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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeitzei: Do and trust

Summary

Jacob suggests a plan where Laban will not have to compensate him directly. Jacob responded by placing rods of different woods by the troughs where the animals came to drink. A person in any given situation should do whatever he can to protect himself and to provide for him and his family by any honest means available. Rachel wanted the Dudaim because they had fertility-inducing powers. One must do whatever is necessary and then put one's trust in G'd to provide. There is no trade that does not have the potential for both poverty and affluence.

Jacob and Laban

In this week's Torah portion, Jacob is fleeing from Eisav who is planning to kill him. He goes to his uncle Laban's house as instructed by his mother with his father's blessing. Laban makes him work to earn the right to marry his two daughters and employs Jacob to be in charge of his herd which prospers under his diligent management. As Jacob's family grows he says to Laban: (Bereishis 30:25) "Let me leave and I will go back to my place and my land." Laban convinces him to stay and offers him a wage. Based on past experience, Jacob knows that Laban is a cheater who cannot be trusted. He cheated Jacob by deceiving him into first marrying Leah instead of Rachel. Jacob knows that Laban will stop at nothing to cheat him of his compensation. Therefore, he suggests a plan where Laban will not have to compensate him directly, as he says (ibid 30:313) "You shall not give me anything."

Rods in troughs

Jacob said he would continue to care for Laban's flock and suggested that all the speckled and spotted lambs and goats and the dark-skinned sheep should be removed from that time onward. The newborn of the animals remaining that were speckled and spotted would belong to Jacob as his wage. Laban readily agreed but immediately cheated him and he did not only remove the animals as arranged, but also removed any animal, both male and female, that had any mark on it. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch remarks, Laban did so to make it impossible for Jacob to receive any animals with markings. Jacob responded by placing rods of different woods and peeling them with white streaks and setting them up by the troughs where the animals came to drink. After this the flock gave birth to sheep that were speckled and spotted. Every time Jacob managed to produce animals with any markings, Laban changed their arrangements by imposing more difficult conditions over and over again. As Jacob said later to his wives (ibid 31:7): "Your father deceived me and changed my wage 100 times." One may ask what was Jacob's plan when he peeled the white streaks on the rods? Did he believe that this would produce animals with markings? Further, when Jacob discussed the situation with his wives, he did not mention anything about his experiments with the rods but clearly said that this was an act of G'd. He said (ibid 31:7-9) "And G'd did not let him harm me. When he would say the speckled ones shall be your wage, then the entire flock bore speckled ones. And when he would say your wage would be the ringed ones, the entire flock bore ringed ones. And G'd took away your father's flock and gave it to me." Jacob further tells them how he had a dream where he was addressed by an angel of G'd who said to him: (ibid 12) "Please raise your eyes and see that all the male goats mounting the flocks are ringed, speckled and spotted, as I have seen all the Laban is doing to you." So what was really going on? Was this an Act of G'd or was this the result of Jacob's own experiment?

Head stones

If we look at the beginning of this week's portion, it is related how Jacob arrived at a place where he lied down. It further says (ibid 28:11) "And he took from the stones of the place and arranged them around his head. And he lay down on that place." Rashi quotes from the Midrash that the purpose of these stones was to protect him from the wild animals roaming free in the area. It seems strange that Jacob should think that a single row of stones could provide him with any real protection against the attack of wild animals. The truth is however that Jacob here teaches us a most important lesson: A person should in any given situation do whatever he can to protect himself and to provide for him and his family by any honest means available. At the same time, he must be aware that his personal effort will not protect him or provide for him; rather, G'd's constant watching over him is what takes care of his every need.

The Dudaim

This principle applies in all areas of our lives. In this week's portion (ibid 30:14-16), we find yet another instance where this is brought to our attention. It is related how Reuben picked some special flowers, the Dudaim, and brought them to his mother, Leah. When her sister Rachel saw them she asked if she could have some of these flowers. Leah agreed to give some of the flowers to Rachel on the condition that their husband, Jacob, spend the night with her. The Sforno in his commentary explains that Rachel and Leah, as well as our other Matriarchs and Patriarchs, spoke openly in this seemly strange fashion (see 29:21 and 30:1-3). Their lifestyle was based on an eagerness to bring offspring into the world, rather than for any personal enjoyment or pleasure. In this merit G'd listened to their prayers. Rachel only wanted the Dudaim because they had fertility-inducing powers and she was anxious to get pregnant. Concludes the Sforno: "For it is proper for a righteous person to make a natural effort as far as possible to achieve one's goal and together with this to pray to G'd for Divine assistance."

Do and trust

This is the way Jacob conducted himself in all his affairs. When he put the circle of stones around his head for protection, he was well aware that this would not be sufficient to protect him from wild animals. But this was all that he could do in the circumstances. With this he put his trust in G'd and, as we say every night before we go to sleep, (Adon Olam) "Master of the universe into His hand I deposit my soul when I go to sleep and I shall awaken G'd is with me and I shall not fear." This was also Jacob's approach when he, in Laban's hostile environment, was trying to build up a flock of his own to provide for him and his family. He was well aware that Laban could constantly change the arrangements and cheat him in every possible way and tried to do whatever he could to protect himself. However, as Rabbi Hirsh explains, the attempt of peeling the rods was an extremely weak method to counteract all of Laban's misconduct. Jacob was well aware of what the Talmud (Pesachim 64b) teaches that one should not rely on open miracles. He therefore tried to do whatever he could to provide for himself in a natural way by peeling the rods. G'd did not let him down and showed him in a dream how He provided for him in a miraculous way.

Poverty and affluence

The Talmud (Brachos 35b) says that for most people the correct way to conduct oneself is to make an effort to provide for oneself by natural means. This is what the Mishnah (Kidushin 82a) teaches: "A person should always teach his child a clean and light trade and at the same time pray to the One that owns all riches and possessions. For there is no trade that does not have [the potential for] both poverty and affluence. For neither does poverty come from the trade, nor does affluence come from the trade. Rather, everything depends on the merits of the person." This is what King David says (Tehillim 33:16-18) "The king is not saved by a great army. Neither is the mighty rescued by great strength Behold the eye of G'd is on those who fear Him, to the ones who are longing for His kindness." Jacob paved the way for his descendants and taught us that at the same time that we expend our effort to provide for ourselves and our families, and to look after all of our needs, we must always remember that we are limited in our ability and can only put in the effort. Success is entirely dependent on the kindness of G'd.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.


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