Wednesday, November 26, 2014

“Is taking my husband not enough?” (Gen 30:15)

“Is taking my husband not enough?” (Gen 30:15)
Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky of Jerusalem

Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky is the author of the much-talked-about-book, Making of a Godol: A Study of Episodes in the Lives of Great Torah Personalities. A Hebrew version of this essay for Parashat Va-Yetze was first published last week at the Seforim blog [here] and the translation was prepared by Rabbi Daniel Tabak of New York.

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If we study the Bible without the words of Hazal, we may think that Leah was on the level with Jacob when her father hoodwinked him and swapped her with her sister. That is, Leah was in the dark about the agreement between her father and his nephew that the latter would marry “Rachel, his younger daughter.” The agreement was then breached by Laban, and Leah believed that she had been chosen from the outset to be Jacob’s wife. Therefore, when Rachel entered Jacob’s tent after her own week of celebration, Rachel was an interloper. And so, some years later, when Rachel requests the jasmine that Reuben found, Leah protests: “Who asked you to marry my husband? And now you want my son’s jasmine? Sister, I’ve had it up to here with you.” That is how the story goes without the words of Hazal.

I recall that in the beginning of 5708 [late 1948], World War II had ended even in the Pacific Theater with Japan’s defeat, and hundreds of Mirrer Yeshiva students in Shanghai were already permitted to emigrate to the United States. They settled in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn called “East New York.” A spacious synagogue on Ashford Street was transformed into their study hall, where they continued to study Torah diligently and the legendary mashgiah R. Yechezkel Levenstein of blessed and saintly memory delivered his ethical talks.[1]

In the first decade of 5700 I was a young student learning in Mesivta Torah Vodaas, and on the sabbath of Va-Yetze I was a guest at my sister and brother-in-law, Rabbi Yisroel and Malka Shurin, may their repose be in Eden. I went to see with my own eyes what a European yeshiva was. A common saying of Rabbi Avrohom Kalmonovitch, the dean of the Mirrer Yeshiva who carried it as a caregiver cradles an infant through its long exile in Shanghai, had echoed in the yeshiva world during that period. He asked: is it possible that after Noah had fed the ark’s lion day-in and day-out at great personal risk, bringing the food late once warranted such a bite that left him with a limp? He answered that the lion was not any old lion, like the ones we see in the zoo, but the last lion in the entire world, and one cannot delay in feeding such a lion even once. Rabbi Avrohom spoke figuratively of the Mirrer yeshiva, the only European yeshiva to survive a destroyed world, a yeshiva that needed to be cherished. For a yeshiva student like me it was appropriate to travel a great distance to see this singular yeshiva and become aromatized by its atmosphere.

As the sky grew dark on that sabbath in the dim, crowded study hall, the mashgiah delivered an ethical sermon that has been seared into my memory for more than sixty-six years. He based his talk on the words of Rabbi Joshua b. Levi in tractate Yoma (72b): “What is the meaning of ‘this is the Torah that Moses placed (śam)’? If one is worthy, it turns into an elixir (sam hayyim) for him; if unworthy, it turns into poison (sam mita).” He explained that if we do not study biblical verses as Hazal interpreted them, then the Torah itself becomes poisonous. He exemplified the matter in that week’s Torah reading, saying that without the words of Hazal we believe that after Jacob was well-on in years he decided that the time to marry had arrived, looked at both of Laban’s daughters - each with their own appearance - and chose one of them, after which he said “when will I be able to work for my household etc. etc.” What was Jacob our forefather’s intention? To settle down and raise a family like everyone else. Such an understanding, however, is venomous. When is the Torah an elixir? When we comprehend the verses as Hazal did when they explained “and Laban had two daughters” (29:16) as two beams stretching from one end of the world to the other (meaning, don’t read ‘daughters’ [banot] but rather ‘builders’ [bonot], along the lines of “don’t read it as your sons [banayikh] but your builders [bonayikh], for these are the two sisters who built the world), one raising kings and the other raising kings […] to this one were given two nights and to this one two nights, to Leah the night of Pharaoh and Sennacherib, to Rachel the Night of Gideon and the night of Mordechai (Yalqut Shim’oni #124 [end]). In other words, Jacob viewed both of them as architects of the Jewish people and that people’s perpetuity, so everything that he did was with the establishment of the Jewish people in mind. If we look at every step that Jacob took in this light, then our Torah study become an elixir. When the mashgiah expounded in this manner to the students of the Mirrer Yeshiva, who had no longer been young for quite some time, whose families had perished in Europe, who were exhausted from the many years of wandering in far-flung locales, he was saying that they should not cook up fresh plans in this new land such that every man would become engrossed in tending his field or vineyard, as poison was in that pot (per II Kings 4:40), but they should take stock as to the best way to build their lives in a way that would contribute to the general good of the Jewish people and its endurance. Notwithstanding the fact that I am fan of the text’s simple meaning and love the literal-contextual meaning of the text, I have carried with me until today the mashgiah’s admonition to study the Bible in a way that makes it an elixir.

