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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Yaakov awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely Hashem is present in this place and I did not know.” (28:16)

Let us look at the situation through the perspective of Yaakov Avinu. Divine Providence ordained that he settle in this "place" for the night. Indeed, Hashem "folded" the entire country beneath Yaakov, so that -- in effect -- he lay on all of the land. The place where he lay was to be the future site of the Kodshei Kodoshim, Holy of Holies, in the Bais Hamikdash. Hashem caused the sun to set prematurely to compel Yaakov to retire early. He dreamed an incredible dream, in which he was privy to the Almighty's prophecy: The land upon which he lay, Eretz Yisrael, would one day belong to his descendants. After all of this, one would think that Yaakov's reaction upon waking up would be euphoric. We see, however, that the Patriarch was as upset with himself as though he had acted inappropriately. How could he have dared to sleep in such a hallowed place? It is not derech eretz, good manners and courtesy, to act in such a way -- even in a dream.

Horav Nossan Tzvi Finkel, zl, derives from here that Yaakov Avinu was prepared to forego the lofty prophecy that he had received if attaining it would imply a lack of derech eretz. While Torah is essential, derech eretz kodmah la'Torah, courtesy and good manners precede Torah. Yaakov Avinu conveys to us the importance of mentchlichkeit in relationship with Torah. He teaches us the Patriarchal standard of values. It serve us well to study this lesson carefully.

Yaakov awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely Hashem is present in this place and I did not know." (28:16)

The word "mishnaso," which is translated here: "from his sleep," can alternately be translated: "from his learning." This prompts the Baal HaTurim to suggest that Yaakov was so engrossed in his Torah, so totally engaged in it, that when he was compelled to sleep, he actually dreamed Torah! Not for one moment did Yaakov lapse from his Torah study. When Yaakov slept, he dreamed Torah. This is consistent with the Talmud in Brachos 55b that says one perceives in his dreams what is subconsciously in his heart. That which occupies one's mind during the day is manifest to him as he sleeps.

Nachlas Tzvi cites a remarkable story with a lesson that is both profound and timely. A maggid, lecturer in ethical discourse, once related during a lecture that he had studied in a small town in Lithuania. In the bais medrash of that town, an elderly man who was at least in his nineties sat and studied Torah literally every waking minute of the day. He was so deeply engrossed in Torah study that he ate his meals where he sat, never leaving his Torah study. He fell as leep in front of his Gemorah, and - upon awakening - he immediately returned to his blatt Gemorah. He was the object of envy throughout the bais medrash.

One day, a group of curious students approached him and asked him for his secret. How is he able to study so diligently for so long? He explained that as a youth, he was blessed with a sharp, astute mind. He was able to grasp the various profundities of Torah with ease. Alas, he had one problem, hasmadah, diligence. His attachment to the "study" part left something to be desired. At the time, he was a student in the famed Volozhiner Yeshivah whose rosh ha'yeshivah was Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl. Rav Chaim approached him more than once to be more diligent, to increase his hasmadah, to no avail. He possessed a great mind, but he was also subject to the powerful allure of the yetzer hora, evil inclination, who presented an overwhelming challenge to his Torah study. He continued to relate the following incident:

"One night, about 2:00 a.m., in the midst of a deep sleep, I heard someone calling my name. First, I stirred, but after the voice persisted, I awoke to see none other than the venerable rosh ha'yeshivah standing over me. You can imagine the awe that permeated me as I saw Rav Chaim standing there with a candle in his hand, motioning me to follow him. Without further ado, I jumped out of bed, quickly dressed, and followed Rav Chaim. He quietly led me through the streets of the city until we had reached its outskirts.

Never once did Rav Chaim say a word. He just led until we reached a large forest.

"We entered the forest and stopped in the middle. Suddenly, the rosh ha'yeshivah turned to me and raised his voice, ‘You know that Chazal say, that when one studies Torah, the Shechinah sits opposite him and studies also. My child, if you do not want to learn Torah, why should you prevent Hashem Yisborach from learning?’ This heartrending plea, emanating from the innermost recesses of his heart, moved me beyond control. All night, I tossed and turned. My rebbe's anguished cry rang through my ears. His profound accusation was mind-boggling. How could I impede the learning of the Ribono Shel Olam? From that day on, I decided that I would no longer prevent Hashem's learning. On the contrary, I wanted to learn with Hashem Yisborach. I changed my entire attitude towards Torah learning and became a masmid." This story gives us an entirely new perspective regarding Torah study and the "chavrusa," study partner, with whom we learn.

