Parshat Vayeitzei 5780: Yaakov, Rachel and the Theft of Lavan’s “terafim”

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Vayeitzei is being sponsored by Moshe and Lauren Pitzele and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh in honor of their son Yosef Shalom’s seventh birthday which is in a couple of weeks. To the Pitzele family, many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued kindnesses.

Friends, you can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Vayeitzei 5780: Yaakov, Rachel and the Theft of Lavan’s “terafim”

by Moshe Burt

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”, Sefer Breish’t (page 110) 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.

In the above context, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Breish’t (page 150) summarizes events toward the conclusion of our Parshat:

After Yosef’s birth, Yaakov informs Lavan of his intention to return to Canaan with his family. Lavan convinces Yaakov to remain and work for wages. Six years pass, during which time Lavan continuously attempts to cheat his nephew.

At the end of the six-year period, Yaakov tells Rachel and Leah that Hashem has commanded him to return with his family to Canaan.

The members of Yaakov’s family gather their belongings and flee without Lavan’s knowledge. Rachel secretly steals her father’s house idols [terafim]. After three days, Lavan discovers Yaakov’s escape and pursues him and his family, overtaking them at Har Gilad.

Lavan and Yaakov exchange harsh words, Lavan searches unsuccessfully for his idols, and Yaakov and his uncle finally agree to part ways.

But there is more to the Lavan/Yaakov confrontation. “The Sapirstein Edition: The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary” renders to English the Torah text and Rashi’s commentary with a footnote as Lavan overtook Yaakov and his family:

“‘Now — you have gone because you longed greatly for your father’s house; but why did you steal my gods?’ Yaakov answered and said to Lavan, ‘…. With whomever you find your gods, he shall not live… ‘ (Yaakov did not know that Rachel had stolen them.)” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 31, posukim 30-32)

[Rashi’s commentary on posuk 32:] “He shall not live.” It was from that curse that Rachel died on the road.

Footnote 5 on posuk 32: Breish’t Rabbah 74: 4, 9: Had Yaakov said, “He shall die,” Rachel would have died immediately. “He shall not live” implies that he will die in the near future, but not immediately. Thus, Rachel died on the road. (citing Maskil LeDavid) Alternatively, “He shall die” would have meant, “I shall have put him to death”; “He shall not live,” on the other hand, is a curse. (citing Gur Aryeh; Be’er BaSadeh.)

So, the big question here is, Why did Rachel steal Lavan’s idols?

“The Midrash Says” by Rabbi Moshe Weissman (Sefer Breish’t, page 300) provides citings indicating:

When Rachel stole them [the idols], she had a two-fold goal in mind.

1/ She hid them L’Sheim Shemayim, saying, “How can I go away and leave the old man to serve his abomination?”

2/ She wanted to prevent the terafim from revealing to her father word of their flight.

Although Rachel’s motives in stealing the idols were praiseworthy, she was nevertheless punished for the grief she caused her father. As a result of her actions, Yaakov’s curse that whoever had taken the idols should perish was fulfilled, and she died during Binyamin’s birth and was not privileged to raise her son.

Rabbi Yehudah Nachshoni’s “Studies in the Weekly Parashah,” Sefer Breish’t (pages 182-184) provides several additional commentaries:

…Rashbam and other commentaries… state that the theft of the terafim was meant to insure that Lavan would not find out that Yaakov had fled.

Rashbam brings proof of the ability of the terafim to tell the future from… Zecharyah (10:2), “The terafim have spoken vanity.” But if that is so, and if, as Rashi states, Rachel intended to wrest her father away from idol worship [avodah zora], it is surprising she didn’t tell Yaakov about the theft. The fact that she did not tell Yaakov led him to tell Lavan, “By whomever your gods are found, shall not live” Rabbi Nachshoni’s rendering to English of Sefer Breish’t, Perek 31, posuk 32), and according to Chazal, that is the reason why Rachel died on the way.

In the Torah, we are only told of the theft of the terafim as a fact and no more… Lavan’s complaint, “Why have you stolen my gods?” (Rabbi Nachshoni’s rendering to English of Sefer Breish’t, Perek 31, posuk 30) seems somewhat ludicrous, coming from a boor who believed in a god that could be stolen.

Ibn Ezra, though disagrees with this [the above] interpretation. If that was the case, why didn’t she simply throw them away or bury them someplace? ….Ibn Ezra thus explains that the idols were like zodiacal charms. Rachel was afraid that if she left the idols, her father could use them to find out in which direction Yaakov had fled, and that was why she stole them. She did not dispose of them on the way, because they were not actually idols that were worshiped. Ramban, along the same lines, says that they were an instrument used for telling time.

Ramban… holds that the terafim were used for telling time, but magicians used them for their magic, and would employ them to tell the future…. Aram, the home of Lavan, was a place filled with witchcraft. Bilaam also came from Aram, and it appears that Lavan was also a magician, as he said, “I divined.” (Rabbi Nachshoni’s rendering to English of Sefer Breish’t, Perek 30, posuk 27) [Rabbi Nachshoni cites Targum Yehonasan on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 22, posuk 5 where Lavan and Bilaam are identified as one and the same person.]

Rachel took from Lavan the tools he used to do his magic, but for what purpose? Was it because she was afraid of the terafim, or was it to have her father stop worshiping idols? Ramban does not answer that question. According to him, the terafim in themselves were not bad. They were only a tool for telling the hours…

But Zohar, Targum Yehonasan, Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer and others hold that the terafim were actual avodah zora… They say that the idol was a firstborn son that had been killed and embalmed. A certain potion was placed under the tongue, and then the idol would tell the future.

Ramban, Rabbeinu Bachya and others, though, hold that Rachel was trying to frighten her father away [when Lavan sought to search her person] through the impurity (tumah) of niddah…. Rabbeinu Bachya explains in Parsha Tazria… when Rachel told her father that she was a niddah, he avoided entering her tent.

In any event, the theft of the terafim by Rachel is an unclear episode in the Torah, of whose reason we are not sure.

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 — which can only occur when he is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five 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.