Yaakov prepares to go to sleep and sets up rocks around his head. Somehow, between the time when Yaakov goes to sleep and when he wakes up, these rocks have been transformed into a single rock under his head. Rashi makes note of this inconsistency and explains (quoting the Midrash) that when Yaakov actually went to sleep, the stones began to argue with one another, each one wanting to be the stone on which Yaakov would rest his head. Witnessing this argument, Hashem decided to join the stones into one, so that they were all rightfully able to claim that they had Yaakov’s head resting on them.
There are countless lessons that can be learned from this spectacular Chazal, which is classically quoted in many Mussar Shmoozes. One of the most common lessons taken from this Chazal is the importance of serving and being of service to Tzadikim. While this lesson is easily understood, the anecdote also contains an added detail that is often overlooked.
The Torah hints to this heroic and impressive act on the part of stones, on the part of mere inanimate objects. However, there is no such anecdote mentioned here or anywhere else in Chumash regarding the desire of a human being to serve a Tzadik. On the contrary, we see in many episodes of the Torah that the greatest of Tzadikim served the simplest of men—the Torah told us just a few weeks ago of Avraham Avinu’s hospitality to the angels who appeared to him to be common Arabs. One instance in which we do find this concept of serving a Tzadik is that of Yehoshua serving Moshe Rabeinu. In that case, however, the service was not merely a random act of kindness for a tzadik because Yehoshua was Moshe’s Talmid.
Through the incident of the dispute among the stones, the Torah is stressing how special service to a Tzadik truly is. The Torah uses the example of an inanimate object in order to stress to us that the highest purpose of inanimate objects is to serve Tzadikim. However, for Man it is not so. For a person it isn’t enough just to serve a tzadik. Rather, in serving a Tzadik, a person should strive to be a tzadik himself—as Yehoshua did. When a person serves a Tzadik, he will – through that ministering – learn to become a Tzadik himself.
Yaakov suggests to Lavan that in reward for his shepherding Lavan’s sheep he will marry Rachel his younger daughter. Lavan agrees and Yaakov fulfills his side of the deal. Yaakov asks Lavan in turn to give him Rachel as a wife.
On the wedding night Lavan switches Leah his older daughter for Rachel whom Yaakov only discovers the next morning. The Torah (29 25) tells us Yaakov questioned Lavan as to why he tricked him, nonetheless there is no mention of Yaakov having any regrets as to having married Leah. The Torah even seems to imply that Yaakov actually had affection for Leah for it tells us (29 30) that Yaakov also loved Rachel, in other words in addition to loving Leah. Yaakov would have had every reason to despise Leah, let alone love her. Not only did Lavan trick Yaakov, but Leah as well deceived Yaakov and didn’t tell him anything of the switch.
The passuk later tells us (29 30) Hashem saw that Leah was hated, and hence opened her womb (blessing her with children). The Medrash tells us that indeed Yaakov despised Leah for deceiving him and had entertained divorcing her. Hashem knew that Leah did so for the altruistic purpose of marrying a Tzadik and having children from him. Being this her intent Hashem had mercy on her and blessed her with children. Yaakov in turn for the sake of the children stayed married to her (see Ramban). The Ramban however shies away from such an approach and offers a different explanation. The Ramban suggests (in the name of the Radak) that the passuk only calls her hated in comparison to Rachel, his greater love. Seemingly the Ramban is bothered by the fact that the passuk seems to infer Yaakov indeed loved Leah.
Yaakov Avinu transcended the bounds of human compassion, while he had every right to loathe Leah, he didn’t. Yaakov stayed married to her; he loved Leah Imeinu. Yaakov understood the pain and anguish Leah would have had if he uprooted their marriage. He didn’t entertain the idea for a second of not staying married. To Yaakov Leah’s emotions were his priorities in his sticky situation. Instead of thinking about his rotten end of the deal he thought of another’s emotions. From Yaakov’s sensitivity were most of the shvatim born.
One could say: Klal Yisroel is built upon sensitivity.
In this week's Sedra, Yaakov Avinu meets Lavan and his family. The first member of that family that he encounters is Rachel. Yaakov tells Rachel upon meeting her that he is her father’s "brother". Yet that was not so. Yaakov Avinu wasn't Lavan's brother, but rather his nephew. Rashi offers two explanations: the simpler of the two is that Yaakov Avinu was using the word "brother" to mean relative; the second explanation is that he was indicating through use of the term that he was a match for Lavan. Should Lavan act deceptively, then he, Yaakov, could beat Lavan at deception. Should Lavan be nice to him he would treat him like a brother.
