Parshat Vayeitzei 5779: Yaakov, Lavan — Familial Brethren, or in Defense vs Deceit?

Shalom Friends;

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Vayeitzei 5779: Yaakov, Lavan — Familial Brethren, or in Defense vs Deceit?

by Moshe Burt

When Yaakov left his father’s home, fleeing from the possible wrath of Esav, we learn that his destination was Haran in Padan Aram, after a detour of fourteen years learning in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever (citing Artscroll Stone Chumash page 144 attributed to “a fact that the Sages deduce from the chronology of the period.”).

The Artscroll Stone Chumash (page 144) cites Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky who explains:

He [Yaakov] would now be living in Haran among people who were Lavan’s comrades in dishonesty. To survive spiritually in such an environment, he needed the Torah of Shem and Ever, for they too had been forced to cope with corrosive surroundings: Shem… in the generation of the Flood [Mabul] and Ever had lived with those who built the Tower of Bavel [Migdal Bavel]. Yaakov’s fourteen years… [learning under Shem and Ever] made it possible for him to emerge spiritually from his personal exile.

In last week’s Parsha Toldos, we learned about Rivka, who rose above an evil environment while internalizing it’s insights, was thus well positioned to urge Yaakov to claim the Bracha, and we learned about Yaakov, the “Ish Tam.”

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in “Unlocking the Torah Text” on Parshat Chayei Sarah opines that:

Rivka emerges as the more perceptive parent. She alone sees their two children, Yaakov and Esav, for who they really are, and she alone acts with strength to perpetuate Avraham’s legacy through Yaakov. (Rav Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t , Perek 27, posukim 1-46, Parshat Chayei Sarah)

We learn that from her pregnancy struggles — the two nations within her, to the birth of Yaakov and Esav, to the divergent life directions of both sons, Rivka brings great insight to her decision to instruct Yaakov to present himself to his father as if Esav.

We learn that Yaakov was “totally honest, a man of great integrity” but was also master over the trait of being “tam”, a “‘plain man’, … without trickery (Rashi commentary on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 25, posuk 27) . This means that Yaakov did not allow this “Ish Tam” character trait to dominate him. He knew when and where to act otherwise. We knew that from his demand for the birthright from Esav in exchange for the lentil soup. These traits surely seem to have been inculcated to Yaakov as a result of Rivka Imeinu’s nurturing. We later learned that when Yaakov introduced himself to Rachel upon removing the stone from atop of the well, he told her (citing of Sefer Breish’t Perek 29, posuk 12 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash):

“…He[Yaakov] was her father’s relative.”

Artscroll Stone Chumash provides a commentary on Sefer Breish’t Perek 29, posuk 12:

“…He was her father’s relative.” [literally, brother] In addition to the plain meaning that Yaakov introduced himself to Rachel as her relative, Rashi cites the midrashic interpretation; He [Yaakov] intimated that should Lavan try to cheat him, he could defend himself as being Lavan’s brother in deceit; but if Lavan dealt honorably, Yaakov would act with all of the integrity expected of the son of Rivka. Or HaChaim elaborates that Yaakov was surely not threatening to match Lavan’s thievery. Rather, he meant to say that he would defend himself strenuously, but only within the law.

“The Sapirstein Edition: The Torah with Rashi” provides this more blunt rendering of Sefer Breish’t Perek 29, posuk 12 and commentary:

“…He [Yaakov] was her father’s brother.”

It’s midrashic interpretation is: If he comes for deceit, I, too am his brother in deceit; but if he is a decent person, I am also the son of Rivka, his decent sister.

So, we learn about Lavan who ran to greet Yaakov, hugging and kissing him and bringing him to his house. We see that while Lavan appeared extremely loving and warm, he was not acting out of brotherly, familial love when embracing Yaakov. Rashi indicates that Lavan was knivving, expecting a rerun of the gifts showered upon his family by Eliezer when he came to acquire Rifka as Yitzchak’s Shidduch, and instead saw an empty-handed Yaakov and subjected him to a full-body grope searching for goodies. Maybe there was gold under them thare garments, or maybe Yaakov was hiding diamonds in his mouth. (Summarizing Rashi’s commentary on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 29, posuk 13)

Rav Pliskin in “Growth Through Torah” on our Parsha Vayeitzei, (page 76) expresses the importance of judging people favorably. But he then goes on to quote Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz who says that “if someone is an evil person we are obligated to judge him unfavorably. Some people may find this rather harsh, but that is the reality: with evil people assume the worst.” (cited from Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz; Daas Torah: Breish’t, page. 192)

Rav Pliskin continues ( “Growth Through Torah” on our Parsha Vayeitzei, page 76):

We need to master the ability of seeing the good in the bad and the bad in the good. Then we need to know when to use each ability. Judging an evil person on the side of merit is not a virtue but a fault. Failure to be on guard to protect yourself from a deceitful person can cause you and others much damage and heartache.… The way of the Torah is to use wisdom to know when to assume negative motivations and when to judge others favorably.

While Rav Pliskin says that it’s unfortunate:

“…That many people fail to judge others favorably when they really should”, he also says that the opposite, the tendency “…of believing everyone is considered … to be the attribute of a fool.” (ibid. page 76)

And so, it seems that there is this attribute judging and distinguishing the “good in the bad” favorably and the “bad in the good” negatively. This attribute would seem to go hand-in-hand with applying one’s own positive and negative attributes at the appropriate times, i.e., compassion to the compassionate and cruelty to the evil. The attribute of distinguishing good from evil, when to be compassionate and when cruelty is necessary, is to understand the impact of the message; compassion or cruelty.

Therein lies the meaning of ascertaining proper judgement as to good or evil intentions on the level of statecraft and maintaining a credible deterrent capability on a national level.

We still await in our time, the “Ish Tam”, the “totally honest … man of great integrity”, the master over the trait of being “tam”, the “‘plain man’, … without trickery”, who “knew when and where to act otherwise” but who did not allow this “Ish Tam” character trait to dominate him. Is he around the corner? Do we know him? Will he come in our lifetime?

May our actions regarding our fellow Jews merit acquiring such Divine wisdom as necessary to humble the evil-doers.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of four years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt is an Oleh, writer and commentator on news and events in Eretz Yisrael. He is the founder and director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.