Yaakov told Rachel that he was her father's relative. (29:12)

The simple meaning is that Yaakov told Rachel that he was no stranger to their family. Indeed, he was her first cousin, as his mother and her father were brother and sister. Alternatively, Rashi cites the Midrash that claims Yaakov was suggesting to Rachel that should Lavan attempt to cheat him, he was also capable of being deceptive. He would defend himself by acting towards Lavan as he deserved. This does not mean that Yaakov would have resorted to any form of underhandedness that crosses the acceptable boundary of halachah. He would simply have to do everything within reason to protect himself from Lavan the swindler.

Let us attempt to rationalize Yaakov's statement. If he was actually "capable" of dealing with Lavan on the ramai's, swindler’s, level how was Lavan able to fool him? When Yaakov made this claim to Rachel, he was obviously implying that Lavan could not swindle him out of Rachel. Yet, he did. Furthermore, Yaakov is called the “ish tam yoshev ohalim,” “perfect and wholesome man abiding in tents.” This means that he was naïve, that he did not know how to swindle, that he did not associate with this breed of human being. How then could Yaakov have made such a statement?

Horav Shalom Schwadron, zl, addresses these questions. He first explains the concept of "ramai" as it applies to Lavan, so that he can demonstrate that this unique form of "ramaus" was not the type that Yaakov could emulate. First, we must understand why Lavan is called a swindler. The man was evil, heartless and ruthless. He certainly was a swindler, but that was not his worst characteristic. The manner in which he humiliated Rachel on her wedding night, at the very last minute forcing her to shed her wedding clothes in order to give them to Leah, indicates heartlessness beyond description. Moreover, the money that paid for this wedding was stolen from the citizens of that community. Was this man a swindler or an evil man? Was Lavan a ramai or a rasha?

When we take note, we observe that Eisav wicked. He also manifests other deficiencies: his desire for money, his lack of morality; his disdain for Hashem's mitzvos. Why is he only called a rasha? Then there is Lot, who is referred to as a "baal taava," one who has an insatiable desire for material and physical gratification. Once again, this description certainly does not do Lot justice. For what purpose did he move to Sodom, the center of immorality and cruelty? He sought to live with people of his ilk, reshaim who thrived on depravity. So, why is he only called a "baal taava"? We can more precisely describe such a sinner!

Horav Schwadron explains that the Torah is focusing upon the origin of their iniquity, the source of their present actions. Eisav ha'rasha's deeds emanated from an evil and wicked heart. He was evil incarnate. True, he scorned mitzvos, stole money, lived licentiously - but, this was all a result of his "rishus." Hence, he is referred to as Eisav ha'rasha. Lot was a baal taava by nature. He was a low-life who was filled with an insatiable desire for material and physical indulgence. While he did perform activities that would certainly be included under the purview of evil, their origin was in his taava, lust. Thus, he is called Lot, the baal taava. Lavan represented a unique form of humanity. He reached his nadir as a result of his proclivity towards "ramaus," fraud and deception. He acted reprehensibly, in a manner becoming a rasha merusha, but its origin lay in his swindling activity.

Lavan was no ordinary ramai. His deceit was unique. He is referred to as "Lavan ha'arami," a reference to more than his geographical status. Chazal say he deceived himself. Hence his name is linked with the word "Arami,” which is a noun denoting self- deception -- as opposed to "ramai," a verb which implies deceiving others.

This is where Lavan's duplicity distinguished itself from your average fraud. Lavan believed in himself; he justified everything that he did. Only a person who deludes himself that his actions are sanctioned can act as reprehensibly as Lavan acted. Only one who validates his evil as necessary and proper can be as heartless and ruthless as Lavan. Such a nefarious person has no qualms about humiliating his daughter during the most important moment of her life. After all, he justified his actions; he deceived himself - at the expense of others.

One cannot "compete" with a self-righteous "ramai," a moralizing fraud, since he sees nothing wrong with what he is doing -- he has no scruples. If Yaakov were to rival Lavan's "ramaus," he would have had to relinquish every vestige of integrity that he possessed. He would also have had to vindicate his deception - something a man of honor could never do. Lavan bested Yaakov in his ability to misrepresent and swindle, because, in his own eyes, he was performing an honorable deed. Yaakov could not do that. He was an "ish tam," wholesome and scrupulous man, who would combat a swindler on his own turf, but would never for one minute denigrate himself to believe that what he was doing was honorable. He was acting in self-defense, warding off the tentacles of Lavan's duplicity. This is why he was not successful.

Hashem saw that Leah was unloved, so He opened her womb; but Rachel remained barren. (29:31)

Yaakov cared deeply for Rachel. She was his first choice for a wife. Indeed, when he referred to his wives, he always mentioned Rachel's name first. Why does the Torah emphasize the fact that Rachel was an akarah, barren? It is obvious that if Leah was the only one to have had children, then Rachel had remained childless. Horav Simcha Zissel,zl, M'kelm says that there is a correlation between Leah's being the "senuah," less favored, and Rachel being the "ahuvah," beloved and eminent. It affected Rachel's ability to bear a child. That little extra kavod, honor/favoritism, worked against her!

