The pasuk says “Reuven went out in the days of the wheat harvest; he found mandrakes (dudaim) in the field and brought them to Leah his mother; Rochel said to Leah, ‘Please give me some of your son’s dudaim.'” (Bereshis 30:14). Rashi comments on the words “in the days of the wheat harvest” that this is a testimony to the greatness of the Shevatim (Tribes). It was the harvest season for wheat, meaning that there was wheat lying around and yet they did not send forth their hands to take something that did not belong to them. Reuven only took wild growing mandrakes, a type of ownerless flower.
The Tolner Rebbe asks two interesting questions on this Rashi.
First: What kind of “praise of the Shevatim” is it to tell us that Reuven was not a thief?
Second: Regardless of how we answer this first question, why would Rashi say that this incident is praise for “the Shevatim“. All we know is that Revuen did not steal. Why does that reflect on all his brothers, to make a general statement of praise about “all the Shevatim“?
The Tolner Rebbe further points out that the Seder Olam, which describes the chronology of all the personalities of Tanach, says that Reuven was born in the year 2193 from Creation, and Yissochor (who was conceived following this incident with the mandrakes) was born three years later. So how can Yissochor be praised for an incident that occurred before he was even born? Reuven picked these flowers for his mother when he was only three years old. If so, what is the point of evaluating the righteousness of the act of taking the mandrakes? Does a three-year-old understand the concept of property rights and the fact that it is wrong to take something that belongs to someone else? Considering his age, why in fact did Reuven not take the wheat and give it to his mother?
The answer is that Reuven did not know the severity of the sin of theft, but he did know the values of his parents. It must have been such a prominent concept in his father’s house that someone else’s property is OFF LIMITS, that this three-year-old recoiled at the thought of taking something that was not his. This was not because he maturely understood Torah or Hilchos Gezeilah in the Rambam or the Choshen Mishpat section of Shulchan Aruch. He did not know any of that at this stage in his life. But from growing up in a house whose motto was “Titen Emes L’Yaakov…” (Micha 7:20), theft was such an anathema that even a three-year-old would not touch it.
A famous Gemara (Succah 56b) comments that a child’s conversation in the market place inevitably reflects things he heard from one of his parents. A child’s mode of conversation and what he says reflects what is going on in his parent’s home. The praise of the Shevatim is that even toddlers in that family, because of the education they received at home from their earliest ages, recoiled from taking things which did not belong to them. All the Shevatim were like this, because they all grew up in Yaakov Avinu’s house, an atmosphere which constantly stressed the middos of honesty and integrity.
Was It a Message from G-d or Wishful Thinking?
The Tolner Rebbe has a further thought which clarifies a peculiar insight in the parsha, based on a schmooze of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz in Parshas Vayechi.
The Almighty came to Yaakov after twenty years of service in Lavan’s house and told him, “It is time to leave. Go back to the Land of your fathers and your birthplace.” (Bereshis 31:3). If we study the pesukim which follow, we see a strange phenomenon. Yaakov Avinu tells his wives that an Angel of G-d appeared to him the previous night and told him that they need to leave. “What do you think—should we leave or should we not leave?” They respond with their opinion that they should leave, but they justify that decision based on financial and familial interpersonal issues: “Do we yet have an inheritance portion in our father’s house? He considers us like strangers, for he sold us and he also consumed our money. For all the wealth that the L-rd has rescued from our father belongs to us and our children. Thus, all that the L-rd said to you, you should do!” (Bereshis 31:14-16)
This is a mind-boggling parsha. First of all, Yaakov seems to weigh whether or not to listen to what Hashem commanded him based on the advice of his wives, and second of all, his wives seem to make their calculation based on resentment of their father and financial calculations, mentioning Hashem’s command merely as an afterthought! How do we understand this strange conversation Yaakov has with Rochel and Leah?
We have mentioned this question in previous years. An additional question here (mentioned by the Chizkuni) is the following: When Yaakov receives the message from Hashem, he is told directly (Vayomer Hashem el Yaakov): “Return to the Land of your fathers and your birthplace and I will be with you”. However, when he relays the dream to his wives, he does not say he heard this message from Hashem; he says he heard the message from “Malach haElokim” (an Angel of the L-rd).
Which was it? Was it a direct communication from Hashem or a message from an Angel? (The Chizkuni makes note of this discrepancy and explains that the original communication was indeed from a Malach as Yaakov told his wives, But the pasuk, in mentioning the original communication, does not bother to mention that detail, since at any rate it was a Divine communication.)
In Parshas Vayechi, there is a beautiful teaching from Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz. The pasuk says “But as for me—when I came from Paddan, Rochel died on me in the land of Canaan on the road, while there was still about a beras of land to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the road to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem” (Bereshis 48:7) Yaakov Avinu tells his son Yosef: I want you to bury me in Eretz Yisrael… Rashi there explains that Yaakov is offering an apology to his son: Even though I am asking you to trouble yourself to bury me in Eretz Canaan, I did not do the same for your mother. I buried her on the road because she died near Beth Lechem (and I did not schlep her to the family burial plot in Chevron). I know that you have complaints against me about this, but you should know that the reason I buried your mother there was not because I was lazy. It had nothing to do with the weather or any excuse of that nature. You should know that I buried her based on the word of G-d that she should be of aide to her descendants at that burial spot when the Jewish people will be exiled from the Land of Israel by Nevuzradan as it is written: “A voice is heard on high, Rochel weeps for her children…” (Yirmiyahu 31:14) That is why I buried her there.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks: Why does Yaakov Avinu need to go through this whole shtickle Torah with Yosef: You should know it wasn’t raining, and I wasn’t lazy, etc., etc.? Say to Yosef straight out: “Listen, Yosef I know you have complaints against me, but I buried her there because I was commanded to do so by the Almighty. End of discussion!