Here, too, if we study the narrative of the two sisters as Hazal did, we can imagine how Rachel, after believing for seven years that she would marry Jacob and planning to do so, could not stand — even in that happiest of moments before the wedding — her older sister being ashamed, and she decided to teach her the secret code. We are impressed by Rachel’s sensitivity, which seems like something humanly unattainable! Hazal had good cause for saying that it was our matriarch Rachel who will persuade God (as it were) not to jealously punish the Jewish people when they worship foreign gods and “the bed is too short to stretch oneself out” (Is 28:20)[2] because she patiently brought a co-wife into her house without jealousy, and through this merit God will return his children to their borders (the end of petihta 24 of Lamentations). Leah knew full well that she was deceiving Jacob by taking her sister’s place; moreover, her sister helped her pull it off. Is there any header student who doesn’t know that Rachel gave her sister the secret code? Only then does Leah’s charge “is taking my husband not enough?” become so difficult to comprehend - did Rachel forfeit her right to Jacob because she heroically facilitated Leah’s marriage to him? On the contrary, according to Hazal Rachel brought her co-wife into her house, unlike Leah’s claim that Rachel was crashing her party. I know full and well that this difficulty forced two commentators - Nahmanides and the Or ha-Hayyim - to posit that Leah was complaining that Rachel was supplanting her in their relationship with Jacob. Nahmanides explains that Leah alleged that Rachel was acting as the mistress and making Leah the maidservant, but such behavior on Rachel’s part is absent from the Torah, making this a difficult position to take. Perhaps one can point to Rachel’s answering first when Jacob requested his wives’ consent to leave Aram for Canaan (31:14) as a sign that she felt dominant over Leah. The opinion of Rabbi Jose, however, is that Rachel could speak before her older sister because Jacob had called her first (31:4; Midrash Rabba 74:4). Furthermore, none of this appears until after the request for the jasmine. The Or Ha-Hayyim argues that Leah was upset that Jacob’s fixed bed was with Rachel, which is also difficult since the proximity of Rachel’s tent to Jacob is not mentioned until Laban chased Jacob and searched for his idols, according to Rashi (commentary on 31:13), and Nahmanides completely disagrees with his interpretation of that verse (see there). Rashi on 31:4 does note before Jacob’s flight from his father-in-law that Rachel - not Leah - was the mainstay of the house, and Hazal find evidence of this in Simeon ’s birth where “and Rachel was barren (aqara)” (29:31) is taken to mean “foundation of the house (‘iqqaro shel bayit),” which should have been a grievance directed not at Rachel but Jacob since the husband decides which of his wives will predominate. Our teachers Nahmanides and the Or Ha-Hayyim of blessed memory both interpreted the verses in their own way, because it never occurred to them to take Leah at her word.[3] I have found an interesting interpretation in the widespread contemporary series Da’at Miqra, which usually understands the verse in its literal-contextual meaning, that agrees that Leah took part in the deception with Rachel’s knowledge (as above), and even depicts an imaginable scene where Leah sits in a dark corner of Rachel’s wedding party wearing a bride’s veil as her disguise, and at the critical moment her father brings her to Jacob in lieu of his wife (“Laban took his daughter Leah and brought her to him”). Regarding Leah’s subsequent charge “is taking my husband not enough?” Da’at Miqra says laconically “here Leah was ungrateful for Rachel’s kindness,” but nothing more. In my humble opinion this approach is unacceptable: God forbid that we should describe one of our matriarchs as having poor character. Da’at Miqra depicts Rachel and Leah, who together formed the Jewish people, as respectively sensitive to a fault and lacking basic human decency. It is bewildering! Now, it is true that there is an approach among medieval commentators which disagrees with Rabbenu Behayye’s opinion that “the matriarchal prophetesses had nothing ugly about them nor any moral failing” (commentary on 29:20), and so Nahmanides can write about the Torah’s statement that “Sarah oppressed” Hagar (16:6) that “our matriarch sinned in this oppression” (and Da’at Miqra agrees with Nahmanides there and also cites Radak who says “Sarah did not act in accordance with ethics or piety in this matter”), but why, then, did Nahmanides not write here what he did regarding Sarah, for here too “Leah sinned in speaking to her sister thus,” instead of twisting Leah’s words to fit a forced interpretation? We must conclude that Nahmanides knew that if we take Leah’s words in the simplest way, as the author of Da’at Miqra did, we would end up with not just a failing of morality or piety but a basic lack of humanity (as mentioned above), and Leah’s sin would be so egregious to an extent that we cannot suspect of our matriarchs. God forbid that we should even entertain such a notion about these great women.

