Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Vayeitzei

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Vayeitzei Yaakov miBe’er Shava vayeilech Charana (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 Vayeitzei Yaakov miBe’er Shava l’Charan, effectively eliminating one seemingly unnecessary word (vayeilech)? Why is the verse written in this seemingly superfluous manner?

The Medrash relates (Bereishis Rabbah 75:8) that prior to Yaakov’s departure, Rivkah blessed him (Tehillim 91:11) Ki malachav y’tzaveh lach – 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 yuhach, 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 d’var halacha – legal matter. Whenever one of the Vilna Gaon’s students had to go someplace, the Gaon would consistently share the same legal teaching: yachad v’rabim halacha k’rabim – 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 yuhach, 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 vayeilech Charana instead of simply l’Charan are anything but unnecessary, as they may be rearranged to spell yuhach, which is the Torah’s way of hinting that his mother’s blessing was fulfilled and this angel indeed guarded him during his travels.

Vayomer Lavan lo yei’aseh kein bimkomeinu laseis hatz’irah lifnei hab’chirah (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, “Lo yei’aseh kein bimkomeinu laseis hatzeirah lifnei habechirah!”

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, tzurah, was pronounced by her the same as the word tzeirah, referring to the younger daughter) before you meet the girl (the word for a young girl, bachurah, is pronounced similarly to the word bechirah, which refers to the older daughter),” a clever and subtle rebuke which quashed the young man’s his out-of-place request, and provides a potent and relevant message in light of the recent trend toward soliciting photographs of potential shidduchim and evaluating prospective spouses through such superficial lenses.

Vayavo gam el Rochel vaye’ehav gam es Rochel miLeah vaya’avod imo od sheva shanim acheiros (29:30)
Yaakov was exemplary in his devotion to Torah study. At the age of 63, 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 by working for a second set of seven years.

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 Canaan to study Torah?

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.

Vatahar od vateiled ben vatomer hapa’am odeh es Hashem al kein karah shemo Yehuda (29:35)
Jews around the world are referred to as “Yehudim.” This name has come to mean “Jews,” although it is presumably 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?

After giving birth to her fourth son, the Torah tells us that Leah named 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 Yaakov 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 and gave her son a name which eternalized her expression of gratitude.

The Chiddushei HaRim suggests that it is for this reason that we are called Yehudim. A thinking Jew should realize that Hashem doesn’t 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 should 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.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Although the Torah seems to indicate that upon leaving Be’er Sheva, Yaakov traveled directly to Charan to seek a wife, Rashi writes (28:9) that this wasn’t the case. When piecing together the biographical information provided by the Torah about Yaakov, 14 years of his life are unaccounted for. This corresponds to the time that he spent studying in the yeshiva of Ever prior to setting out for Lavan’s house. If Yaakov was commanded by his parents to run away from his blood-hungry brother and to go find a wife (28:2), why did he first stop at the Yeshiva of Ever to study for 14 years and only then return to the ultimate purpose of his journey? (Emes L’Yaakov)

2) When Yaakov encountered his future wife Rochel, he began to cry (29:11). Rashi explains that in contrast to Eliezer, who arrived at Rivkah’s house carrying fine jewelry and presents, Yaakov greeted Rochel and her family empty-handed. Although he set out with appropriate gifts along with the rest of his possessions, he was accosted on his journey by his nephew Elifaz. Elifaz was commanded by his father Eisav to chase the fleeing Yaakov and kill him, but he was hesitant to do so. Instead, he took all of Yaakov’s possessions except for his staff (Rashi 29:11, 32:11), as the Gemora in Nedorim (64b) teaches that a poor person is considered as if he is dead, and this was considered a partial fulfillment of Eisav’s instructions to kill Yaakov. Where is this episode hinted to in the Torah? (Yalkut HaGershuni, Gan Yosef)

3) Rochel’s intention in stealing her father’s terafim (idols) was to prevent him from idol-worship (Rashi 31:19). Does this mean that if somebody possesses something forbidden it is permissible to steal it from him? (Ayeles HaShachar, Meshech Chochmah 31:32)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.