Look at what a little "kavod" can do. Rachel did not seek it. In fact, was she not the one that gave her sister, Leah, the simanim, special signs, upon which she and Yaakov had agreed? She remained present during the evening, supporting Leah’s completion of the ruse. Why? Only to prevent her sister's humiliation. Yet, she had a little kavod. She was the favorite; she was the beloved. This reality influences an individual whether or not she had pursued the honor. Regrettably, Rachel was compelled to "pay" for the kavod she received. We might want to consider this when we pursue that little bit of honor.

Hashem has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will make his permanent home with me for I have borne him six sons. (30:19)

Leah was blessed with as many sons as Yaakov's other wives collectively. Indeed, Leah merited that the primary foundations upon which Klal Yisrael rests originate from her sons. She merited the three crowns; Keser Kehunah, Crown of Priesthood, from Levi; Keser Malchus, Crown of Royalty, from Yehudah; and Keser Torah, Crown of Torah, from Yisachar. After giving birth to her sixth son, she offered gratitude to the Almighty for bestowing this great honor upon her. She alone, in accomplishment, corresponds to the other three wives of Yaakov combined.

The Meshech Chochmah, feels that her gratitude after Zevulun's birth intimated a deeper meaning. Leah understood that Klal Yisrael's sheleimus, perfection, could only be achieved if there is a "Zevulun" to sustain the other three crowns. The Kohanim and Leviim are supported by the Yisrael; the King's treasury, and all of the kingdom's affairs, are sustained by the taxes paid by the community. Zevulun is clearly an integral and indispensable part of Leah's family. The three kesarim - crowns - representing the primary aspects of Klal Yisrael are maintained only by Zevulun. Leah, therefore, understood that with Zevulun's birth she had completed her role as Yaakov's wife.

We still must address the origin of the name Zevulun. Leah noted, "Zevadani Elokim zeved tov," "Hashem has endowed me with a good endowment." Since Leah was referring to the unique endowment she had received from Hashem, it would seem appropriate for Leah to name her son "Zavdi," from the word "zeved." How was this transformed into "Zevulun"? If, in fact, the name Zevulun is a derivative of "ha'paam yizbeleini ishi," "Now my husband will make his permanent home with me," it should be noted that the word "yizbeleini" is translated as if it were to say "yisavleini," a derivative of the word "savlanus," tolerance. His name should therefore have been "Sevulun."

With the Meshech Chochmah's exposition on the function of Zevulun, we have established that Zevulun was responsible for preparing and maintaining the other tribes. We can, thus, attribute the name Zevulun to "zevel," fertilizer, which prepares and nurtures the earth and its vegetation. In his sefer, Simchas HaTorah, Horav Simcha Shtetner, Shlita, cites this definition in the name of Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl. He adds that fertilizer actually has both positive and negative traits. On the one hand, it prepares and improves the earth so that vegetation and crops will have a better quality. On the other hand, fertilizer is noxious, giving off an odor that impedes the individual from coming in close contact with it. Indeed, one may not make a brachah, blessing, in its presence. This idea is applicable to Zevulun. He sustains Torah, malchus and Kehunah. He serves as a support system without whom these three would have limited chance of survival. He must remember, however, that in his own right, if his financial strength is utilized for personal use, he is of no value. The material dimension functions only in conjunction with the spiritual dimension. The spirit gives life and meaning to Zevulun's material assets. It is all up to man to choose either the positive or negative approach to this asset.


1. Whom did Yaakov Avinu fear?
2. Who was Lavan's grandfather?
3. Why did Yaakov wait seven days after marrying Leah before he could marry Rachel?
4. Where do we see the integrity of Yaakov's work ethic?
5. Which one of Yaakov's children was born in Eretz Yisrael?
6. Did Yaakov and Lavan "officially" part on good terms?


1. Eisav and Lavan.
2. Nachor.
3. In order not to mix two celebrations, Lavan had Yaakov wait until after Leah's Sheva Brachos have been completed.
4. During the second set of seven years, he worked just as hard as he did during the first set, even though he had been cheated by Lavan.
5. Binyamin.
6. Yes.


in loving memory of our father and grandfather
on his first yahrtzeit
Elchanan ben Perach z"l
11 Kislev 5759
Mordechai & Jenny Kurant
Aliza & Avrohom Werona
Naomi & Avrohom Yitzchok Weinberger
Dovid & Yossi Kurant


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