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Vayetzei(Genesis 28:10-32:3)

Confident Protection

Rashi writes (28:11) that before going to sleep, Yaakov placed stones around his head because he was afraid that he may be attacked by wild animals. If he was truly 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?

Rabbi Shloma Margolis (Darkei HaShleimus) explains that a person who truly trusts in God understands that after he has done all that he is realistically able to do in a certain situation, the outcome at that point is in God's hands and there is no reason to worry about it. In Yaakov's case, although the rocks around his head offered inadequate protection, they were all that was available for Yaakov to use to protect himself, so once he had done all that was in his power, he went to sleep confident in God's protection.

* * *

DEATH AND POVERTY

Rashi writes (29:11) that Eisav commanded his son Elifaz to chase the fleeing Yaakov and kill him. Instead, Elifaz took all of Yaakov's possessions, as the Talmud (Nedarim 64b) teaches that a poor person is considered as if he is dead and this was considered a partial fulfillment of his father's instructions to kill Yaakov. Why is a poor person considered like he's dead?

The Maharal (Gur Aryeh) explains that a poor person is considered dead because he is forced to rely on others for his sustenance and is unable to live independently, which is the definition of life. Shlomo HaMelech teaches that "one who hates gifts will live," as being self-sustaining is the very definition of living. Similarly, the Torah refers to a stream which flows on its own and is not stagnant as "living waters" because its ability to sustain itself is the very essence of life.

* * *

PERMANENT ANGELS

Rashi writes (32:2) that there are different sets of angels which minister in the land of Israel and outside of it, and they may not cross the border from one side to the other. How was Yaakov, who had returned to the land of Israel, able to send angels (32:4) to his brother Eisav, who resided outside of the land of Israel?

Dayan Yisroel Yaakov Fisher (Even Yisrael) explains that there are two different types of angels: those which are created as a result of mitzvot that a person does, and angels who are established and permanent, such as Michoel and Gavriel. The restriction against angels exiting or entering the land of Israel only applies to the first category, as mitzvot which are performed in the land of Israel are qualitatively different and superior to those which are done outside of Israel, and the resulting angels are therefore restricted to the region where they were created. Angels in the second category, however, have no such limitations and are free to roam the entire world as necessary and may enter and exit the land of Israel at will. He suggests that this is the intent of Rashi's comment (32:4) that Yaakov sent "malachim mamash" to Eisav, meaning that he sent already-established angels to Eisav, not ones which had been created through his good deeds.

* * *

SEVEN YEARS, AGAIN

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 Rachel. 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 Rachel 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 Rachel immediately, after which time he was to complete his obligation by working for seven years. (29:30)

As it was Lavan who had intentionally deceived him and reneged on their original agreement, why did Yaakov remain to work for Lavan for an additional seven years? Yaakov committed himself to work for seven years to marry Rachel, 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. Rabbi 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 lecture.

In light of this story, we can appreciate the answer given by Rabbi 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 Rachel 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 (Avot 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.

Published: November 27, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Wolf, November 28, 2014 4:28 PM

Is independence really the definition of life?

If "being self-sustaining is the very definition of living," what are the implications for the infirm or those on life-support?

Since "orthodox" emphasis in end-of-life care strongly espouses the preservation of life (often to the unfortunate extreme of insistence on futile efforts), the focus on independence as "living" must be more complicated.

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