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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeitzei: Do and trust


Jacob suggested a plan where Laban would 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 should always do whatever he can to accomplish what he needs. Rachel wanted the Dudaim because they had fertility-inducing powers. One must make an effort and then put one's trust in G'd. There is no trade that does not have the potential for both poverty and affluence.

Jacob and Laban

At the beginning of this week's parasha the Torah relates how Jacob fled from Eisav who planned to kill him. He eventually came to his uncle Laban's house, as his mother had instructed him. Laban made him work for seven years to earn the right to marry his daughter Rachel. After the seven years, Laban cheated him and exchanged Leah for Rachel. Laban agreed to let him marry Rachel as well, on condition that he would work for an additional seven years. After that, Laban asked Jacob to stay and be in charge of his herd, as he saw how it prospered under Jacob's diligent management. In the meantime, Jacob's family grew, and he said to Laban: (Bereishis 30:25) "Let me leave and I will go back to my place and my land." Laban convinced him to stay and offered him a wage. Based on past experience, Jacob knew that Laban could not be trusted, and he would do anything to deprive Jacob of his compensation. Therefore, Jacob suggested a plan where Laban would not have to compensate him directly, as he said (ibid 30:313) "You shall not give me anything."

Rods in troughs

Jacob accepted to continue to look after Laban's flock on condition 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. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that Laban did so to make it impossible for Jacob to receive any animals with markings. Jacob responded by placing rods of different woods and peeled them with white streaks. He then set them up by the troughs where the animals came to drink. As a result, 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." However, we need to clarify, what did Jacob have in mind 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. Rather, he said that this was an act of G'd. As it says, (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 told 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 that 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

At the beginning of the parasha the Torah relates how Jacob arrived at a place where he went to lay down. The Torah describes how he prepared himself as it 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 wild animals. However, Jacob here taught us a most important lesson: A person should always do whatever he can to accomplish what he needs. At the same time, he must be aware that his personal effort will not make him succeed; rather, G'd constantly watches over him and takes care of all of his needs.

The Dudaim

This principle applies in all areas of our lives. With this insight we can understand yet another instance in this week's parasha. The Torah (ibid 30:14-16) describes how Reuben picked some special flowers, Dudaim, and brought them to his mother, Leah. When Rachel saw the flowers she asked if she could have some of them. Leah agreed to give some to Rachel, after Rachel offered that their husband, Jacob, spend the night with Leah. The Sforno explains that Rachel and Leah, as well as our other Matriarchs and Patriarchs, spoke very openly about their relationships (see 29:21 and 30:1-3). This seems inappropriate. He explains that their lifestyle was based on an eagerness to bring offspring into the world, rather than for any personal enjoyment or pleasure. This is why they prayed so much to have children, and this is why G'd listened to their prayers. Rachel wanted the Dudaim because they had fertility-inducing powers, and she was anxious to get pregnant. The Sforno concludes that this is an eternal lesson: "For it is proper for a righteous person to make a natural effort as far as possible to achieve one's goal, and at the same time pray to G'd for Divine assistance."

Do and trust

This is how 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 under the circumstances. He put his trust in G'd and conducted himself 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 his approach when he tried to develop a flock of his own to provide for him and his family. He knew that Laban might constantly change the arrangements and cheat him in every possible way. He therefore tried to do whatever he could to protect himself. Rabbi Hirsh explains that peeling the rods was an extremely weak method to counteract Laban's misconduct, but it was the best he could do. Jacob relied on G'd, and trusted He would help him. However, he understood that one should not rely on open miracles (see Talmud Pesachim 64b). He therefore did whatever he could and peeled the rods to provide for himself in a natural way. 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 (Berachos 35b) says that for most people the proper way to conduct oneself is to make a natural effort to provide for oneself. 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 us and taught us that we must make an effort to provide for ourselves and our families, and to look after all of our needs. At the same time, we must remember that we are limited in our ability to succeed. We can only make the effort; success is entirely in the hands of G'd.

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

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel