NOTES ON PARSHAS VAYEITZEI
JACOB'S DEPARTURE AND JACOB'S SONS
Yaakov flees his father’s tent, dreams about a ladder, falls in love with Rachel, ends up married to Leah, who gives birth to Reuven ('see, a son' - "now Jacob will look at me the way he looks at Rachel"), Shimon ('hear, son' - "now Jacob will listen to me in that manner also"), Levi ('accompany' - "and Jacob will be with me"), and Yehudah ('thank you' - and Leah thanks Hashem for his mercy).
Question: If it was by Lavan's trickery that he married Leah instead of Rachel, why did he stay married to her?
How could he not have? The righteousness by which we now know him here came to the fore - instead of insisting on Rachel, for whose hand he had worked seven years, and shaming Leah by sending her away, he accepts her. Had he done otherwise, her chances of ever marrying again would have been far from favourable - a rejected woman, once married, who is growing older is not strictly marketable. And further, it is written (Midrash Eliyahu 42) that when we kill a person, they die only once - but when we shame them, it is as if they die many times. Yakov is shown to be indeed an ish tam, in that he respects Leah.
Question: Why did Leah agree to Lavan's ruse?
Her sister Rachel and her father both talked her into it, and after seven years of Yaakov's connection with the family she recognized Yaakov's virtues, which we who have read merely of his deceit might not note otherwise.
Question: Why did Rachel, by helping her sister, risk remaining unmarried herself?
She knew of Yaakov's love for her, and she had, like her sister and her father and all members of her household, been exposed to Yaakov for seven years. She knew that he was an honest man.
Yaakov worked for Lavan for another seven years, married Rachel, and impregnated her handmaid Bilhah with Dan ('judgement' - "Hashem has judged me and given me a son") and Naftali ('prayers answered'), after which he got Leah’s handmade Zilpah preganant twice, with Gad ('good fortune') and Asher ('happiness').
Then Leah gave birth to Yissacher ('reward') and Zebulon ('good portion'). After which the one daughter, Dinah ('she judged') was born.
Finally, after borrowing Leah's mandrakes (okay, think in terms of voodoo), Rachel brought forth Yosef ('the addendum').
After this period of fecundity the entire clan absconded with the better part of Lavan’s fortune – a story about superior animal husbandry and breeding techniques covers up what is essentially Yankif committing payback on Lavan for two decades of running the business on starvation wages.
[From this we might learn to support our sons-in-law in the manner to which they want to grow accustomed – kollel, nice apartment, station wagon – lest they do similarly unto us.]
This was immediately after Lavan’s sons discovered that Yakov had robbed them.
As it says in psook 31:1 " ...divrei venei-lavan lemor lakach Yaakov et kol-asher le avinu u me'asher le avinu asa et kol-hakavod haze" (...the words of Laban's sons, saying 'Yakov has taken away all that was our father's, and from that which was our father's he has gotten all this wealth.').
Psook 31:2 "vayar yaakov et-penei lavan vehine einenu imo kitmol shilshom" (and Jacob saw the face of Laban, and look! - it was not toward him as before).
[Yet we are told that Lavan was a wicked man, and Yakov was a righteous man – an ish tam. Chazal may not have grasped the concept ‘state of denial’, but irony was a ball they ran with.]
There is one more element which is both baffling, and cause for unending commentarial speculation - the theft of Lavan's idols, which causes Yakov to unwittingly curse Rachel, who in consequence dies shortly after the return to the eretz kadosh.
The Ramban, on the other hand, opines that Rachel perished because prior to the giving of the Torah on Sinai, Torah was kept voluntarily by the patriarchs, rather than as a series of commandments. Outside the land exceptions to the mitzvos were possible as situations required. But in the land such exceptions cannot stand - hence the death of Rachel.
"Vayeitzai Yaakov mi Beer Sheva vayeilech Charanah" (And Jacob left Ber Sheva and went to Charan).
Question: Why did Yakov leave?
For two reasons.
Firstly because he had tricked his brother Esav: "Anochi holeich lamut" - I'm gonna die! (So what use to me is that birthright?). Yakov had taken Esav’s exhausted exaggeration as the premise for an opportunity, and then sealed it by making use of their father’s blindness.
Secondly because Avraham ordered him to go find a wife.
Question: Why would Yakov leave the kedusha of Eretz Yisroel for a profane land?