I will now speak my piece about this, and I hope that Heaven has left me enough room to make a contribution. At the end of Toledot, Rashi admitted “I do not know what it is teaching us” regarding the final words of the verse “Isaac sent Jacob and he went towards Padan Aram to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, brother of Rebecca, the mother of Jacob and Esau (em Ya’akov ve-‘Esav)” (28:5). Rashi found the words difficult because we already know the identity of Rebecca’s children, so why did the Torah need to add these three words? The question can be answered by way of the cantillation. One would have thought that the etnahta should have been placed under ‘Jacob,’ as the words that follow (“and he went towards Padan Aram”) lead into the rest of the verse “to Laban son of Bethuel…” to mean that Jacob went to Laban in Padan Aram. The Masoretes, however, placed the etnahta under ‘Aram,’ implying that they understood the rest of the verse beginning with “to Laban” as referring back to the sending off, i.e. Isaac sending Jacob to Laban, and the words “and he went towards Padan Aram” constitute a parenthetical statement letting us know that Jacob did indeed fulfill this mission. This would be similar to what it says further on (verse 7) about Esau observing Jacob’s actions — “Jacob listened to his father and to his mother and went to Padan Aram" — namely that Esau saw that Jacob listened to his parents and left Beersheba, and in the end in fact went to Padan Aram (see Rash ad loc.). The Masoretes took the verse to be speaking not about Jacob’s arrival in Padan Aram but about the separation from Isaac for a simple reason, namely, if the verse wanted to convey Jacob’s arrival in Padan then it would be anatopistic, as the proper place is later when the Torah narrates Jacob heading eastward (29:1). It was therefore preferable to construe the words “to Laban…” as referring back to the sending off. We still need to comprehend, however, what all of verse 5 teaches us, because (1) it already says above in verse 2 that Isaac commanded his son to go to Padan Aram to take one of Laban’s daughters as a wife, so what is this verse adding, and (2) it says in verse 2 that he sent him to the house of Bethuel and in verse 5 no house is mentioned, only Laban’s name. We are forced to propose that aside from Isaac blessing Jacob with the Abraham’s blessing and commanding him what to do in a general sense (verse 2), Isaac subsequently had parting words for Jacob when the latter was actually ready to leave: “now, my son, I will explain in more detail what you need to do when you get to your destination of Bethuel’s house. Speak to Laban, who will certainly be instrumental in helping you settle in, because you are his nephew. He will agree to give you one of his daughters as a wife, and given that I now knew that you purchased the birthright from my older son Esau, remember that when you arrive there, because you are now the ‘older’ son and Esau the ‘younger.’” The order in “mother of Jacob and Esau” fits perfectly. What did Isaac intend by telling him this just as he set out to fulfill his charge? He meant to tell him that until then he had only outlined the general intention of marrying one of Laban’s daughters without specifying which one to take, whereas now he is saying outright that since Jacob was “eldest,” he needed to marry Leah, eldest of Laban’s daughters. That is the purpose of verse 5.[4]

