actions in switching his daughters under the bridal canopy against Yaakov’s accusations of deceit by maintaining that the local custom was that the younger daughter may only get married after her older sister has been married off. However, saying the verse with her native Polish pronunciation (which is critical to the punch line), it can be reinterpreted to mean, “Our custom is that we don’t give a picture (the Hebrew word for picture, צורה, would be pronounced by her the same as the word צעירה, referring to the younger daughter) before you meet the girl (similarly, the Hebrew word for a young girl, בחורה, may be pronounced similarly to the word בכירה, which refers to the older daughter)!”


ותהר עוד ותלד בן ותאמר הפעם אודה את ד' על כן קראה שמו יהודה (29:35)

All Jews around the world are referred to as יהודים, 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 Yaakov’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?

Although a number of explanations for this curiosity have been offered throughout the generations, the Chiddushei HaRim suggests a particularly beautiful and inspiring approach. After giving birth to her 4th son, the Torah tells us 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 3 sons?

Rashi explains that Leah knew through Divine inspiration that there would be 12 tribes. Since Yaakov had 12 wives, she assumed that each wife would merit to give birth to 3 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 gave him 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 owes him nothing. Everything which we enjoy is because of Hashem’s infinite desire to give to others and to be good to them, 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” and 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.


ויזכר אלהים את רחל וישמע אליה אלהים ויפתח את רחמה (30:22)

The Torah tells us that אלקים remembered the barren Rochel, and He heard her prayers and He opened her womb. Rav Avraham Yaakov Pam questions the usage of the word אלקים, which corresponds to the Divine attribute of strict justice, when it should presumably have used the name Hashem, which reflects His attribute of mercy?

Rav Pam explains that Rochel was indeed barren and according to the laws of nature should not have had any children. However, when she gave the simanim (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 Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, how Rochel must have felt. On the day of her wedding that 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 (tribes) 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 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.

Similarly, Chazal teach that at the time of the Akeidah, when he was bound on top of the altar and his father was holding the knife and poised to slaughter him, Yitzchok was overcome by fear to the point that his soul literally left him, and only a miracle brought him back to life. A little-known fact is that the Zohar HaKadosh states, Yitzchok had been born with a female neshama (soul) which was incapable of reproducing. The soul which was returned to him, however, was a new one, that of a male.

The Shelah HaKadosh derives from here a beautiful lesson: as he went to the Akeidah, Avrohom Avinu surely thought that he was about to doom the future of the Jewish people when he would sacrifice his only Jewish offspring. He was willing to do so, as that was the test which Hashem had given him, yet it seemed that he would have no Jewish descendants as a result.

In reality, Hashem knew that without the Akeidah, were Yitzchok to marry, they would be incapable of having children. The reason Rivkah wasn’t born until the time of the Akeidah (see Rashi Bereishis 22:20) was that until that time, Yitzchok was incapable of having children from her or from anyone else. The exact episode which seemed so clearly destined to eradicate the future of the Jews was instead the precise mechanism which enabled their continuation, for one never loses out from a mitzvah!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) In his dream, Yaakov saw a ladder on which angels were ascending and descending (28:12). As angels dwell in Heaven and only periodically visit earth, wouldn’t it have been more accurate to describe the angels as first descending and only then ascending? (Har Tzvi)

2) How was Yaakov permitted to kiss his cousin Rochel (29:11)? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)

3) Rashi writes (29:25) that in order to prevent potential trickery by Lavan, Yaakov gave certain simanim (signs) to Rochel that only she would know. When Rochel realized that her father Lavan intended to send Leah under the bridal canopy instead of her, she feared the humiliation her sister would face and related the simanim to her so that she could convince Yaakov that she was indeed Rochel. Although this act demonstrated tremendous compassion for her sister’s emotions, what right did she have to do so at the expense of her fiancé Yaakov’s feelings? (Lev Shalom)

4) Numerous explanations are given for how Yaakov was permitted to marry two sisters in spite of the Torah’s prohibition (Vayikra 18:18) against doing so. What will be their status at the time of the resurrection of the dead, and if he will only be permitted to be married to one of them, to whom will he be married? (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim Vol. 2 Sod Yeshorim 2, K’Motzei Shalal Rav)

5) The Gemora in Berachos (7b) states that in naming her 4th son Yehuda in order to express her gratitude to Hashem (29:35), Leah became the first person in history to thank Hashem. How can it be that the righteous Avrohom, Sorah, Yitzchok, Rivkah, and Yaakov never once thanked Hashem? (Bod Kodesh, Rav Avrohom Yaakov Pam quoted in The Pleasant Way)

6) When Rochel asked her sister Leah to please share some of the dua’im that Reuven had gathered, Leah responded (30:15), “Wasn’t it enough to take my husband, and now you also want my son’s duda’im?” Yaakov had originally intended to marry Rochel. When Rochel realized that her father Lavan intended to send Leah under the bridal canopy instead of her, she feared the humiliation her sister would face and related the simanim to her so that she could convince Yaakov that she was indeed Rochel (Rashi 29:25). If her entire marriage to Yaakov was only due to Rochel’s kindness and mercy, shouldn’t Leah have demonstrated more gratitude and appreciation toward her instead of jealously accusing her of stealing her husband? (Tiferes Torah)

7) Even though the name יששכר (30:18) is spelled with two ש’s, the prevalent custom is to pronounce it as if it were written with only one. Why is this? (Daas Z’keinim, Moshav Z’keinim)

8) Rashi writes (30:23) that after giving birth to Yosef, Rochel 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, and it was this rationale which caused her to choose the name Yosef (אסףיוסף). How could this seemingly trivial reason be the motivation for her tremendous yearnings to bear a child and her comment that “If I don’t have children, I am dead,” and was the relationship between Yaakov and his beloved Rochel really so fragile and precarious that she needed to fear his blame over every accidental mishap which occurred? (Rav Asher Kalman Baron quoted in Yishm’ru Daas, Aleinu L’shabeiach, Mishmeres Ariel)


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