In last week's Sedra (Toldos) the Torah tells us that Yaakov was "Ish Tam". Rashi explains that ‘Ish Tam’ means that he wasn't fluent in deception and lying. There seems to be a stark contradiction here: either Yaakov knew how to lie or he didn't? If he wasn't fluent in deception what made him think he would be a match for Lavan?
In life we are all born with a personality particular to each of us. We have natural character traits. Some people are born with nice personalities. They are naturally nice people and they naturally do good things. Others however are born with more difficult personalities. They may be mean or complex, and naturally veer towards evil. Yaakov Avinu naturally was good and therefore wasn't comfortable with, or inclined toward falsehood. Eisav, however, had a more complex nature that made it much easier to lie. It wouldn't be fair if being born with a good nature would mean that one is destined to be a Tzadik, or if being born with a bad nature would mean that someone is destined to be a Rasha. Furthermore, it would undermine the whole idea of "Bechira", of free will.
Each and every one of us has the ability to go against his nature and to become the opposite of what his nature would dictate. This being the case, it follows that one can also control how much, when, and how far one wishes to go against one’s nature.
Yaakov Avinu didn't naturally know how to lie; he was naturally a truth teller. However, Yaakov Avinu, who aspired to be truly great, understood that he might sometimes have to deviate from his nature. Yaakov Avinu understood that there would be times when being deceptive might be necessary – no matter how unnatural and contrary to his nature this was.
Had Yaakov Avinu not been able to go against his nature, he wouldn't have become Yitzchok's bechor, and would thus not have received Birchos Avrohom. Yaakov Avinu wouldn't have been the father of Klal-Yisroel. Had Yaakov Avinu not been deceptive towards Lavan, who knows what would have been with "Netzach Yisroel"?
True greatness doesn't just come from merely being good. True greatness comes from doing great things.
This week's Haftorah is from Hoshea. The reason it was selected for our Parsha is fairly obvious: it mentions briefly that Yaakov ran away from Eretz-Kna'an to Aram, and that Yaakov worked as a shepherd for two extended periods in order to be allowed to marry his wives.
While the two Pessukim involved recapitulate a good part of our Sedra, what they have to do with the remainder of the Haftorah remains somewhat unclear. The rest of the Haftorah deals mostly with the sins of Malchus Yisroel. Secondly, it is interesting to note the emphasis the Pessukim place on Yaakov Avinu shepherding to ‘earn’ his wives.
In today's society we have all sorts of preconceived notions regarding Shiduchim. People often won't accept someone who doesn't come from a background of stature. In leadership also we have similar notions that a leader must start off from an already impressive position prior to obtaining leadership. We cannot picture that someone who is now cleaning the sewers will tomorrow be our leader. Yaakov Avinu defied these two assumptions. Yaakov Avinu was a fugitive running from his older brother who wished to kill him. Yaakov Avinu had to all appearances nothing to offer as a husband, and therefore had no choice but to labor until he would ‘earn’ his wife, and then (having been tricked through Lavan’s deceptive substitution of one sister for the other) again work for the wife he had wanted from the start. Yaakov Avinu started off almost literally from nothing.
During the time of the Beis Hamikdash Klal-Yisroel was a powerful nation. We were in a position of world leadership; we were a significant power. Came the Galus and we were chased away by Bnei Eisav, and have to this day not completely come back home. We certainly have not regained our power, and threats always loom over us. Hoshea relays to us in his Nevuos that we will ultimately be exiled and that there will then also be a final redemption.
The contrast the Navi is developing is now obvious. The Navi is telling us that Klal-Yisroel had started to take their greatness for granted. Klal-Yisroel had started to believe that they had accomplished and deserved everything they had. This pompous and arrogant approach to life is what brings ruin to a Jew. The Navi reminds us where we come from and what truly made us great. The Navi reminds us that Yaakov only became Yaakov Avinu because he was humble, because Hashem helped him to persevere beyond all odds, and because Hashem exalted him.
Perhaps this is the answer to all those that are disappointed that the job in Gaza wasn't finished and a cease-fire was reached with Hamas*. If we recognize our limits and don't rely on our strengths, Hashem will give us the strength to ultimately triumph. May we very soon see the promised day of the final cease-fire when only good will triumph.
*This was written in 5773 and not now. Nonetheless this note is as pertinent now as it was then.