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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And the eyes of Leah were tender; but Rachel was beautiful and of handsome appearance.
Rabbi Chaim of Zanz once arrived in a certain town and was walking down the street when he stopped in front of a house and said, "The scent of Gan Eden is emanating from this house. I must enter and find out what it is."
The house belonged to a Reb Pesach, who was in charge of charity in the town. Rabbi Chaim knocked on the door, and when Reb Pesach opened the door, Rabbi Chaim entered and started walking around the house sniffing everywhere, until he came to one cabinet and said, "From this cabinet the scent of Gan Eden is entering my nostrils."
Rabbi Chaim of Zanz asked that the cabinet be opened. Reb Pesach was astonished at Rabbi Chaim's behavior, but he was aware of the greatness of his guest, and thus complied with his request. He opened the cabinet and began emptying its contents. In it were old clothes, rags, etc. Suddenly Reb Pesach pulled out the clothes of a Catholic priest. At this point Rabbi Chaim of Zanz exclaimed, "This is it! This is it! From these clothes the scent of Gan Eden is emanating. Now tell me the whole story of how you come to have these clothes."
Reb Pesach was confused, because he was afraid that Rabbi Chaim would admonish him for keeping the clothes of a priest in his house. But seeing that he had no choice, he began to tell his story.
Reb Pesach was the head of the local charity. Every week he had a set route for collecting charity to be distributed to the poor. Once, when he finished his usual route he returned home and found someone waiting for him. As he entered his house, the man began shouting at him, "Reb Pesach, I am in dire straits. I have tremendous debts, and my creditors are demanding their money. If I do not find the money to pay them, I am lost!" "I understand your situation," answered Reb Pesach, "but what can I do? Why did you come so late? I have just finished my rounds and have already seen all the people who normally contribute. To whom can I turn now? Do you expect me to find new people to donate money? I don't know to whom to turn!"
The unfortunate Jew began crying uncontrollably and said, "Oy vey! I am so unfortunate!"
Reb Pesach saw how the poor man was crying so bitterly and said to himself, "Poor fellow. I will go a second time. Perhaps I shall succeed, and if not, at least I will have done my best."
On his second round, people complained that he had just been there to collect. Reb Pesach answered them, "You are right, but what can I do? In my house sits a man crying over his problems. What should he do? Do you wish him to come himself and cry in front of you?" People gave a second time. Some sighed, but they gave. He returned to his house, and gave the poor man the money he had collected. The man hugged Reb Pesach and kissed him, and there was no end to his happiness as he went on his way.
Not more than fifteen minutes went by, and Reb Pesach heard another knock on the door. Another poor man was standing there and saying, "Save me, please. My situation is so desperate; it is a matter of life and death!"
Immediately Reb Pesach told him, "My dear friend, this is impossible. What do you want me to do? To go a third time? They will throw me out of their houses."
But all of Reb Pesach's explanations fell on deaf ears. The man sat and cried and sighed, and Reb Pesach's heart was broken seeing the man's situation. "If you don't save me," the man said, "I am lost. There will be no hope for me ever again."
"But what can I do?" answered Reb Pesach. "Do you not understand that there is no way in the world I can go collecting from the same people three times in one evening? They will throw me out of their houses."
They continued arguing, until suddenly Reb Pesach had an idea. Near his house was a tavern, where young people came to drink and gamble. Perhaps he would try his luck there. They might laugh at him, but he could try to rebuke them and tell them they were wasting their money, while a poor man was in such a desperate situation.
With tremendous courage, Reb Pesach entered the tavern. He was immediately confronted with ridicule. "What are you doing here? You want more charity? More money?"
"Last time, I asked the owner for money," said Reb Pesach, "and this time I am asking you for money." Everyone laughed at Reb Pesach, who was pale from the confrontation.
Then a young man who came from a wealthy family and who loved to make jokes spoke up and said, "Listen, Reb Pesach, I am willing to make a deal with you. You want money, that is clear. There was once a priest in our town, and he left his clothes behind. I will bring you those clothes. With you wearing the priest's clothing, we will walk around town, beating on cans to make noise. If you are willing to go through this ordeal, I will give you all the money you need."
