Let me get straight to the point. After all Yaakov did! at least when he dealt with his charlatan father-in-law, Lavan. You see, Yaakov wanted to marry Rachel, Lavan’s youngest daughter. He did not have the audacity to ask for her hand in marriage straightforwardly, so when he arrived at Lavan’s home, and identified himself as the son of Lavan’s sister, Rivka, Lavan decided to offer his nephew Yaakov work. He would not have him work for free, so he declared, “Just because you are my relative, should you serve me for nothing? Tell me – What are your wages?” (Genesis 29:15).The Torah tells us that “Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, ‘I will work for you seven years, for Rachel your daughter, who is the youngest one.'” What is fascinating is the magnanimous offer Yaakov made. He did not say, “I’d like to marry your daughter and then work. He offered seven years of devoted labor before marriage. What is even more perplexing is the seemingly superfluous language in the request. Why did he annunciate each detail about Rachel? Why ask for Rachel, your daughter, the youngest one? Why not just one of the three?
Rashi tells us that Yaakov was afraid. What reason was there for mentioning all these detailed descriptions of Rachel? Because Yaakov knew that Lavan was a deceiver he said to him, “I will serve you for Rachel. If Lavan would say he meant any other Rachel from the street, therefore he said “your daughter.” Should Lavan say, “I will change Leah’s name and call her Rachel”, Yaakov said “your younger one.”
It didn’t help. In spite of all this, Lavan deceived him. He surreptitiously switched Leah for Rachel, excusing himself in a mocking manner, “By us, in our place, we don’t give the younger daughter before the older one!” (ibid v. 26). But we are surely left with a lesson both in Yaakov’s specificity and in Lavan’s response.
Master storyteller Rabbi Ami Cohen tells the tale of the famous and equally pious Reb Yossel Czapnik, who in his unpretentious manner walked one day into a large yeshiva. He was unfamiliar with the workings of that particular school, and as he meandered about the great study hall, his Chassidic garb and uncombed beard attracted some stares from some of the students who were not accustomed to that sort of persona in their academy. Innocently he looked at the bookshelves crammed with countless volumes of Talmudic and Biblical exegeses, picked up a volume, sauntered over to a chair toward the back of the study hall, and began to study the book. A moment later, a tall young man towered over him peering down through the narrow gap that separated his spectacles from his ruddy face. In a very sarcastic tone he sneered, “In our Yeshiva, we do not sit in the Mashgiach’s seat.”
Reb Yossel looked up for a moment, and in his pure naiveté smiled, and agreed, mumbling as he peered back down in the volume, “by us as well.” The fellow hunched over Reb Yossel and repeated his statement, this time in a louder and more ominous tone. “By us, we don’t sit in the Mashgiach’s seat!”
Reb Yossel shook his head and acknowledged. “In our yeshiva too!” By this time, the exasperated, young man changed his tactic. In a sharp voice, he commanded. “I don’t know who you are, but you are sitting in the Mashgiach’s seat!”
Upon hearing those words, Reb Yossel bounded out of the seat. He turned to the fellow in authentic shock. “I was sitting in your Mashgiach’s seat?” he asked in horror. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Perhaps the exchange that is portrayed in the Torah teaches us two lessons at once. A person who requests something should be clear, direct, and accurate. Yaakov clearly stated his want, “Rachel, your youngest daughter.” There should be no room for error or an opening for surreptitiousness. Like Yaakov, you can’t always win, but you have to try your best with a most clear request.
In addition, if you don’t want to accept the terms, say no right from the start. Don’t deride your counterpart saying, “By us, we don’t do it this way.” Mocking the individual, while making him feel like an anomaly, is no way to explain your position. Be clear, honest, and precise. You may disagree, but you will gain a lot more respect.
Dedicated by Mr. and Mrs. Joel Mandel in memory of Joseph Jungreis Reb Yoel Zvi ben Reb Tuvia HaLevi ob”m — 10 Kislev
Dedicated by the Schulman Family in memory of Milton Schulman R’ Michoel ben R’ Zvi ob”m — 11 Kislev
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.