The Torah only hints at this new command of Isaac’s for a simple reason. When Jacob reached Haran and saw Laban’s two daughters, it was specifically the younger one who found favor in his eyes. The Torah emphasizes more than once Jacob’s deep love for Rachel[5] to justify disobeying his father Isaac’s command to marry Leah, because our forefather Jacob followed the law as codified in Shulhan ‘Arukh (Yore De’a, end of no. 240) that a son does not have to obey his father’s command not to marry a specific woman, and the same goes for a command to marry a specific woman that the son does not want to marry. Instead of the Torah stating explicitly Jacob’s command to marry Leah, a hint sufficed, because although Jacob was in the right about not listening to one’s father in choosing a spouse, there was no need to draw attention to his disobedience, and just as it is inappropriate for a son to broadcast the permissibility of not listening to one’s father, so the Torah concealed the matter. Lest the reader respond with Rabbi Judah b. Bathayra’s remark to Rabbi Akiva when the latter revealed that the wood-gatherer was Zelophehad (a baraita on Shabbat  96b) “you will have to answer for this: if it is as you say, the Torah hid it and you revealed it,” note the continuation of the Talmud there (at the top of 97a) that says “but he [R. Akiva] derived it from a gezera shava,” with Rashi's comment “and if so, the Torah did not hide it for it is practically explicit.” If a derivation by means of a gezera shava is not considered hidden, then certainly something derived from the literal and contextual reading of the text is not. More generally, what I am conveying about our forefather Jacob is that he followed the Torah’s laws — since the Torah did not say outright that Jacob did not listen to his father but said it allusively, i.e., in a manner that requires a kind of discovery, one does not find Jacob defying his father. Note this well.[6]

When dawn broke the morning after Jacob’s wedding and “behold, it was Leah,” the couple had a conversation. Jacob reproached Leah for deceiving him and here is her riposte: “I learned to do this from you, because you hoodwinked your father when he intended to bless Esau and you took his place. There is no master without students” (Bereshit Rabba 70:19). In my humble opinion I would like to lengthen and fill out this conversation. Leah did not have the last word or parting shot; Jacob continued the conversation. “You should know that when I arrived in Haran seven years ago, I told your sister that I wanted to marry her, but she warned me that her father would try to deceive me and replace her with her older sister. I responded that he would not succeed in tricking me because ‘I am his brother in deception’ (Megilla 13b). Now know this, Leah, what I told her is true that no-one can pull one over me, even if my new father-in-law is the son of swindlers and from a place of skullduggery (Bereshit Rabba 63:3). Ask, then, how did you succeed last night? Well, when I was about to leave my righteous father for Beersheba, he confirmed that the birthright I purchased from my brother Esau many years prior, when I was only fifteen years old (Bava Batra 16b), was a transaction with everlasting force, making me - and not Esau - the firstborn. He therefore commanded me to marry you, the older sister. Although I did not want to obey and marry you, and notwithstanding that I was not obligated to heed his command, nevertheless it constituted a decree by a righteous person about which it is said that ‘what you decree, will be done’ (Job 22:28, see, inter alia, Shabbat 59b). That is to say, you and your father did not succeed in cheating me, but my father (may he live a long, good life) triumphed in compelling me to marry you just as he wanted.” In that way Jacob demonstrated to Leah that he was a man of Truth and not full of deceit as she had thought.[7] He was not a Rav-sheqer; he did not have proteges in the art of lying. He hadn’t tricked his father at all in taking the blessings intended for Esau forty-eight years after he purchased the birthright, because Isaac intended to bless his firstborn and believed that Esau was the firstborn, when in reality Jacob was already the true firstborn. Only then did a lightbulb go off in twenty-two-year-old Leah’s head (Sefer ‘Olam Rabba, ch. 2) since she now realized that her lifelong worry about marrying Esau had been in vain; all those years of crying (Bava Batra 123a) had been for naught. Forty-seven years before she was born Jacob took Esau’s place as firstborn, and at the moment of her birth she was already destined for Jacob and not his wicked brother. In the wake of this conversation Leah already knew enough that when the first of Jacob’s vigor was born, her son Reuben, she could say “see the difference between my son and my father-in-law’s son […] After my father-in-law’s son Esau sold the birthright and it was my husband’s for some time, Esau protested so strongly that my entire life I mistakenly thought that Esau was the firstborn, as did all of my contemporaries, until my father-in-law had to reiterate in Jacob’s presence, before their parting, that Jacob was the firstborn, and he decreed by the decree of the righteous that he should marry me, the firstborn.”

