- Written by Daniel Sandground
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This week's sedra focuses on the original wandering Jew, Yaakov, following his flight from Beersheva where he was forced to flee his family and home in order to avoid the wrath of his brother Esav. Parashas Vayeitzei therefore begins with Yaakov's initial journey from his home where the Torah describes to us his famous dream, which he had during these travels, in which he envisioned a ladder with angels going up to heaven and back down again. We then see how Hashem makes a promise to Yaakov, similar to those made to Avraham and Yitzhak, whereby he is told that his offspring will inherit the land of Eretz Yisrael, claiming that “your offspring shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out powerfully westwards, eastwards, northwards and southwards” [28:14]. The sedra then moves into the account of Yaakov meeting Rachel at the well with the Torah expounding on how “Yaakov kissed Rachel, and he raised his voice and wept” [29:11] with the mefarshim bringing down numerous reasons as to why he reacted this way. Shortly following this meeting of holiness we have the appearance of Lavan who had “heard the news of Yaakov” and in reaction, “ran toward him, embraced him, kissed him, and took him to his house” [both 29:13]. Back in Lavan's house we see how Yaakov agrees to work for seven years in order to acquire Rachel for a wife with the Torah describing how, “Yaakov worked seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him a few days because of his love for her” [29:20]. Yaakov is however famously deceived by the conniving Lavan who substitutes Leah for Rachel on the night of the wedding claiming the next day that “such is not done in our place, to give the younger before the elder” [29:26]... so another seven years of work was made necessary in order to gain Rachel's hand in marriage which is finally completed. With two terms of work finished and two wives, the Torah tells us how Leah bore children before Rachel with four sons conceived... due to “Hashem seeing that Leah was unloved” and therefore “he opened her womb” with Rachel “remaining barren” [all 29:31]. Leah therefore bore the sons of Reuven, Shimon, Levi and Yehudah, and the Torah tells us how “Rachel became envious of her sister” [30:1], which Rashi describes as 'a wholesome jealous' due to Chazal teaching us that envy of someone's positive achievements in Torah or mitzvahs leads to an increase in ones own accomplishments. We then see how Rachel gave her maidservant, Bilhah, to Yaakov in order to bear children and we see from this relationship that Dan and Naphtali were born. The birth of Gad and Asher are then given over in the sedra, with Leah given her maidservant, Zilpah, to Yaakov to consort with him. Leah's final three children, Yissacher, Zevulun and a daughter Dinah are born and following this we see that Rachel finally bore a son to Yaakov, with the arrival of Yoseph. Parashas Vayeitzei concludes with Yaakov's attempts to flee the new deceptions attempted by Lavan who refuses to let his successful, blessed worker leave. The Torah goes into great length giving over how an agreement was made that Yaakov would inherit all the ringed, spotted and speckled goats as a wage for his work and how, having agreed to this, Lavan tried to distance his flock lest the animals mingle and mate which would produce more goats for Yaakov. Regardless of these attempts the Torah teaches us that “the man, (Yaakov), became exceedingly prosperous attaining flocks, maidservants, servants, camels and donkeys” [30:43]. With his wives consent we finally see Yaakov escape his corrupt uncle's grasp with Lavan pursuing them and eventually confronting them on the way. Following another large chunk of text which is dedicated to the airing of disputes on either side, we see a treaty proposed between Yaakov and Lavan with the sedra concluding with Lavan finally leaving Yaakov and his new family where we are told that “he returned to his place” [32:1].
It is brought down in Midrashim that before Yaakov entered the house of the idol-worshipping and immoral Lavan he decided that a stint in the Yeshivah of Shem and Aiver would bolster his defences against such a tamei environment. Rav Kamenetsky teaches the relevance of Yaakov's choice to study under Shem and Aiver, explaining that they too had been forced to live amongst corruption with Shem surviving the generation of the Flood and Aiver having lived amongst those who built the Tower of Bavel. Yaakov, who was going to have to live in Charan in an environment of dishonesty and immorality, was therefore selecting the perfect role models to learn from in his preparation to survive this huge test. We learn that he stayed there for fourteen years studying Torah, and according to the Midrash he didn't even lay down to sleep in a bed during this whole stretch of time and instead only slept for short periods in the Beis HaMidrash in order that his learning wouldn't be broken up for too long. It was only after this intense and extremely devoted period of time that Yaakov travelled to Charan to find a wife, confident that he would emerge spiritually unharmed at the coming test of living there. At the end of last week's sedra we were told that Yitzhak instructed Yaakov saying... “Arise, go to Paddan-aram... and take a wife from there” [28:2]... there is no mention of him being told to go to Yeshivah or even a hint at this being advised, so why doesn't Yaakov do exactly what was instructed upon him and go directly to fulfil his objective of finding a wife? In fact it is questioned by the mefarshim altogether why Yaakov saw it necessary to go to a Yeshivah as surely he was a great man anyway and didn't need these further years of study to become a scholar? From a very early age Yaakov was described as an “איש תם/ish tam”, a wholesome man, who was said to abide in tents... which Rashi teaches us, implies that he spent all his time in the study tents of Shem and Eber, so surely the reasons outlined above concerning the learning of protection from a spiritually hostile environment would have been fulfilled during these years anyway? The Ramban describes how in the 63 years before he fled, everything Yitzhak had, he had given over to Yaakov... on top of the infamous blessing of course. We also must remember that Yaakov grew up around his wicked brother Esav and in the latter years, his Hittite wives... AND still wasn't negatively influenced. So the question remains, what more did Yaakov feel he needed to achieve through this long era in Yeshivah?
To answer, we see that deeply embedded in this informative Midrash is an important vort which is more pertinent today than ever. Yaakov was on his way to find a wife and spent this long period of time in Yeshivah before doing so, what we must understand however is that this was part of the process of finding a wife and rather than deviating from the instructions of his father, Yaakov was undertaking them in these preliminary stages by attending the Yeshivah of Shem and Aiver. Through his high spiritual awareness Yaakov understood that the penimias of life is Torah, so before he was able to become this one spiritual entity through a relationship with a wife, he first needed to perfect himself through a completion of Torah. On a more physical and basic level we must understand that what is being learnt in Yeshivahs worldwide are the basics in life lessons. Taught over by the Rabbonim to their Talmidim are the reasons for life, what our purpose is in this world and regarding the topic at hand, how to build a home and act towards a wife. In the 'developed' outside world these basic concepts are forgotten and it is no surprise that divorce rates hit well over 50% on average in America and England (some states such as California report as high as 70%+ divorce rates). Society corrupts man towards disrespecting and subjugating women whereas in Yeshivah we are taught how to be caring, givers and always work on building a relationship, not giving up on it. In today's society where the basics are no longer naturally inherited from parents, this time away from a culture of failed relationships is paramount in order to really understand what is necessary when committing to a woman... and this is why Yaakov needed this time in Yeshivah, to prepare himself to build a successful marriage! The results speak for themselves as well, whereas Avraham had the son Yishmael and Yitzhak had the son Esav... Yaakov had 12 righteous sons who went on to form the foundations for the Jewish nation.
I'm very happy to announce that this concludes my first year's cycle of Dvar Torah's! Bezrat Hashem I shall continue with a new reviewed cycle next week and in the coming year.
Shabbat Shalom and chatzlacha rabba for the week ahead,
Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshivah, Jerusalem)