Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Contributing Editor: Daniel Dadusc
Volume XIV, No. 7
11 Kislev 5760
November 20, 1999
Orach Chaim 196:3-197:1
Bavli: Chagigah 16
Yerushalmi: Ketubot 17
In this parashah, which relates how Yaakov’s family was formed, one aspect which stands out is the fact that Leah had to become Yaakov’s wife through deceit. If the divine plan called for them to be married, why couldn’t their marriage be an ordinary one?
R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l explains that the different personalities of Rachel and Leah (as reflected in the different events which befell them) were necessary in order to implant in their descendants, the twelve tribes, all of the many traits which a nation needs. In particular, Leah represents accomplishment through initiative. This is most obvious in the incident in which Leah went out to meet Yaakov and to bring him into her tent (see 30:16). We also see this in the Torah’s description of Leah’s eyes. Rashi explains that Leah’s eyes were red and teary because she was constantly crying over her expected fate: marrying Esav. Surprisingly, Onkelos states that her eyes were beautiful. How can Onkelos say this? The answer is that Leah rebelled against her “fate,” and her tears changed it. She took the initiative to flood the Heavens with her tears, and the fact that her prayers were so successful made her tearful eyes, with hindsight, beautiful. Perhaps Leah was even involved in formulating Lavan’s plan to trick Yaakov.
Rachel, on the other hand, had the personality of a quiet lamb, i.e., a follower. (“Rachel” means “lamb.”) Her role was always to live in someone else’s shadow, a trait which she passed to her children, just as Leah passed her own traits to her children. (Yemei Zikaron p.63)
Rashi asks: “And at night, was she not Leah?” Rashi answers that Yaakov had expected Lavan to deceive him, and he had given certain passwords to Rachel so that he could recognize her on their wedding night. Rachel, seeing Leah’s anguish, had conveyed those passwords to Leah so that Yaakov did not realize until the light of morning that he had been tricked.
R’ Shalom Mordechai Schwadron z”l (1913-1997; the “Maggid” of Yerushalayim) offers the following analysis of Rachel’s and Leah’s actions:
What right did Leah have to marry Yaakov against his will? The midrash says that Leah told Yaakov: “Is there a book that doesn’t have students? Just as you tricked your father and took the blessings, so I learned from you and tricked you.” R’ Schwardon explains that Leah meant the following: You, Yaakov, reasoned that you were permitted to fool your father because it would honor Hashem if you received the blessings rather than Esav. In the same way, my intention was to enhance Heaven’s honor by being one of the mothers of the Twelve Tribes and by not marrying Esav.
In this way, R’ Schwardon explains the verse (29:31): “Hashem saw that Leah was si’nuah (literally: ‘unloved’), so He opened her womb.” Was Leah infertile that a special act by Hashem was required to open her womb? No, but because she had married Yaakov through trickery, she arguably did not deserve to have children with him. Nevertheless, Hashem saw that she was si’nuah, which Chazal interpret to mean that she hated Esav’s bad deeds. Because her intention in tricking Yaakov was to avoid marrying Esav, Hashem opened her womb.
Alternatively, Leah may have argued more simply: “It was always said that Rivka’s older son would marry Lavan’s older daughter. Since you bought the birthright from Esav and took his blessings, you are the firstborn and you must marry me.”
This latter argument highlights the greatness of Rachel’s act in telling her sister the passwords. If Yaakov “belonged” to Leah, then Rachel would belong to Esav. Nevertheless, Rachel accepted even this fate, all so that her sister would not be humiliated. This is consistent with the Sages’ teaching that one should rather allow himself to be burnt rather than to humiliate another person.
Nevertheless, what right did Rachel have to fool Yaakov? R’ Schwadron answers this question with the following story- within-a-story:
R’ Yehoshua Brim z”l (20th century; rosh yeshiva of the Rizhiner Yeshiva) once heard of a woman who became widowed one week before Pesach. R’ Brim immediately made all the necessary preparations for the widow’s Pesach seder, even arranging for a young man to come to her home to conduct the seder.
On the night of Pesach, R’ Brim informed his own family that he would be home late, as he wanted to stop at the widow’s house to ensure that everything was in order. Discovering that the young man had not arrived, R’ Brim himself sat down to conduct the seder. And he did not hurry; rather, he conducted the seder as he would have in his own home.
Finally, hours late, R’ Brim arrived home. Hearing where he had been, his family was upset – true, he had performed a great kindness for the widow and her family, but what about his own family?!
R’ Brim answered with the following story: The Chazon Ish z”l (died 1953) once had a hand in arranging a match for a certain young man, and he asked to be invited to the engagement party. When the party was about to begin, a delegation (including the young R’ Brim) was dispatched to the Chazon Ish’s house to bring the sage. However, they found the sage deep in conversation with an elderly couple that was about to open a five-and-dime store. What was the conversation about? They asked him what products they should sell, what brand of needles they should stock, and similar questions.
Finally, the Chazon Ish was ready to leave. “Surely you are wondering,” he said, “how I could keep everyone waiting for me. The answer is that the act of kindness that I was performing was as much your mitzvah, and the mitzvah of every Jew, as it was my mitzvah. It’s just that I was fortunate enough that it came to me rather than to you.”
“So, too,” R’ Brim told his family, “it was as much your mitzvah to help the widow with her seder as it was mine. It was, therefore, proper for me to make you wait.”
Similarly, said R’ Schwadron, Yaakov knew that Leah was pained by the rumors that she was destined to marry Esav, and by the fact that her younger sister (Rachel) was preceding her in marriage. Just as Rachel was obligated to help her sister, Yaakov was obligated to save Leah from her embarrassment by marrying her.
(Lev Shalom pp. 273-279)
I have not allowed the trait of zerizut/alacrity to rule over me with respect to your letter, and, in truth, your letter has waited longer than it should take to answer. The reason is that this letter is a letter of reproach, and for as long as I have lived, I have had trouble putting words of reproach into writing. Is not the primary difference between something oral and something written that something written, compared to something oral, is like an enduring world compared to a passing world (as it is written [Yirmiyahu 32:14], “[Take these documents . . .] so that they will endure for many years”). It is impossible to offer reproof without a cloak of [the middah/attribute of] justice. True, open rebuke stems from hidden love [see Mishlei 27:5], but, when all is said and done, the love is hidden and what is revealed is judgment. Certainly, one’s heart does not wish that it be said about the judgments associated with the reproach, “so that they will endure for many years.” This is the difficulty which I feel when writing words of reproach.
But, when all is said and done, what can be done? Is not withholding reproach also a strict judgment? [Nevertheless,] overcoming this difficulty requires a long wait, and from this derives the lack of alacrity in my response. May it be His will that the open rebuke quickly pass and, as a result, the hidden love will be revealed.
Sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Moshe Cohen in memory of his mother, Malka Rivka bat R’ Avraham Chaim a”h The Marwick family, in memory of Samuel Sklaroff a”h
The Edeson family, in memory of their fathers Joseph N. Edeson a”h and Nathan Salsbury a”h
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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