Do not let my novel understanding that Isaac wanted his son to marry Leah put you off on account of its absence in the literature of Hazal, for I have found the following in Rabbenu Behayye (commentary to 28:5). He asked why Jacob was punished for absenting himself from his parents’ residence for twenty-two years with the absence of his own son Joseph for the same number of years (Megilla 16b-17a), when in fact Jacob was sent to Padan Aram by his parents, in which case how could his absence constitute a violation of the commandment of honoring one’s parents for twenty-two years? Rabbenu Behaye answers: “they thought that he would take Leah and return as soon as they sent for him, but he set his eyes on the younger Rachel for her beauty.” This implies that Rabbenu Behayye believed that had Jacob married Leah upon arriving in Haran, Laban would not have expected him to work for him at all, and it was only because Jacob wanted Rachel that he was forced to obligate himself to work for her father for seven years. He seemingly derived this from what Jacob said to Laban - “I will work seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter” - which he took to mean that since she is young and unfit for marriage, I will work for seven years so you will be willing to marry her off before the older daughter. Rabbenu Behayye’s comment appears slightly difficult given Isaac’s explicit command to “marry one of the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother” (28:2), which implies that he could choose whichever one he wanted to marry, the corollary being that if his choice required him to be absent from his parents’ home, it should not constitute a negation of the imperative to honor one’s parents. Why, then, did he deserve punishment for being absent from his father’s house?[8] In addition, the first part of Rabbenu Behayye’s comment, in which he writes that “they thought he would take Leah,” makes it seem as if Jacob had no choice whatsoever in choosing his wife, which is hard to fathom. It must be the case that Rabbenu Behayye understood verse 5 — “Isaac sent Jacob…” — in accordance with my innovative approach that at the moment of departure from his parents Jacob was given a hint about his new charge, that he would not choose his wife but would marry Leah specifically, which makes Rabbenu Behayye’s comment harmonious. Rabbenu Behayye’s innovative understanding that Jacob would not have had to work to marry Leah appears contradictory to Nahmanides’ understanding of the words “complete this week,” meaning complete the time period that you are still obligated to work for Leah (see there), yet he should not have had to work for Laban’s older daughter at all! Moreover, why was Jacob unable to use the seven years he had worked for free to get Rachel? Why did he have to work another seven years for her? And if we say Laban only required it because Jacob wanted to marry the younger daughter before the older was married, why did he have to work for Rachel after Leah was already married? Perhaps Laban originally intended to deceive Jacob and give him his oldest daughter (just as Rachel had warned Jacob immediately upon meeting him, as noted above), but he also knew that Jacob had a special divine providence watching over him as in his statement “I have observed the signs and God has blessed on account of you” (30:27). After seeing that Jacob was prepared to work seven years for Leah, he decided that Heaven was showing him that he should demand seven years of work for Rachel as well, so he asked for seven years of work for Rachel even after it was her turn to marry. It’s obviously hard to know exactly a swindler is thinking. I should add parenthetically that the explanation appearing in the continuation of Rabbenu Behayye’s comment, that Jacob’s parents thought he would immediately return when they sent for him, notwithstanding Rabbenu Behayye’s terseness clearly means that Rebecca had sent a messenger immediately upon his arrival at Laban’s house to inform him that the danger posed by Esau had evaporated and he could return home at once, in which case his entire twenty-two-year stay was against the wishes of his father and mother. I found as much in the Hiddushei Haggadot of the Maharsha (end of the first chapter of Megilla, 16b, s.v. gadol talmud Torah) who wrote: “Why was Jacob punished for those twenty-two years given that he left at their will and command, which means that ostensibly they forewent their honor? The author of the Imrei No’am answered in the name of the Ri of Paris that at the end of the fourteen-year stint in the house of Eber, Esau’s anger subsided and Rebecca sent her wetnurse Deborah after him to Laban’s house, but he stayed there for twenty-two years.” I checked the Imrei No’am, an anthology of medieval commentaries on the Torah reprinted in Jerusalem in 5730 (1970), for his exact phrasing and found the following: “R. Judah of Paris responded that by the end of the fourteen years during which Jacob served in the house of Eber Esau gave up hope of finding him, and afterward he arrived in Haran. When Rebecca found out that Esau’s anger had subsided she sent her wetnurse Deborah after him, as Rashi explained in Va-Yishlah on the phrase ‘Deborah died.’ It turns out that when Deborah came to Jacob he had only been at Laban’s house for a year but he did not want to return and was therefore punished for remaining there twenty-two years after his mother’s command.”[9] R. Judah explained at length what Rabbenu Behayye wrote concisely, “that he would return as soon as they sent for him.”[10] Taking R. Judah’s answer on its own (as it is in fact cited in the Maharsha) proves quite difficult, for only Rebecca was told that Esau was looking to kill Jacob and so sent Jacob to Haran to deliver him from Esau’s hand (27:43-45), whereas Isaac was wholly unaware that Jacob was fleeing from Esau and his command to Isaac was to go to Bethuel’s house to marry one of Laban’s daughters. Even if one could argue that his mother’s command lapsed after his extended underground stay in the house of Eber, his father’s remained in force, so why would he punished for his absence from his parents’ house? We can resolve this by positing that the two answers complement each other. Rabbenu Behayye explains why honoring his father through the command to marry did not entail remaining in Haran because he was to marry Leah and return forthwith, and R. Judah clarifies why honoring his mother by fleeing from Esau also did not force him to remain in Haran because Esau’s anger had subsided. This is truly wonderful, thanks to God’s help.[11][12]