Yakov Avinu started his journey at Ber Sheva. The root of Sheva is also the root of Shabbes – seven – and be’eir means well or spring, signifying ruchniyus, for which water is a classic symbol. Yakov was fortified with ruchniyus for his journey, having been immersed in kedusha at Ber Sheva, in the same way that Yosef would later be fortified by learning in Yeshiva Shem v’Ever, and also in the same way that shabbes is a separation in time for Kedusha like yeshivos are a place for Torah.
Question: Why is Yakov's departure mentioned twice, once in the preceding parsha and then again here?
The first time the Torah mentions Yakov's departure, it refers to his leaving, and obliquely means that he left because of Esav.
The second time the Torah mentions Yakov's departure, it hints at fourteen years at Shem v'Ever, and it is because he is obeying his father's command to find a wife.
It is during Yaakov's journeying from Be'er Sheva to Charan that he overnights at Moriah (the locus of the Akeida), and dreams of the ladder of prayer. And note that ladder and voice have the same gematria - which serves to remind us that the function of one is like that of the other. In the same way that the angels ascended and descended the ladder, the voice lifted in prayer connects us with the divine, blessings come down to earth.
But the ladder also represents the aspiration of the spirit - if one does not strive to ascend, of what use is it?
That the ladder (prayer) allows us to reach the divine is obvious. But note that the ladder stands on earth - within our reach and a beginning for the process.
Psook 28:17 "Vayira vayomar ma nora hamakom haze, ein ze ki im beit Elohim, ve ze shaer ha shamayim" (And he was afraid and he said 'How awesome is this place, none other than here is the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven).
Al pi Rashi this is where prayer ascends to heaven, and it is said that the heavenly Beis HaMikdash stands here, directly above the place of the earthly Beis HaMikdash.
It is likely that rumours of Yakov's cleverness, greatly exaggerated, reached Lavan before Yakov himself did - Yakov left his his father's house fourteen years before he arrived at Laban's dwelling. And lashon hara inflates tales over time.
Psook 29:13 "vayehi chishmoa Lavan et-shema Yaakov ben-achoto vayaratz likrato vayechabek-lo vayenashek-lo vayeviehu el-beito, va yesaper le Lavan et kol-hadevarim haele" (And it happened that when Laban heard of Yakov his sister's son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house, and he told Laban of all these things).
Rashi explains that each of Lavan's forms of greeting is to discover money or precious stones, after racing out to welcome Yakov and seeing that he has not brought camels or any other evident riches.
"Perhaps he has brought gold coins and they are on his person" - So he embraces him to see if he has a money belt. Alas, no coins.
"Perhaps he has brought pearls which he hides in his mouth." Whereupon he kisses Ya'akov full on the lips, checking his mouth for gems. No pearls either.
Rashi, however, questions just where Lavan kissed Yakov. If he had kissed his mouth, why does the Torah not say so?
Rashi answers that Lavan already knew from the embrace that he held no pouch of gold, either in his hands or within his clothes. The kiss had to be to his mouth to reveal if he had pearls.
[Shoyn. Per Rashi, Lavan feels Yakov up and tongues him. Distressingly European.]
Psook 29:14 "vayomer lo Lavan ach atzmi uvesari ata, vayeshev imo chodesh yamim" (and Laban said to him 'you are of my bone and of my flesh', and so he stayed with him for a month).
Note: Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel ( Talmud personality of the 1st century C.E.) avers that all of Seifer Bereishis comes to teach us the ways of Tzidkus, righteousness, so we can emulate the patri- and matri- archs in our own lives.
[Tzidkus = Just one of the typical pro-active virtues, we actually have nine more up our sleeves: Ahavas Tzion (love of Israel), Arayvus (responsibility for each other), Chochma (wisdom), Derech Eretz (sensitive, thoughtful behavior), Gemilus Chasidim (acts of loving kindness), Kavod Habriyos (respect for the value of each person), Kedusha (spirituality), Limud (study), Tikun Olam (repairing the world).]
[Hiddur Mitzvah (embellishing the commandment, creativity) is sometimes included in this list, but that was only possible AFTER matan Toreh, so it is entirely out of place here.]
Yet the main import of the Yakov tale at this point seems to be benefitting from the innocent oversight and trustingness of others, and fulfilling the mitzvah of pru-urvu (procreating). Yaakov commits a lot of pru-urvu. We must search beneath the surface of the tale for other meanings.
[Mitzvah of pru urvu = The commandment to be fruitful and multiply, nay even to overpopulate. This had to be commanded? There are doubts about our masculinity?!? Remember, Lots’ daughters went through hell to pru-urvu, Melech Dovid killed a Hittite to do the same. We can do no less.]