"But I need three whole rubles," said Reb Pesach.
"Okay," answered the young man, "I will give you three whole rubles."
Reb Pesach thought, "What should I do? What a crazy idea! Imagine Reb Pesach, the gabbai of charity, parading around town wearing a priest's garments, with all the pranksters and empty-headed people in town parading after him clapping hands and beating on cans. What will they say about me? They will say that I have become crazy.
"But then, where else will I be able to get three rubles? Who will give me so much money? I see how I am greeted here when I am trying to make another collection. I will be greeted the same way everywhere I go. That would be a pity for the poor man sitting in my house and waiting for help. What is the big deal? I will suffer some disgrace. Is it not worth it to save a Jew?"
"I agree," announced Reb Pesach.
The young man brought the priest's clothing and Reb Pesach put them on. The boys were bursting with laughter and preparing cans and sticks to make noise. Out they went, singing in the streets and making a tremendous commotion. Everyone looked out their windows and saw the strange sight and laughed. They could not guess what had happened. It was not Purim. Why would Reb Pesach dress like that? He must have gone crazy. The pranksters continued this parade with Reb Pesach throughout the entire town.
When they finished, the young man plunked the three rubles down on the table and said, "I promised and here is your money. Not only that, but you can keep the priest's clothes too."
Reb Pesach accepted the clothes, thinking that through these clothes he had been able to save the life of a Jew. He decided to keep them as a reminder.
When Rabbi Chaim of Zanz heard this story, he cried and said, "That's it, that's it. You did the right thing. Take these clothes and use them as burial clothes after the many years that you shall live. You don't need any other burial clothes. No bad angel will be able to harm you. Tell your children to bury you in these clothes."
And that is what his children did. Many years later, the Polish government wanted to make a road through the Jewish cemetery, and they had to move the graves to a new site. When they opened the grave of Reb Pesach, they found his body complete, except for one foot, since one shoe had been missing from the priest's clothes, and in that place, only his bones remained. The rest of his body had remained whole.
Every parent would have been proud to have a son like Reb Pesach. He was devoted to helping others and had no concern for himself. We should try to emulate his example, and teach our children about such righteous role models.
"And the eyes of Leah were tender."(1) The pupil queried Rabbi Yochanan, "Were the eyes of Leah tender?"
Why did Rabbi Yochanan ridicule the student when Rabbi Yochanan himself admitted that Leah's eyes were tender from crying? How do we see from this incident, more than elsewhere, that prayer is so powerful? How could Leah's begging for mercy win her the rights of the firstborn which rightfully belonged to Rachel? How could humility give the firstborn rights back to Rachel when they already belonged to Leah, due to the mercy she had acquired through her righteous efforts? The answer given by the midrash, that Leah received great gifts, does not seem to answer the question relating to her eyes, since the Torah was describing her eyes and not her descendants. Why does Rava consider the fact that Leah's eyes were tender to be a matter warranting praise, when in other women it would be considered a disgrace? Why did Leah sit at the crossroads to find out about Yaakov and Esav? Why did Leah earn the reward of conceiving first through crying that she did not wish to marry Esav?
The pupil queried Rabbi Yochanan, "Were the eyes of Leah tender?"
Rabbi Yochanan's pupil understood that the Torah was describing Leah as someone who lacked beauty, since it says in the very same verse(6) that Rachel was beautiful, while Leah had tender eyes. The Torah is comparing one to the other, and saying that the reason Leah lacked beauty was because of her weak eyes.
On this point Rabbi Yochanan answered that real beauty is not physical, but rather one's spiritual essence. The Torah was not degrading Leah, but, on the contrary, it was praising her. For the Torah implies that Leah had a particular spiritual beauty which Rachel lacked. This spiritual beauty came through her trial of having been destined to marry Esav, which Rachel had not experienced. Therefore, although one might mistakenly think that the Torah was degrading Leah, Rabbi Yochanan ridiculed his student and told him that just the opposite was true it was in fact praising her.
Prayer is so powerful, as we see here that it abolished the decree.