With this new understanding of verse 5 we can appreciate Leah’s words to Rachel anew, “is taking my husband not enough?” Leah is not referring to Rachel’s marriage to Jacob after having given her the secret code and helping her marry him, because Rachel would not have lost her right on account of that, as we mentioned above. Rather, Leah is referring to Rachel stealing Jacob’s heart at their first meeting, when Jacob the “firstborn” was not meant for her, Laban’s younger daughter, but for Laban’s older daughter. That was Leah’s contention against her sister. Yet, Leah could not have had any grievance against her sister about this, because Rachel had believed throughout her life that she was designated for Jacob, just as Leah herself mistakenly believed that she was to marry Esau and even weeped so much that her eyelashes fell out (Bava Batra 123a). Leah puts it to Rachel simply: “is it not enough to unwittingly take the man designated for me that now you want to knowingly take my son’s jasmine?” This resolves the difficult language of taking (qiha) used here, for the Torah more generally puts the man in the active role. It says “when a man takes (yiqah) a wife” and not “when a woman (tiqah) takes a husband,” as a wife is acquired by her husband and not a husband by his wife. It does not even write “when a wife is taken (tillaqah) by a man” (see Tosafot Ri Ha-Zaqen in the margins of the Vilna Talmud at Qiddushin 5b) because the man is the active one. If it were putting things as they seemingly should be put, Leah should have told her sister “is giving yourself to my husband not enough?” and not “is taking my husband not enough?” which would have blunted her conclusion “that you need to take my son’s jasmine too,” seeing as Rachel had not  taken anything at all. According to the new interpretation, however, the use of ‘taking’ here works out, because the attraction - witting or unwitting - generated by a woman to draw a man close is called “taking (qiha), as the sage cautioned his son about being ensnared by a wicked woman by saying “Do not covet her beauty in your heart, and do not let her take you (tiqahekha) by her eyes” (Prov 6:25). The development of a relationship between a man and woman is as follows: after the woman “takes” the man, so that she becomes desirable and he loves her,[13] the curse of Eve kicks in, “your desire will be to your husband and he will rule over you” (Gen 3:16), which was said to Eve after she had already “taken” her man (“your husband [ishekh]”). The next stage has the man marrying her as she becomes passive. We can perhaps include within this Rashi’s brief statement on this verse, “it is all from him and not from you,” which says that the husband takes a wife and not vice versa (see Qiddushin 5b-6a where even the betrothal formula “I am now your husband [hareni ishekh]” is unequivocally invalid, because it can be construed to mean that she stole his heart as a prelude to the transaction even though he was the active party in the transaction in giving the monies, and the same implication of attraction by the word ishekh is true in our verse as well). When Leah asks “is taking my husband not enough?” she is talking about the earlier stage in which Rachel actively attracted Jacob, by which she “took” Jacob when he was designated for Leah.

