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The story of Yaakov Avinu's dream captivates the mind of every Chumash student. Indeed, it has been the source of countless commentaries. As he flees from his brother Eisav, Yaakov stops enroute to lie down. Resting, he falls asleep and has a dream in which he sees Heavenly angels "going up and down" a ladder which stretches from Heaven to earth. At first glance, something seems wrong with this dream. One would expect Heavenly angels to first descend from Heaven and then go up again. Why do they "start" their journey on earth and go upward?
Horav Moshe Swift, zl, declares that it would be a false projection of religion to have the angels "begin" their descent from Heaven. It reflects a misconception of the significance of Malachim, angels, to suggest that their origin is found in Heaven. Angels are not made in Heaven; they are made here on earth. Angels are created by virtue of man's mitzvos and good deeds. These mitzvos catalyze their existence and stimulate their "ascent" to Heaven. Angels are all around us; our mitzvos keep them going. In a home in which Torah observance reigns supreme, angels are created to go up and descend with blessings. Children grow up with the tzelem Elokim, image of Hashem, on their faces, with the nobility of character as an intrinsic aspect of their features. Only when our home becomes a Bais Elokim, a house for Hashem, do we create a ladder for the angels to go up and come down, stimulating blessings in our home.
Rashi interprets this pasuk in the sense that Yaakov Avinu was concerned that there should be no blemish on his descendants. Yaakov did not want to be saved from death at the hands of his brother, Eisav, only to have his offspring doomed to assimilation. The Jew has always concerned himself with his children's future. The "future" to which Yaakov was referring was his children's spiritual future. He certainly was anxious regarding their physical and financial security, but that was not his prime concern. The security of financial success was secondary to the Patriarch who was to build Klal Yisrael. His overriding concern was that there should not be "a blemish in his offspring." Those Jews who have adopted the Patriarch's attitude in raising their children have succeeded in stemming the tide of assimilation by demonstrating the perpetuation of Judaism as their main priority.
Chazal comment regarding Yaakov's use of the word, "Hashem took the words of the Patriarchs' and made them the key of the liberation of their children." Hashem said to Yaakov, "You said So too, I will announce to your children all the kindesses, blessings and promises for the future with the same word." Horav Eli Munk, zl, explains that the term, has a specific meaning. The conversive "vav," when placed before the verb in the past tense (it was), transforms it into the future tense (it will be). The converse also applies with the future form which becomes a past form when the conversive "vav" precedes it. Horav Munk infers from this grammatical peculiarity that whenever our glorious past serves as a foundation for building the future, when we raise our children consistent with the "derech Yisrael sabah," ways of old, the result will be joy, happiness and great promise for the future. If, however, the Jew chooses to forget the past, to ignore the way of life that has protected us from assimilation for thousands of years, to shun a heritage for which we have died throughout the generations, then sadness and despair are the resultant by-products.
This concept is consistent with Chazal who say, The word, "and it was," connotes sadness and despair. Yaakov Avinu stands on the threshold of the future. He entreats Hashem for a future that has lasting meaning. What is life if his children will reject everything for which he and his ancestors have sacrificed themselves? Is there value in life if he will have no descendants that he can call "Jews"? Thus, Hashem responded with a future of optimism, a future of fulfillment, employing the same term Yaakov had used to express his serene confidence in the future.
At night Yaakov was not aware that it was Leah with whom he had been united in marriage. Indeed, as Rashi comments, Yaakov had prearranged signals with Rachel for their wedding night. When Rachel saw, however, that Leah was being substituted for her, she told her sister the signs - out of concern for Leah's potential humiliation. Rachel's supreme act of abrogation is considered of such import that it serves as eternal merit for her descendants.
Chazal relate that when the first Bais Ha'Mikdash was destroyed and the Jewish people were taken into captivity, the Patriarchs and Moshe intervened from beyond the grave. They implored Hashem to spare His nation, to show them kindness, to overlook their iniquity and forgive their behavior. They each came forth with their own merits based upon their exemplary acts of service to Hashem in an attempt to extract Divine clemency for Klal Yisrael. They were not successful as their supplications were unheeded. Along came Rachel who cried out, "Ribono Shel Olam, You know that Yaakov loved me with boundless love. He labored for my father for seven years to secure me as his bride. Yet, on my wedding night, my father decided to substitute my sister, Leah, in my place. I was not jealous of her, as I ceded my position to her. If I, who are mere dust and ashes, was not envious of my rival, how could You, Master of the Universe, be jealous of idols worshipped by the Jews, which are nothing?" Hashem's compassion was aroused as a result of Rachel's entreaty.
Let us analyze Rachel's act. She suffered as her sister took her place. Indeed, she answered Yaakov's questions, so as not to divulge Leah's' identity. The man for whom she had waited and with whom she had hoped to build Klal Yisrael, was with another woman. She was present, ensuring that the substitution was not exposed! This is abrogation to the extreme, but should the act of one person be sufficient to obtain clemency for Klal Yisrael's years of invidious rebellion?