We see here, more than elsewhere, the great power of prayer. Rabbi Chunya said that it was not simply rumored in the streets that Leah would marry Esav, but rather it had been decided in Heaven that it would be so, as we know that forty days before a child's creation it is decided in Heaven whom he or she shall marry.(7)
That was also the real reason for Leah's worry, for she knew through her own spiritual powers that it was not simply a rumor that she would marry Esav, but rather a decree from Heaven. Still, a decree can be changed through the power of prayer. Actually our Sages mention this as a reason why it is permitted to become engaged even on Tishah B'Av. Although the decree has already been made in Heaven, someone else might change it through prayer.(8)
Rabbi Chunya mentions also that although Leah's reason for prayer was to avoid her marrying Esav, it achieved something for which she did not pray at all, and that is to precede her sister in marrying Yaakov. This teaches us another important lesson about the power of prayer. Not only does prayer attain the goal a person desires, but one also gains merit for turning to G-d. Leah cried from the bottom of her heart, and thus showed G-d how much faith she had in Him. For this show of faith she merited to precede her sister in marrying Yaakov.
We see from here how the problems that we experience in life give us the opportunity to pray with all our hearts, and to attain something much higher than solving our immediate problems, and that "something" is closeness to G-d.
How could Leah's begging for mercy win her the rights of the firstborn which rightfully belonged to Rachel? The firstborn's privilege of inheriting a double share of their father's possessions is actually a spiritual privilege. By receiving twice the normal amount, the firstborn is given the tools he needs to grow in wealth, thereby enabling him to perform G-d's will even more effectively. He can utilize his extra wealth for holy purposes. For this reason it is proper that this double portion should be given to the firstborn, who should be the most responsible member of the family.
Since Leah came so close to G-d when she prayed, she merited the right to have the larger portion that goes to the firstborn, since she proved that she was higher in spirituality, and her children would inherit this trait.
...Because of Rachel's humility, G-d gave the firstborn son back to Rachel.
When Leah begged for mercy, she gained a great deal of merit in heaven, which gave her the right to bear the firstborn. But when Rachel achieved great status for herself through her humility, she gained even more merit than Leah, and thus she was able to win back the right to the firstborn.
In a deeper sense, we could say that although Leah showed her belief in G-d by begging Him for mercy, this did not match the greatness of the actions of Rachel. Rachel was not requesting mercy, but was rather proving through her actions that she was worthy of the rights of the firstborn son.
Humility is a greater spiritual trait than the ability to beg for mercy, since humility demonstrates closeness to G-d in actions rather than in words. When a person is humble, he is in effect saying that he does not have any merit of his own, and is entirely dependent upon G-d's mercy, which is what Leah was actually saying through her prayers. Yet actions are an even higher level than words.
...Is it possible that the Torah would degrade someone? ...Rather the Torah is referring to the great gifts that her [Leah's] descendants received...
Everything written in the Torah is there to teach us something. Thus, if the Torah tells us about Leah's eyes, there must be a lesson behind it. It could not be meant as degrading, since whether a person is beautiful or ugly is something beyond his own control. The Torah would not degrade a person unless he did something wrong and we could learn from his mistake.
To help us understand the Torah's apparent discrepancy in describing her eyes and not her descendants when it means that she was given great gifts, it is interesting to note that when we speak about the future we use the verb "to see," and we speak about "looking into the future." This is true in both the English and Hebrew languages. That is why the Torah spoke in terms of Leah's eyes when referring to her future, that is, her descendants.
Rava said, "In reality, Leah's eyes were tender, however this was not a disgrace for her, but rather a matter warranting praise."
Rava tells us that Leah's tender eyes were a source of praise, whereas in other women they would have been a disgrace. Leah gave up her beauty for the sake of a much loftier goal, that is, her desire to marry a tzaddik. She knew that by crying so much she might lose her beauty, but she was more than willing to sacrifice it, considering the consequences of marrying a wicked person like Esav. A person is praised for his spiritual beauty, since it is something he attains through his own efforts. Rava understood that Leah's tender eyes constituted real beauty, since they were a living testimony of her spiritual efforts to avoid marrying Esav. The midrash tells us that Leah sat at the crossroads to find out about Yaakov and Esav to show us that before a person marries, he must conduct a thorough investigation into the character of the one he intends to marry. You cannot marry on the basis of looks, or even simply by speaking to a person, since the person may be covering up serious illness, or defects in his personality. You also cannot ask his relatives, since they are biased. Therefore it is important to ask people who know the person, in order to find out the truth. This is exactly what Leah did. She went to a place where Yaakov and Esav's relatives were not around, and she looked for people who might know them. In this way she was sure to get an unbiased opinion and to find out the truth.