Let me conclude this devar Torah by adding that it is superfluous for a ben Torah who grew up in the yeshiva world, which brings this full circle to my introduction that the Torah is an elixir only when studied in the appropriate way, and if we study it any other way it transmogrifies into, God forbid, a poison. When we speak about our ancestors, and it goes without saying our patriarchs and matriarchs, and their emotions and behaviors, be they Jacob’s love for Rachel leading him to disobey his father or Rachel’s “taking” of Jacob, we are not speaking about feelings that normal people of our generations feel but about matters that are the secret of this world’s foundation and endurance, along the lines of my citation at the beginning of the piece of Reb Chatzkel’s quote from the Yalqut that “Laban had two daughters” means two who built an everlasting nation. It is possible that with Isaac's trait of Fear (Pahad), he would consider together with what “they used to say at the crossroads”: such were the stipulations (between Rebecca and Laban according to the Matnot k'hunah, or from God implanting it in their natures according to the explanation of the Maharzu), the older [daughter] for the older [son] and the younger for the younger” (Bereshit Rabba 70:16 and Bava Batra 123a), whereas Jacob as man of Truth did not have to adopt what “everyone used to say” (Rashi on 29:17). On the contrary, given his trait of splendor, he chose Rachel and her patience over Leah. When we say that our matriarch Rachel “took” Jacob, we are simply expressing what Hazal taught us in Bereshit Rabba (17:7) that everything comes from one’s wife, in which case Jacob’s utter righteousness developed through her as well, causing Leah to complain to her sister that she had inspired Jacob’s service of God when it had been Leah’s right, and, as such, we are talking here about the sublimest matters.


