VAYEITZEI (Genesis, 28:10-32:3) — “The Gift of Life”

Jacob was on the road.  Pursued by his angry brother Esau, he left his family in Canaan and headed out toward Charan.  Charan was his mother’s hometown, and his parents had sent him there to find a bride. 

 He found her.  She was his cousin.  Her name was Rachel.  

The story began similarly to the time that Abraham’s servant Eliezer had come seeking a wife for Isaac.  Eliezer had arrived at a well on the outskirts of town.  Jacob did the same.  Eliezer saw the water from the well miraculously rising toward Rebecca.  Jacob rolled a stone off the cover of the well, and the water gushed out of the well. Just as a Heavenly sign had identified Jacob’s mother, he now saw an omen that he had found his wife.  

The similarity, however, ends here.  What was Eliezer’s reaction to meeting Rebecca? … the man took a gold ring…and two bracelets on her arms… (Genesis, 24:22)  What was Jacob’s reaction to meeting Rachel? …he raised his voice and wept. (Ibid, 29:12) 

Rashi explains why Jacob cried: Eliezer had come laden with gifts for Rebecca and her family.  Jacob, on the other hand came with nothing but a walking stick.  His nephew Eliphaz had confiscated all his possessions. 

The Midrash tells us that Esau sent his son Eliphaz on a mission to kill Jacob.  Eliphaz caught up with Jacob, but now had a dilemma; how could he kill his uncle?  How could he accommodate his father’s wishes without committing a terrible sin? Jacob proposed a “compromise.”  By taking everything Jacob owned, he would technically be “killing” him, because, as our Sages tell us, (Nedarim, 64b) “A poor person is considered as dead.”  

Jacob cried because he had nothing to give Rachel.  He cried because when his nephew took his possessions, in a sense, he took his very life.

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At first glance, we find Jacob’s reaction surprising.  After all, isn’t spirituality more important than money?  Don’t we usually view a Tzaddik, a righteous person as one who eschews material possessions?  In fact, Jacob had asked G-d to provide him with …bread to eat and clothing to wear. (Ibid, 28:23) All Jacob desired was the barest of minimums  – a shirt on his back and a simple meal.  Why suddenly the tears? 

Let us consider the statement of the Talmud, that a poor person is considered as dead.  Isn’t that a bit extreme?  Not really.  G-d told Moses to return to Egypt “…because the men who are trying to kill you have died.”  In fact, Dathan and Abiram, the subjects of that discussion, were alive and well, continuing to harass Moses after the Exodus.  The reason they are referred to as dead is because they had lost all of their money.  (Rashi) 

With a loss of money comes loss of power and prestige.  With poverty comes a loss of self-esteem.  G-d was telling Moses, “These guys are no longer a threat to you.  They’re broke!” 

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Jacob’s tears were not for himself.  If I want to live an ascetic lifestyle, that’s my business.  But I have no right to expect others to live by that standard.  Jacob wanted nothing for himself.  But how could he come to the future mother of Israel empty-handed?  How could he give her nothing?!  

It is good for us to learn to be satisfied with little.  But we must always consider the other guy.  Do we know what it means to be penniless?  Can we begin to fathom the depths of pain and frustration of the poor?  Do we know the shame and embarrassment of people who are unable to provide for their families?  

There are so many good causes out there, crying to us for help.  The Torah requires us to give at least a tenth of our money away.  Jacob himself, when asking G-d for bread and clothes, pledged to give away a tenth of whatever he would receive.  

Giving away a few dollars won’t kill us.  But it might just give life to a dead man. 

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links. 

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FROM THE ARCHIVES 

 “How to Say ‘You’re Wrong’ ” (2009) 

I once saw a picture in National Geographic that struck me as strange.  The article was about life in Utah, and included a picture of a Mormon family. The father posed with his children and their four mothers.  Polygamy, although in violation of state (and currently, Mormon) law, continues to exist in Utah.

As an Ashkenazic Jew and member of Western Civilization, I find it very difficult to envision the concept of having more than one wife.  Successful polygamy requires a level of “sharing” and cooperation that goes beyond the mores of our culture. It is not a good system…  

Read more.

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“Are You My Bride? … Are You SURE??”  (2006)

Jacob came to Haran  (in Iraq) in search of a bride. 

Rachel was the one…  A wedding feast took place and Jacob took his veiled bride home to his tent.  It wasn’t until the next morning that Jacob discovered that he had married the wrong woman!  It was Leah!  He had been had!  His uncle had cheated him!… 

…How did all of this happen?  How did an intelligent man like Jacob allow himself to be hoodwinked by his uncle?  How did Laban pull it off?  And how could Leah participate in this fraud?  And where was Rachel?  Why didn’t she step in and stop the wedding?…  

Read more.

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 “Time to Pray!”  (2005) 

It is well known that religious Jews pray three times a day… But it wasn’t always that way.  Although Davening Mincha (the Afternoon Service) and Maariv (the Evening Service) are very Jewish things to do, Abraham apparently didn’t do those things.  Isaac, quite a religious Jew, didn’t Daven Maariv either.  That was Jacob’s innovation… the morning, afternoon, and evening services were instituted by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob respectively.  We, their children, follow their example… each of the Patriarchs had different experiences that led to each of their prayers… 

Read more.

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 “The Gift of Life” (2003) 

… Jacob cried…His nephew, Eliphaz had confiscated all his possessions…. we find Jacob’s reaction surprising.  After all, isn’t spirituality more important than money?  Don’t we usually view a Tzaddik, a righteous person as one who eschews material possessions?  In fact, Jacob had asked G-d to provide him with …bread to eat and clothing to wear. (Ibid, 28:23) All Jacob desired was the barest of minimums – a shirt on his back and a simple meal.  Why suddenly the tears?…  

Read more.

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“Feeling the Void – Filling the Void” (2002) 

Jacob left Beer-Sheba and he went to Haran. (Genesis, 28:10) 

The Torah doesn’t waste words. Rashi points out that the Torah only had to write Jacob went to Haran. The point of the story is that he was now on his way to Haran to find a wife. Obviously, he had to leave his home in Beer-Sheba in order to get there. What is the point of telling us that Jacob left Beer-Sheba? 

The answer, says Rashi, is that Jacob’s departure from Beer-Sheba was a significant event…  

Read more.

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“To Dream the Impossible Dream” (2000) 

Jacob had a tough life.  …he lived in constant fear that he would some day be killed by his jealous brother, or forced to kill Esau in self-defense…  Laban … tricked him into marrying the wrong woman.  … Jacob negotiated a salary for future work – Laban kept changing the terms …When Jacob and his family finally packed their bags and left, Laban pursued them, hoping to kill Jacob… Rachel was unable to have children and there was friction between the two wives.  …sibling rivalry caused additional grief.  He would eventually suffer the anguish and indignity of his daughter’s abduction and violation by a Canaanite.  Then he had to deal with the ensuing violence committed by his sons against the hometown of his daughter’s attacker.  For twenty years, he thought his beloved son Joseph was dead. 

…Where does one find the strength to deal with such adversity?  How did he manage to continue his life in the face of such pain? … 

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on December 4, 2003 at 11:16 am  Leave a Comment  

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