We suggest that Rachel's act was truly remarkable. To be willing to relinquish everything, and remain in the room assisting while everything for which she had prayed was assigned to a rival, is truly an amazingly giving act. It is still not enough, however. We feel it was the reason that she behaved in this manner that renders the act so noteworthy. She was willing to give everything up, so that her sister/rival would not be humiliated! How often do we encounter such middos in a person? We certainly know people who give readily of themselves to serve others. We even know individuals who compromise their own security to help others. They endure pain and suffering. How many do this just to spare their friend - or even rival - embarrassment?
It is a supreme sacrifice to give up so much in order to spare someone humiliation. This is the character trait that Rachel inspired in her descendants, sensitivity to another person's feelings. She cared about others to the point of ultimate self-sacrifice. She was overtly concerned with the plight of others; she was extremely aware never to humiliate another person. This middah gave Rachel the zchus of saving her descendants. The good that one performs for others is truly important, but equally significant is the reason for the action. The supporting attitude can transform the deed, giving greater positive meaning to the deed.
Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl notes the significance of the fact that Klal Yisrael was uniquely formed from two mothers who differed as much in character as in appearance. Leah was the one who felt herself placed somewhat in the background. Yet, she was chosen by Hashem to be the principal ancestress of His people. Her hope was to succeed in receiving mutual love from her husband, by virtue of being the requiem wife and mother. Always happy, she calmly accepted the vicissitudes of life's challenges. With every child, she hoped to add to the foundation of love, admiration and respect essential to a marriage. To paraphrase Horav Hirsch, "That which was denied to the bride and wife was fully given to the mother of his children." The tribes of the Jewish nation were conceived, born and raised in a home replete with warmth, love and happiness. Leah, who had been the sad one, was to experience the joy and happiness of a marriage and home, while Rachel, who had always been the cheerful one, was destined to a more serious life filled with anxiety. She appeared irritable and impatient in demanding "children" from Yaakov. She seems to have been destined to live a life of intensity and zeal. Her existence is regrettably brief - but abundant. These two personalities equally nourished a nation and inspired its character. The disparate natures of our Matriarchs are still reflected throughout the spectrum of the Jewish people.
The Talmud Brachos 7b comments that from the beginning of Creation there had never been a person who thanked Hashem until Leah. Leah was the originator of the "official" sense of gratitude one should express for the good Hahsem accords us. This does not seem consistent with the text in Parashas Chayei Sarah (4:52), where we note that upon securing Rivkah as a mate for Yitzchak, Eliezer bowed down in recognition to Hashem for providing Rivkah for Yitzchak. Why do Chazal attribute the distinction to Leah of being the first to offer gratitude?
Horav Meir Bergman, Shlita, distinguishes between bowing down, which was the expression of gratitude selected by Eliezer, and the oral expression of gratitude exhibited by Leah. Perhaps Eliezer's behavior might be the source for the halachah for bowing down during the Shemoneh Esrai upon saying the brachah of Modim. This blessing recognizes Hashem's beneficence and accords Him gratitude. When one acknowledges Hashem's favor and offers his gratitude, he should bow in respect. Leah, however, was the first to express her gratitude - verbally, when she thanked Hashem for granting her motherhood for the fourth time.
Horav Bergman suggests another approach towards understanding Chazal. Indeed, Eliezer preceded Leah in expressing his gratitude to Hashem. There is a difference, however, between the two forms of gratitude. Although Eliezer acknowledged Hashem's favor, he nonetheless felt that Avraham was worthy of receiving the reward. Consequently, Eliezer thanked Hashem for what he felt was "owed" him. After all, Hashem promised Avraham that a great nation would emerge from him. In contrast, Leah felt that whatever she received from Hashem was more than she deserved. This is consistent with Rashi's explanation of the pasuk, "This time I thank Hashem." What is so unique about "this" time, "this" son? She saw b'ruach ha'Kodesh that Yaakov would have twelve tribes. Each wife would then have three sons, if the tribes were to be "divided" equally among Yaakov's wives. When she gave birth to her fourth son, she felt she had received more than her due share.
The Midrash teaches us that as a result of Leah's expression of gratitude, she merited that her descendants, Yehudah and David Ha'Melech, would exemplify themselves in their ability to "confess". This is enigmatic. What is the relationship between Leah's expression of gratitude and the confession of David Ha'Melech and Yehudah, who confessed to being guilty of a misdeed? Accepting the onus of guilt is somewhat different than acknowledging gratitude.
Horav A.H. Leibowitz, Shlita, infers a fascinating lesson from this Midrash. Hakoras hatov, recognition of the good one receives, and hakoras ha'cheit, recognizing that one has sinned, accepting and conceding guilt, both originate from one source - the middah of emes, truth. An individual who is a truthful person, who is a man of integrity and rectitude, who sees everything through the perspective of absolute emes, has no problem recognizing the kindness he receives from Hashem. He is likewise quick to confess his guilt upon transgressing. He does not attempt to lamely justify his wrongdoing by painting it with a coat of false innocence. Similarly, he will not foolishly think that he himself is the source of his own success. He attributes success to Hashem and accepts guilt upon himself. This is an ish emes, a truthful person. One who is not a makir tov is not an ish emes. He is no different than the sinner who refuses to acknowledge his transgression. Leah imbued this sense of truth in her descendants, who reflected this character trait in their total demeanor.
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