Leah deserved the reward of conceiving first because she had cried that she did not wish to marry Esav. The reason Leah made such great efforts not to marry Esav was not that she was afraid that she would suffer during her lifetime. Esav would have given her many luxuries, since he was a successful robber. What Leah worried about was living with a wicked person, and having children who would be influenced by their father and who would continue his immoral actions. Having such a father would be a tremendous trial for her children, and therefore she wanted their father to be a tzaddik, so that her children would have a much greater chance of being righteous themselves.
Thus, we can understand why the fitting reward for her crying that she did not want to marry Esav was her conceiving from Yaakov. Because she cried to have holy and pure children, she was rewarded by having such children.
We can learn from this parashah that the way to ensure our having holy and pure children is to cry out to G-d constantly. That is what Leah did, and the Torah relates this to teach us that we can achieve similar results if we emulate her actions.
Praying for holy children is part of our daily prayers. We say in Birkas Ha-Torah, "May we, and our children, and the children of Your nation, the house of Israel, all of us know Your name, and learn Your Torah..." It is not enough that we pray for success in Torah. We must pray for our children's success also. This is not a show of extra piety but is rather an obligation upon every Jew, incorporated in our daily prayers.
The Ben Ish Chai tells a story of a great tzaddik who, after his death, came to someone in a dream and told him of great suffering. Upon being asked what was the cause of his suffering, he said that once he was praying the prayer of Uva Letzion, and when he got to the words, "That we do not labor in vain, nor produce for futility," which refer to having pure children, he did not say this sentence with the proper intention.
We, of course, are not on such a high level that we have the proper intention every time we say these words in our prayers, but we can learn from this story how important it is to have the spiritual success of our children in mind when we pray.
This is an obligation, since it was incorporated in several places throughout our prayers. Part of our children's success lies in how much we pray for them, and therefore we must do our part in this endeavor.
But praying for our children alone is not enough. We also must be living examples of the kind of people we want them to be. We cannot tell them to utilize their time to learn Torah when we ourselves sit and read newspapers and non-Torah literature most of the time. We cannot expect them to always tell only the truth, if we ourselves do not. We cannot ask them not to speak lashon hara, unless we are a living example of such positive behavior.
Children by nature emulate their parents. They speak the same language, have similar facial expressions, and act just like their parents. We must set a good example for our children if we want them to succeed. If all the parents talk about in front of their children is money, then the children learn that that is what is important in life. You can tell them otherwise, but your actions will speak louder than your words. Be careful to speak words of Torah or tell stories of righteous people in front of your children. In this way they will see that this is what is valuable in your eyes.
It is extremely important whom you praise in front of your children. Never praise movie stars, sports players or successful businessmen. Instead praise gedolei Yisrael, roshei yeshivah, the local rabbi, the child's principal and his teachers, honest and pious friends and neighbors. This will show your children whom you admire and whom you want them to see as their role models.
Do not expose your children to newspapers or books containing material that might have the wrong influence on them. Even if you feel strong enough to read such material yourself, your children may stray far from the right path because of something they read. Be careful to review everything that comes into your house. This is an important element to ensure that you raise pure and holy children.
If you want your children to be calm and serene, never raise your voice or become angry. Try to cope with crises with a cool head. Your children will learn from you that there is no need to get excited and everything can be dealt with in a quiet voice. You cannot expect them to be calm and to control their temper when you constantly show your own anger. Their disposition depends to a large extent on your own, and you can instill within them a sense of confidence in themselves and in G-d.
Just as Leah merited to have holy children, so can we, if we cry out to G-d for guidance, and set the right examples as parents.
1. Bereshis 29:17
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network