Parshas Vayishlach is a record of maturity and transition in the family of Yakov. Yakov will survive his encounter with Eisav and successfully separate from him forever. Dina will “go out to the daughters of the land” (34:1) and get into trouble with Shechem. Shimon and Levi will revenge their sister’s disgrace without first consulting with Yakov. (34:31) Rachel will die, Binyamin will be born, (35:16) and Reuven will impetuously move Yakov’s bed from the tent of Billah to the tent of Leah. (35:22) It is clearly a Parsha that expands the story line while defining the characters of Yakov and the Tribes.
In last week’s Parsha the Torah recorded Yakov’s conversation with Rachel and Leah prior to fleeing from Lavan. (31:5-13) “Your father appears to resent me… You know that I have worked honestly for your father… He switched my wages at will… In the end G-d has been good to me… An Angel came to me in a dream and told me about the sheep… The prophecy continued and G-d spoke to me and said, it is time to go back to Canaan…”
When did Yakov receive this prophecy? Yakov worked seven years to marry Rachel. He was tricked into marrying Leah and one week later married Rachel. He worked an additional seven years for Lavan. During those seven years Leah gave birth to six sons and Dina. Billah and Zilpah each gave birth to two sons and at the end of those seven years Rachel gave birth to Yoseph. With Yoseph’s birth Yakov completed his 14-year contract with Lavan (30:25) and asked Lavan’s permission to return to Canaan. Lavan entreated Yakov to stay and they negotiated his wages regarding the brown, spotted and ringed sheep.
We are told that Yakov stayed with Lavan for a total of twenty years. That mean’s that Yakov’s conversation with Rachel and Leah and their decision to flee from Lavan took place when Yoseph was six years old. It was during those last six years that Yakov amassed his great fortune of cattle and servants for which Lavan and his sons resented him. (31:1)
It also means that Yakov waited six years from the time that the Angle appeared to him in the dream and told him about the sheep before he decided to listen to G-d and return home to Yitzchak! Why did Yakov wait so long before leaving Lavan?
It I obvious that prophesies are at times left up to the discretion of the prophet as to their interpretation and timing. The Covenant Between The Halves (see Rabbi’s Notebook, Chayei Sara 1997) was such a prophecy. The prophecy to Rivkah in Parshas Toldos (Rabbi’s Notebook, Toldos 1997) was another such prophecy, and this prophecy to Yakov was another such occasion. On the one hand, the Angel showed Yakov how to amass great personal wealth. On the other hand, G-d told Yakov it was time to leave Lavan and return to Yitzchak. What was Yakov supposed to do?
Yakov understood that G-d was telling him to begin making plans for his return to Canaan; however, he was also to begin amassing his personal wealth by using the method that had been revealed to him by the Angel. Therefore, Yakov could not just up and leave when he received the prophecy. He first had to accomplish part “A” of the prophecy. (Note: After all was said and done, Yakov still had to work day and night to attain G-d’s promise.)
It is interesting to note that Yakov “read Lavan like a book.” When he asked Lavan for permission to leave his employ and return to Yitzchak, Yakov knew that Lavan would not want him to leave and would offer to make him a deal. Therefore, Yakov waited for Lavan to make the offer rather than approaching him with an offer. In the end, Yakov was determined that no one would be able to accuse him of manipulating Lavan for his own purposes! It was Lavan who made the offer, and it was Lavan who agreed to a deal that seemed weighed in his favor. It shows the degree to which greed can blind even the greatest of strategist. Lavan was the master of duplicity, back stabbing and conspiracy. Yet, Yakov’s open honesty and the chance of taking advantage of him disarmed Lavan so that he fell into G-d’s trap.
If we accept the theory that “Yakov first had to amass his personal wealth before returning to Yitzchak,” what changed after six years that Yakov wanted to leave Lavan and return home?
In the conversation that Yakov had with Rachel and Leah Yakov told them that Lavan appeared to resent him and his financial success. Yakov’s words imply that the main reason for going back to Canaan was Lavan’s changed attitude. The prophecy of six years earlier and G-d telling him to return appears secondary to Yakov’s concern for Lavan’s “changed attitude.” Would Yakov have elected to stay with Lavan longer than 20 years if Lavan had not appeared to resent him?
Furthermore, the question is underscored by Rachel and Leah’s response. (31:14-16) “Do we still have a portion in our father’s home? He treated us like strangers! Therefore, do as G-d said! Let’s go back!” Again, G-d’s command seems an afterthought rather than the primary motivation!? (See Darash Moshe pg. 22 and Lekach Tov pg. 180.)