[1] It is well-known that it did not take long for Reb Chatzkel to detest America and make aliyya to the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem, and after the passing of R. Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler he moved to Bnei Brak to fill his post in Ponevezh Yeshiva.
[2] See Rashi on Yoma 9b, s.v. shenei re’im.
[3] The Seforno apparently did take her at her word.
[4] Perhaps Rashi’s masoretic tradition had the etnahta under ‘Jacob,’ and the latter part of the verse would be taking about his arrival in Padan Aram and not his mission, which is why Rashi did not know what the Torah intended. The Torah records that he eventually arrived in Haran after spending several years in the tents of Eber as background for the later verse in which Esau saw that Jacob had listened to his parents and went to Padan Aram.
[5] See Da’at Miqra, pp. 402-405, where R. Yehuda Kiel of blessed memory presents the idea that Jacob’s love for Rachel hovered in King Solomon’s mind as a template for love when writing Song of Songs.
[6] Parenthetically, I should explain the second part of R. Judah ben Bathayra’s remark to R. Akiva in that baraita - “if not, you are spreading lies about that righteous man” (in the Sifrei on the episode of the wood-gatherer in Shelah, we do not have this reading at all). He was telling R. Akiva that even if his colleagues challenged the identification of Zelophehad and R. Akiva ended up agreeing, his statement about Zelophehad would remain on record and the sin he would have to answer for was baselessly suspecting a righteous person.
[7] In Bereshit Rabba (50:3) a man named Rav-Sheqer (full of deceit) is enumerated as one of the five chief justices of Sodom.
[8] We must perforce deduce from Rabbenu Behayye’s words what later commentators did (whom I will mention in footnote 12 below) that Jacob was punished for violating the nuance of honoring one’s parents. Even though his father gave him permission to choose, he should have specifically chosen the option that would allow him to return home as soon as possible, i.e. Leah, and God is exacting with those closest to him unto a hairsbreadth.
[9] The Maharsha omitted what the Ri of Paris wrote — “It turns out that when Deborah came to Jacob he had not even been at Laban’s house for a year” — because it is in fact difficult to discern R. Judah’s intent. If I were not afraid to do so I would suggest an emendation from ‘year’ to ‘month,’ as R. Judah would be saying that Deborah arrived after Jacob had resided with Laban for a month (29:14) and not more, i.e., before Jacob was obligated to work for seven years and could still return without reneging on any sort of obligatory arrangement with Laban.
[10] What Ri of Paris cites from Rashi on Va-Yishlah (which Rashi claimed to have learned from R. Moses the Darshan), that Deborah was the messenger telling Jacob to return home, and upon which he bases the idea that Deborah was sent as soon as Jacob arrived in Haran, is not universally agreed upon. In Moshav Zeqenim, another collection of Tosafist comments on the Bible, I found the following on the verse “I will send and take you from there” (Gen 27:45): “It is perplexing. We do not find that she [Rebecca] sent or who the messenger was. It appears to me that God was the messenger as it says ‘God said to Jacob: return to the land of your forefathers and your birthplace’ (31:3). See how great the righteous are that God himself mobilizes on their account to do their bidding, in fulfillment of the verse ‘he completes the counsel of his mal’akhim’ (Is 44:26).” But if the command of God was Rebecca’s messenger, why do we find God speaking to Jacob about returning to Israel only after staying at Laban’s house for twenty years (31:41), after Joseph’s birth (30:25), after becoming wealthy (31:2-32:2), and not immediately after his arrival in Haran.
[11] Regarding the Maharsha who cited R. Judah of Paris without connecting his ideas to Rabbenu Behayye, the question of Jacob’s necessary stay in Haran to marry remains in force. An even more troubling aspect is the Maharsha’s mention of Jacob’s departure at the will and command of his parents, whereas the answer only relates to his mother’s desires. This requires serious investigation.
[12] See the Ben Ish Hai’s Ben Yehoyada’ on Megilla (ad loc.) and the Keli Yaqar at the beginning of Va-Yetze, who answer the question of why Jacob was punished. They say that although Jacob’s activities in Haran were worthwhile, he intention was not. In other words, God was extremely exacting with Jacob. The Ben Yehoyada’ writes that Jacob staying for six more years after finishing his seven for Rachel created an opening for Satan to claim that the entire twenty-two year stint in Haran was not a fulfillment of his parents’ mission but of his own (and the entire punishment of his beloved son Joseph’s absence was to quiet Satan). The Keli Yaqar believes that Jacob did not just “go” to Haran as his father said “arise and go towards Padan Aram” but he “left” Beersheba, meaning that he forgot about his father’s house, and for that he was punished.

[13] Through this “taking” she takes him as a prince and king over her (see Maimonides, Hilkhot Ishut 15:20), that is, she coronates him. 

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