By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

I am the G-d of Beis-el, where you anointed a matzevah, and where you vowed a vow to me.

Meshech Chochmah: It seems strange that Yaakov would editorialize on the message that HKBH Himself conveyed to him. Hashem told him[2] simply, “Return to the land of your fathers and relatives, and I will be with you.” He nothing about Yaakov’s vow many years earlier, when he fled the wrath of his brother Esav, and set off towards the uncertainties of the house of Lavan. At that time, after experiencing the prophetic vision of the angels on the ladder leading to Heaven, Yaakov took the rock that he had placed near his head the night before, set it up as a matzevah, anointed it with oil, and vowed that if Hashem kept and preserved him, he would return to the land of Israel and serve Hashem. Why, then, when Yaakov discusses the idea of bolting the house of Lavan and returning to Israel does he add that Hashem noted that earlier vow and called upon him to fulfill it?

Yaakov may have found his previous vow to be a particularly effective argument to convince his wives. A gemara[3] posits that consequence of an unfulfilled vow can be the death of one’s wife! Letting them know about his as-of-ten unfulfilled vow raised their stake in the decision considerably.

Now, Yaakov was certainly aware that he had vowed to erect some sort of service-structure for Hashem upon his return to Canaan. Why in fact did he delay? Why did he need to be reminded and nudged by Hashem?

Yaakov possibly saw himself caught on the horns of a dilemma. He had made his vow in conjunction with his setting up not of a mizbe’ach/ altar (a structure formed by combining many smaller stones), but a matzevah / monument. Did that obligate him specifically to erect a matzevah as well when he returned to the Land, as he now prepared to do? The Torah later on[4] describes matzevah as something detested by Hashem! Chazal explain[5] that matzevah was beloved by G-d in the days of the avos who regularly employed it; in later times, its use became linked to idolatrous practice, and it was then rejected.

We could make a case for the transition occurring during the 22 years between Yaakov leaving his father’s house and his return to Israel. It may have been during those very years that matzevah, which previously had been identified with the service of Hashem, had now been co-opted by idolaters in their worship. Thus, when Lavan later on[6] wishes to formalize the non-aggression pact between them, he calls attention to the matzevah he built that should witness their agreement. Yaakov was the one who had actually erected that matzevah,[7] prior to hearing Lavan’s reference to the same. Yaakov realized that this form of avodah had apparently attracted a following among idolaters using it for their own ritual purposes. He therefore did not respond.

Rochel’s Double Entendre[8]

You examined all my utensils. What did you find, from all your utensils?

Meshech Chochmah: Rochel had secreted Lavan’s idols under the cushions on which she sat. She claimed that it was difficult for her to rise when her father walked into her tent, because she was suffering from the effects of “the way of women.” This was not the lie it seems to be. The Shalah haKodesh points to a Mishnah[9] that states that an idol has a similar tumah-producing capacity as a nidah. The former transmits tumah though carrying or contact, just like a nidah. When she told her father that she could not rise before him, she really meant that his idols had made her tameh, and she could not spiritually rise while burdened with this tumah.

It might be objected that Lavan’s idols lost their noisome designation as soon as they were stolen. An idolater can “decommission” an idol by treating it markedly different from the respect usually accorded to it. Similarly, an idol that is stolen is assumed by one opinion in the gemara[10] to lose its avodah zarah designation, because its owner sees its impotence. If it cannot save itself (from theft), how could it be expected to assist others? Rochel’s success in stealing Lavan’s idols could have meant that they lost their capacity to make he tameh!

It was clear, however, that Lavan had not given up on his idols, since he actively pursued their return. Rochel, observing him going through all her personal effects, understood that these idols retained their halachic potency to make her tameh. Therefore, she could still claim that they left her tameh, just like a nidah, and that she was unable to “rise” in such a state.

Two Different Paths[11]

Lavan returned to his place. Yaakov went on his way.

Meshech Chochmah: The difference between the way Lavan and Yaakov continue on from their encounter is significant. We would expect that someone who hosted a holy person like Yaakov in his house for years would be affected for the better. He would learn to better his ways somewhat, and become wiser through his prolonged exposure to wisdom.

Lavan, however, took leave of Yaakov and “returned to his place.” He went back to his previous position of beliefs and personality characteristics. Nothing positive had penetrated.

Yaakov, on the other hand, persisted on “his way.” The journey never ends for the tzadik. He is always in process, always looking to improve himself with still greater spiritual accomplishment.

His quest was immediately answered, as the Torah follows with “and G-d’s angels met up with him.”

[1] Based on Meshech Chochmah, Bereishis 31:13

[2] Bereishis 31:3

[3] Rosh Hashanah 6A

[4] Devarim 16:22

[5] Yalkut Shimoni, Devarim #907

[6] Bereishis 31:52

[7] Bereishis 31:45

[8] Based on Meshech Chochmah, Bereishis 31:37

[9] Shabbos 82A

[10] Avodah Zarah 53

[11] Based on Meshech Chochmah, Bereishis 32:1-2