Six years earlier, in Yakov’s dream, G-d introduced himself as, “The G-d of Bais A-le (House of G-d) where you anointed the monument and made Me a promise…” (31:13) This was an obvious reference to the beginning of last week’s Parsha and Yakov’s response to the famed prophecy of Jacob’s Ladder. At that time Yakov promised that if he merited G-d’s divine protection and benevolence he would raise children who would one day build the Bais Hamikdash. (Rabbi’s Notebook, Vayeitzei 2001)
When G-d reappeared to Yakov six years before he actually fled from Lavan, G-d was telling him that if he wanted to fulfill his promise of raising G-d fearing children who would one day build the Bais Hamikdash (Temple) it was time to begin planning. The prophecy told Yakov that his children, and the affect that Lavan and his environment would have on them, would decide the length of his stay with Lavan. So long as Yakov would be able to insulate his children from Lavan’s values he could stay and amass his fortune. However, the moment Lavan’s values began to encroach upon the purity and innocence of his children he would have to flee.
In this week’s Parsha Yakov sent emissaries to Eisav before their face-to-face confrontation. The emissaries delivered Eisav a very specific message. “This is what you are to relate to my Master Eisav. I have been dwelling with Lavan for the past twenty years.” (32:5) The Torah uses the word “Garti – I have been dwelling.” Rashi presents the famous interpretation of Yakov’s message based upon the numerical value (gimatria) of the word “Garti.” (garti = 613; gimmel = 3, raish = 200, tuf = 400, yud = 10) “Although I have been living with Lavan for the past twenty years I was not influenced by his evil ways and I was able to keep the 613 commandments.”
Yakov was a formidable opponent who was spiritually indomitable. Twenty years with Lavan did not have the slightest influence over Yakov’s adherence to G-d’s Mitzvos. However, his children were a different story. They needed to be nurtured and protected; otherwise, they would not grow up with the values of Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah.
G-d gifted Yakov with two essential tools for combating Lavan’s alluring lifestyle. He was given four wives and 13 children. Yakov was given four wives to be his partners in raising the twelve sons and Dina, and he was blessed with 13 children who could be their own little society. The sons did not have to seek out “other children” with whom to play. They were self-contained as a family and sub-culture. They became each other’s best friends and enemies. However, that could only last for a while. Soon enough the disparity in age between the oldest and the youngest, between Reuven and Yoseph, (about 7 years) would begin to interfere. They would need greater variety. Their maturing interests and awareness would lead them in search of new friends, ideas and experiences. Yakov and his “restrictive” religious teachings would become oppressive relative to the freedoms of Lavan and the society of Padan Arum.
Yakov said to his wives, “Your father no longer looks at me the same way as before. Before he was content to ignore my religious practices and me. All of a sudden he is taking a much greater interest in our children and me. Six years ago G-d sent me a message through an Angel to begin preparing for our eventual departure. At the same time, G-d reminded me that I had a promise to fulfill. I had to raise a G-d fearing family. That promise has always been our gauge. Our children’s education has always been our greatest priority. I believe that we can no longer afford to stay without it harming the children. The boys are beginning to grow up (Reuven was 13). They are more mature and aware. They will soon want to spend more time with Lavan and they will want to hang out with other children their age. Their own brothers will not be enough.” Rachel and Leah responded, “Yes, you are absolutely correct. As far as our father is concerned we are strangers. He does not respect our right to that which is truly ours, our children! Yes, it is time to do as G-d said. It’s time to leave!”
How great is G-d and how wondrous His timing! This week’s Parsha proved how correct Yakov was. As soon as Yakov arrived in Canaan, his children began to “break out”. Dina got into trouble with Shechem. Shimon and Levi acted independent of Yakov. Reuven acted independent of Yakov. The family was maturing. The educational concerns were far more complex. Had they been in Padan Arum their grandfather Lavan would have encouraged their rebellion against Yakov’s teachings. Had they remained in Lavan’s home they would have had immediate and easy access to assimilate out of the family and into society.
Instead, the family returned to Canaan and their grandfather Yitzchak. Yitzchak was a loner who had lived his life isolated and apart from society. Yakov would be the same. They would not be living within the established city-states of Canaan, as it says, “Yakov came to Shechem… and he camped across from the city.” (33:18). Yakov returned “whole and complete.” He returned, just in time, with all his children G-d fearing and committed to a lifestyle of 613 Mitzvos.
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.