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains an important principle of life: We hear what we want to hear, we see what we want to see, we believe what we want to believe.
Yaakov Avinu had doubts. He told Yosef: Don’t say that I got the message of G-d wrong. Don’t say that I misinterpreted it. Don’t say that G-d told me something else, but because of my negiyus (bias) – because it was too hard, because it was too far, because it was too rainy – I misinterpreted what the Ribono shel Olam said because people hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe. Yaakov Avinu needs to emphasize that there was no bias here. He could have easily brought Rochel to the Me’Aras haMachpelah. It would not have been difficult for him to do that. Consequently, Yaakov is emphasizing “I did not misinterpret the Almighty, because I had no personal agenda which would have caused me to do so.”
The Tolner Rebbe uses this insight of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz in Parshas VaYechi to explain this incident in Parshas VaYetzei.
Yaakov Avinu hated being in the house of Lavan. During their final confrontation, he told it to his father-in-law like it was: “I worked for you for twenty years and during that entire time you were a crook. You cheated me day and night…” Yaakov Avinu cannot wait to get out of the house of Lavan. One night, Yaakov has a dream. An Angel comes to him in the name of the Ribono shel Olam and told him “Time to leave.”
Yaakov Avinu thought to himself, “Ah, this is what I have been waiting for!” But he woke up the next morning and wondered, “Did I really dream that? Did I really hear that? Is that actually what the Malach said? Or perhaps I want to get out of here so badly that I started hallucinating! Maybe I am misinterpreting my dream and we should really stay here?”
Because Yaakov had these doubts, he decided to consult with his wives. Even though when I had the dream, I thought Hashem was speaking to me directly, I will tell them: “Listen here, last night I think a Malach came to me and I think that he told me in the name of Hashem that it is time to leave here. What do you think? Is there any reason not to leave?” Yaakov feared that his negiyus (bias) caused him to misinterpret his dream, and was seeking reassurance from his wives that there was no reason not to leave.
Rochel and Leah assured him that there was absolutely no reason to stay. “Therefore, what you heard was not your negiyus – it was the truth. A Malach did come to you and tell you to leave, and therefore you should definitely act upon that vision!”
This is how to understand this parsha. Yaakov Avinu was so concerned about Emes (Truth), that he needed reassurance that what he heard was not just wishful thinking or a fantasized imagination of his subconscious desires. He expressed his uncertainty by emphasizing the role of the Malach (as opposed to a direct and explicit message from Hashem). His wives put his mind at rest, that he had no negiyus here, and that the message was an authentic one from Hashem, which should be acted upon.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Vayetzei is provided below:
- # 032 – The Obligation to Give Ma’aser
- # 074 – Honoring Parents Who Are Not Observant
- # 123 – Tefilla B’tzibur: Is It Mandatory?
- # 170 – Marrying Off a Younger Child First
- # 216 – Maariv
- # 260 – “Ein Mearvin Simcha B’Simcha”
- # 306 – Making a Neder During Times of Trouble
- # 350 – Must Women Daven?
- # 394 – Accepting Tzedaka from Women
- # 438 – The Mitzvah of Mesameach Chasan V’Kallah
- # 482 – Davening to a Malach
- # 526 – A Million Dollars to Tzadaka If ..
- # 570 – Tuition and Maaser Money
- # 614 – The Tefilah of Baruch Hashem L’Olam Omein V’Omein
- # 658 – Lashon Aramis – Aramaic
- # 702 – The Marriage that Was Not a Joke
- # 746 – The Amazing Power of Saying Tehillim
- # 790 – May Women Always Attend Shul?
- # 834 – Talmud Torah Vs Kibud Av
- # 878 – The Baal Teshuva and the Family TV
- # 922 – Too Much Tzedakah?
- # 965 – The Proper Time for Maariv
- #1009 – Sheva Brachos Questions
- #1053 – The Younger Brother Who Says “I’m Getting Married First”
- #1096 – Davening With A Minyan – Obligation Or Just A Good Idea?
- #1139 – Can The Younger Brother Marry Before His Older Sister?
- #1182 – Chasan Going To Work During Sheva Brochos / Leaving Chasunah Early
- #1226 – Why Was Rochel Punished for Stealing Her Father’s Idols?
- #1270 – “It’s Just Too Hard”: Is That an Excuse Not to Fulfill a Mitzvah?
- #1314 – Is One Allowed To Shower Before Davening?
- #1358 – I’ve Davened Maariv; Other Minyan Still Davening Mincha – Can I Answer Kedusha?
- #1402 – Must One Wait For The Rabbi To Begin Chazaras HaShatz?
- (2019) – The All Too Common Dilemma of a Younger Sibling Marrying Before an Older Sibling
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.