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Vol. 23 No. 7
R' Michoel Cohen shlit"a
Master of Silence
"And Ya'akov loved Rachel, and he said, 'I will work seven years for you, for Rachel, your younger daughter'" (29:18).
The Ramban attributes Ya'akov's decision to wait seven years before marrying Rachel, despite the fact that he was already seventy-seven, to the fact that (in his opinion) Rachel was only five years old at the time, and Ya'akov - the epitome of Kedushah - would not live with a girl who was too young to have children. So he opted to wait until she reached the minimum age of child-birth - twelve, before marrying her. Incidentally, this means that she died at the young age of twenty-six.
Clearly, the love that Ya'akov bore Rachel had no connection with the infatuation to which the word 'love' is often connected. It can only have been the result of the sterling Midos that he sensed in her the moment he met her, Midos that rendered her the ideal choice to raise the B'nei Yisrael.
Although the Torah tells us little about Rachel Imeinu, the incident that it is about to relate speaks volumes about her unique character. Above all, it is her ability to be silent that stands out - not a natural tendency to speak little, as admirable as that might be, but one that was based on her superlative Midos. Rachel was silent in order to spare her sister Leah that acute embarrassment of discovery when she would be unable to answer the prepared questions that Ya'akov would put to her. And her actions become all the more remarkable when one bears in mind that the consequences of her silence would cause her to lose her Chasan. As a result of her intervention, her seven-year dream of marrying Ya'akov lay in ruins.
She saw her sister marrying her betrothed and she said nothing, because she knew that to divulge the truth would cause her the most painful embarrassment. More than that, she actually handed over to Leah the secret codes that Ya'akov had taught her, thereby enabling her to escape detection until the morning.
Yet her incredible act of love goes still deeper: for not only did she stand to lose the Tzadik Ya'akov. Based on the initial understanding that Eisav (the older brother) would marry Leah (the older sister) and Ya'akov, the younger one, now that Leah was married to Ya'akov, the wicked Eisav would have no compunctions in taking her beautiful sister in place of her. All this must have crossed (twelve-year old) Rachel's mind, yet her sister's shame took precedence!
The Gemara in Ta'anis (25b) teaches us that G-d listens to the prayers of a person who overcomes his Midos. No wonder then, that, due to Rachel's Tefilos, her children were permitted to return to their borders and to rebuild the second Beis-Hamikdash.
Nor was the Midah of silence confined to Rachel. The Medrash describes how many of Rachel's descendants inherited the ability to keep their lips sealed in the most amazing circumstances …
Binyamin, Rachel's youngest son, remained silent for twenty-two years, hiding from Ya'akov the fact that his brother Yosef was alive and well in Egypt, despite the anguish that his father was suffering, because he knew that this was what G-d wanted. Yosef too (Rachel's oldest son), resisted what must have been a strong temptation to inform his father that he was alive, though for some reason, the Medrash does not include him in the current list.
King Shaul, his (Binyamin's) descendant, in an unprecedented display of humility, informed his uncle about his search for his father's missing donkeys, declining to mention that he had just been crowned the first king of Yisrael.
And Queen Esther, succeeded in keeping her Jewish identity secret from her husband King Achashverosh for years. This enabled her to spring her trap on Haman, catching him, as well the king, completely off-guard - following Mordechai's instructions.
Note: according to the Medrash, Rachel & Le'ah were twins, who married Ya'akov when they were tweny-two.
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Master of Speech
" … she (Leah) became pregnant once again and she said 'This time I will thank (odeh) Hashem!' So she called him 'Yehudah', and she stopped bearing children" (29:35).
If Rachel was known for her ability to remain silent, Leah, the polar opposite of her sister, is famous for her ability to speak - particularly in the realm of Tefilah.
The Medrash explains that, in spite of the fact that Rachel was Ya'akov's Bashert, Leah married Ya'akov before Rachel and went on to give birth to Ya'akov's firstborn, as a result of her ongoing Tefilos and tears - as she pleaded with G-d to merit marrying Ya'akov. Whereas the Torah itself attributes the fact that, in spite of having stopped giving birth after her fourth son, she went on to have to two more children, (Yisachar and Zevulun) - to the fact that "G-d heard her prayers". Rachel excelled in silence, Leah, in speech.
Nor was that power of speech confined to Tefilah. The Medrash Rabah tells us that Rachel adopted the 'trade' of silence, Leah, that of thanks'. As the Gemara points out in B'rachos (7b), Leah, upon giving birth to her fourth son Yehudah, was the first person since the creation to offer up thanks to Hashem for granting her one son more than the average of three that each of Ya'akov's four wives would assumedly bear.
And here too, like by Rachel, the Medrash describes how the Midah of 'Hoda'ah' (which can also be translated as 'confession') recurs a number of times in Leah's offspring;
Yehudah - who publicly confessed that he was the father of the twins that Tamar was expecting …
David ha'Melech - who proclaimed "Give thanks to Hashem, for He is good … !"
Daniel - who said "To You, G-d of my fathers, I offer thanks and praise!"
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" … Lavan gathered all the men of the town and he made a party" (29:22).
It is not at first clear as to why Lavan threw a party. It cannot have been a stag-party, since Ya'akov (the bridegroom) was not invited.
The Targum Yonasan attributes it to the fact that, from the moment Ya'akov arrived in Charan, seven years earlier, the local well had never stopped flowing, a fact that the people considered nothing short of a miracle. So Lavan, who not for nothing was nicknamed 'Lavan the swindler' (Lavan 'ha'Arami' [the Aramite] contains the same letters as 'Lavan ha'ramai' [Lavan the swindler]), gathered the people to initiate a new law forbidding anyone to marry off a younger daughter before her older sister. And it was on the basis of that law that, the following morning, Lavan excused himself for sending Leah to the Chupah instead of Rachel.
Interestingly, the Targum Yonasan once again points to the well, when, thirteen years later, Lavan pursued Ya'akov shortly after he fled from Charan. He explains that Lavan, who resided a distance of three days from Ya'akov, knew that Ya'akov had left because, for the first time in twenty years, the well ceased to flow.
The Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos offers a slightly less sophisticated explanation for Lavan's party. According to him, it was indeed a stag-party which centered around Ya'akov, and his plan was to make Ya'akov so drunk that he would be unable to discern the difference between Rachel and Leah. It is highly unlikely however, that Ya'akov actually drank to that extent.
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