Those who pay careful attention to the parsha while reviewing it or during its public reading on Shabbos will note a curious fact: unlike almost every other parsha in the Torah, Parshas 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. As there are no coincidences in the Torah, what is the reason for this anomaly?
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that Parshas 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 and 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 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.
The Darkei Mussar relates a profound story about a Chassidic Rebbe – Rav Shimon of Yaroslav – who merited living until well past the age of 100. When he was 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? Why couldn’t that have turned out differently?’
“However, 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 for them, 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 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.
ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה (28:10)
The parsha begins by relating that Yaakov departed from Be’er Sheva and went to Charan. As the Torah doesn’t write unnecessary letters, why didn’t the Torah relay the information more succinctly by stating ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע לחרן, effectively eliminating one seemingly unnecessary word (וילך)?
The Medrash relates (Bereishis Rabbah 75:8) that prior to Yaakov’s departure, Rivkah blessed him (Tehillim 91:11) כי מלאכיו יצוה לך – Hashem will command His angels for you (to protect you on your journey). Rav Chaim Volozhiner explains that the reason she specifically blessed him with this verse is because the last letters of the first four words in it spell יוהך, which the mystics teach is the name of the angel that is responsible for accompanying travelers along their journeys.
The Gemora in Eiruvin (64a) advises that when a person takes leave of his friend, he should do so by mentioning a דבר הלכה – legal matter. Whenever one of the Vilna Gaon’s students had to go someplace, the Gaon would consistently share the same legal teaching: יחיד ורבים הלכה כרבים – when one Rabbi argues against a number of sages, the law is in accordance with the opinion of the majority (Berachos 37a). The reason that the Gaon specifically used this seemingly mundane and not particularly relevant legal ruling is because the first letter of each word spells יוהך, the name of the angel that he was indirectly blessing them should accompany them on their journeys!
With this introduction, we can now understand why the Torah didn’t relate Yaakov’s journey in a more succinct manner. The seemingly superfluous letters required to write וילך חרנה instead of simply לחרן are anything but unnecessary, as they may be rearranged to spell יוהך, which is the Torah’s way of hinting that his mother’s blessing was fulfilled and this angel indeed guarded him during his travels!
ויאמר לבן לא יעשה כן במקומנו לתת הצעירה לפני הבכירה (29:26)
A young yeshiva student was once in the house of the Tchebiner Rav. The Rav began to tell the young man about a certain girl whom the Rav believed would make a good match for him. At one point, while discussing the girl’s family and her numerous strengths, 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 chuppah against Yaakov’s accusation 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 the Rebbetzin’s 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, was pronounced by her the same as the word צעירה, referring to the younger daughter) before you meet the girl (the word for a young girl, בחורה, is pronounced similarly to the word בכירה, which refers to the older daughter)!”
ויבא גם אל רחל ויאהב גם את רחל מלאה ויעבד עמו עוד שבע שנים אחרות (29:30)
Yaakov was exemplary in his devotion to Torah study. At the age of 60, instead of traveling immediately to Lavan’s house to seek a wife, he first stopped at a yeshiva to study Torah for 14 years, where he didn’t sleep a single night as he was completely engrossed in the in-depth study of Torah (Rashi 28:11). Upon arriving at the house of Lavan, he agreed to work for seven years in order to marry Rochel. At the end of that period, Lavan tricked him into marrying Leah instead.
When Yaakov confronted him about the trickery, Lavan proposed that he would allow Yaakov to marry Rochel if he agreed to work for an additional seven years. Rashi writes that whereas the first time Yaakov was required to work all seven years before the wedding, this time Lavan allowed him to marry Rochel immediately, after which time he was to complete his obligation.
As it was Lavan who had intentionally deceived him and reneged on their original agreement, why did Yaakov remain in Lavan’s house to work for him for an additional seven years? Yaakov committed himself to work for seven years in order to marry Rochel, and he had fulfilled this obligation. As he never agreed to work for an additional seven years to marry Leah, why did he do so instead of returning to
The following story will help answer this question. Rav Aharon Kotler 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 house. His driver couldn’t imagine what he had forgotten that could possibly be so critical, but he immediately returned to Rav Aharon’s home.
The driver offered to run inside to fetch whatever was forgotten, but Rav Aharon insisted that he would go to the house himself. The curious driver followed to observe what was so important and was astonished to observe Rav Aharon tell his wife “Goodbye, and have a wonderful day,” and return to the car. Rav Aharon explained that every day he bid farewell 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 the yeshiva to give his shiur.
In light of this story, we can appreciate the answer given by Rav Dovid Feinstein to our question. Although Yaakov wasn’t legally required to do so, had he in fact departed prematurely, Leah would have been devastated. She would have felt that her husband viewed his beloved Rochel as being worth seven years of work, but not her. Even though the extra seven years of work came at the expense of Yaakov’s ability to study Torah and to escape the evil influences of Lavan, it was worth seven full years of spiritual sacrifice to avoid hurting the feelings of his wife Leah. The Mishnah in Avos (3:17) teaches that without proper character traits and sensitivity to others, there can be no Torah study, a lesson we should learn from the actions of Yaakov and Rav Aharon.
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (28:10) that the Torah uses the expression ויצא יעקב – and Yaakov departed – instead of the more standard וילך יעקב – and Yaakov went – to emphasize Yaakov’s exit and to teach that when a righteous person leaves, he takes the glory, splendor, and beauty of the town with him. Why is this lesson taught through Yaakov and not in conjunction with the travels of Avrohom or Yitzchok? (Kli Yakar, Chasam Sofer, Taam V’Daas, Meged Yosef)
2) Rashi writes (28:11) that before going to sleep, Yaakov placed stones around his head because he was afraid he may be attacked by wild animals. If he was scared of the potential danger, how did the placement of small stones around his head – which would clearly be ineffective in the event of a real attack – allay his anxiety? (Lev Shalom, Ayeles HaShachar, Darkei HaShleimus)
3) Upon awakening and realizing the sanctity of the place in which he had slept, Yaakov took the stone upon which he had rested and set it up as a pillar to Hashem and poured oil on its top (28:18). As the Gemora in Zevachim (116b) rules that an item which has been used for personal and mundane purposes may not subsequently be used for Holy ones, how was Yaakov permitted to do so? (Tur HeAruch, Zayis Re’anan, Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim 40, Minchas Chinuch 40:3, Pardes Yosef, MiTzion Mich’lal Yofee, Mikdash Mordechai, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
4) Rashi writes (29:17) that Leah’s eyes were weak from the copious tears she shed over her fear that she would be forced to marry the wicked Eisav, as people said that because Yitzchok had two sons and Lavan two daughters, the older set (Eisav and Leah) would marry one other, as would the younger set (Yaakov and Rochel). As Rashi writes (24:57) that a woman may only be married with her consent, why was Leah worried when she could simply refuse? (Mishmeres Ariel)
5) Rashi writes (29:25) that to prevent potential trickery by Lavan, Yaakov gave certain simanim to Rochel that only she would know, which Rochel subsequently gave over to Leah to save her from humiliation. What were these simanim? (Daas Z’keinim, Kaf HaChaim Orach Chaim 240:64)
6) The Gemora in Berachos (7b) teaches 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. The verse continues to relate that at that point Leah stopped giving birth. How can it be that specifically after performing such an unprecedented act Leah ceased giving birth to more children?
7) Rashi writes (30:11) that Gad was born already circumcised. How many other Biblical figures can you name who were also born circumcised? (Tanchuma Noach 5, Paneiach Raza Noach)
8) Rochel’s stole her father’s terafim (idols) to prevent him from idol-worship (Rashi 31:19). Why did she keep them in her tent (31:34), which is forbidden by the Torah (Devorim 7:26), instead of throwing them out along the way? (Gur Aryeh, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
9) Rochel stole Lavan’s terafim to prevent him from idol-worship (Rashi 31:19). Does this mean that if somebody possesses something forbidden it is permissible to steal it, and if not, on what basis was she permitted to take the idols? (Ayeles HaShachar)
10) Yaakov called the mound which served as a witness to his treaty with Lavan by the term גלעד, while Lavan referred to it as יגר סהדותא (31:47). Rashi explains that while Yaakov used the Hebrew name, Lavan called it by Aramaic equivalent. How many other words in the Torah can you name which are in foreign languages?
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