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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And I will return to my father's house in peace; and Hashem will be my G-d. (28:21)

Regarding Yaakov Avinu's use of the word v'hayah, "and (Hashem) will be," Chazal comment, "He (Hashem) took the words of the Patriarchs and made them essential to the liberation of their children." Hashem said to Yaakov, "You said, v'hayah Hashem, so too, I will use the same word, v'hayah to announce to your children all the kindnesses, blessings and promises for the future." What is the significance of the word v'hayah, that Hashem will grant our reward using the vernacular of v'hayah? The Ozrover Rebbe, zl, explains that the word v'hayah implies both the past and the future. Hayah, "it was," refers to the past. When placed before the verb hayah, "v", the conversive vav transforms it from "it was," to the future tense, "it will be." He explains that galus, exile, is a necessary preparation for the geulah, redemption. Indeed, we can go as far as to posit that galus is actually a component of and a portent for geulah. In the Talmud Bava Kama 76b, Chazal say, "Whatever stands/is about to be redeemed is considered redeemed already." This supports the idea that the past is the key and harbinger for the future. Yaakov believed in this, and he actually perceived the redemption amidst his tribulation. Therefore, Hashem told him that his descendants should also learn from the v'hayah to realize that all the good that is destined is a consequence of our present exile.

This time I give thanks to Hashem; therefore, she called his name Yehudah. (29:35)

When Rav Avraham Mordechai, the son of the Chidushei Ha'Rim, the first Gerer Rebbe, was thirty years old, he became gravely ill. His illness progressed to the point that he was at death's door. The Chidushei Ha'Rim came in to visit him. He told him, "My son, one is commanded to want to live. The individual must have an overwhelming desire to continue living. It is quite possible that this is the underlying meaning of the pasuk in Devarim 30:19, "I have placed life and death before you…Choose life! We are enjoined to do everything possible to continue living. I am, therefore, certain that you will fulfill this mitzvah. I expect you to arise from this illness in complete health, and you will soon father a son."

The patient remained silent. His father stayed on for a short while, then left. As soon as he left, Rav Avraham Mordechai struggled to get himself to sit up in his bed, whispering, "Ribono Shel Olam! Please listen to me and grant me, this one time, a few more years of life so that I may be blessed with a son. I will name him Yehudah, so that I will fulfill the pasuk, Hapaam odeh es Hashem, "This time I give thanks to Hashem." Slowly, he was nursed back to health. The following year, his wife gave birth to a special child whom he named Yehudah. This was the famous Sefas Emes.

This time I give thanks to Hashem; then she stopped giving birth. (29:35)

The Chozeh, zl, m'Lublin, derives from this pasuk that one must give thanks to Hashem for the future as well as for the past. Indeed, we find in the Benching, Grace after meals, that we recite the brachah, blessing, Hatov v'Ha'meitiv, " Who is good and Who does good," which also implies the good which Hashem will do, as the brachah continues, "He did good, He does good, and He will do good." We see clearly how we pay gratitude for the future beneficence as well as for the past. Leah apparently deemed it sufficient to give thanks only for surviving the past ordeal. This is why she did not continue to have children. Hashem's reward coincides with our perception of His favor and the extent to which we express our gratitude to Him.

The Ozrover Rebbe, zl, cites the Talmud in Berachos 54a as the basis for this idea. "He gives thanks for past mercies and supplicates for the future." Chazal seem to imply that one should pray for the future, rather than give thanks. Nonetheless, one who trusts in Hashem has the conviction that his prayers will be fulfilled - as if the fulfillment has already occurred. Prayer for the future is accompanied with the gratitude one should offer for the realization of his request.

David Hamelech says in Sefer Tehillim 18:4, "With praises I call unto Hashem, and I am saved from my enemies." Rashi interprets this pasuk in the following manner: I pray to Hashem constantly. Even before I am saved, I praise Him, because I am secure that He will grant me salvation from my enemies. The Ozrover adds that David Ha'melech was as sure about his future salvation as he was about the past. Hashem's purpose for the world is constantly to act altruistically. We can offer no greater sense of appreciation than the individual who offers his gratitude even before he has received the gift - so sure is he of receiving it. Thus, Friday night in the tefillah, prayer, of Ribon Kol HaOlamim which many recite prior to Kiddush, "I thank You Hashem for all the kindness You have performed with me and that You will perform with me," we thank Hashem for His future kindnesses, because we believe with conviction that they will occur. This is the essence of gratitude.

Rachel saw that she had not borne children to Yaakov, and Rachel became envious of her sister. (30:1)

Rachel Imeinu endured a long series of trials and tribulations which were both painful and dejecting. Yet, her mesiras nefesh for Klal Yisrael, coupled with her unparalleled character refinement, catapulted her to the zenith of spiritual ascendancy. Her devotion and sense of chesed, kindness, set the standard for her descendants. Chazal teach us that the following appeared before the Almighty to intercede on behalf of His people when Hashem was prepared to destroy the Bais Hamikdash and forever ban Klal Yisrael from the land as a result of their iniquity: the Avos, Patriarchs, followed by Moshe Rabbeinu, the quintessential leader of the Jewish People, Yirmiyahu Ha'Navi; and a host of Heavenly Angels. They each detailed his own incredible merits; they cried, tore their hair, beat their chests and rent their garments in mourning over the upcoming tragedy, all to no avail. They did not succeed in deterring or deflecting the Heavenly decree.

When Rachel observed this, she came before Hashem and said, "Ribono Shel Olam, You know that Yaakov loved me very much. He slaved for seven years to obtain me as his wife. At the designated time, my father sought to exchange my sister Leah for me. I notified Yaakov, and he gave me special signs through which he could recognize whom he was marrying. When I saw how distraught my sister Leah was, I gave her these simanim, signs. I could not tolerate to see her humiliated when Yaakov discovered the ruse, so I lay under their bed, and I spoke instead of Leah so that Yaakov would not recognize the truth. I was kind to her, and I was not jealous of her. Consequently, Hashem, as I constrained my emotions and did not permit envy to consume me, I ask that You not be jealous of the idols that Klal Yisrael are foolishly serving." When Hashem heard her plea, He immediately responded, "Because of you, Rachel, I will return Klal Yisrael to the land."

Rachel's selfless act of kindness saved the Jewish People and forever serves as merit for us to return to our homeland. Let us analyze her act of kindness, so that we have a better understanding of what is ultimately expected of us. She was acutely aware of Yaakov Avinu's eminence and virtue. She knew that he would be the progenitor of the Twelve Tribes from which the Jewish People would descend. Seven years is a long time, especially when one waits for such a mate. Seven years she waited, patiently anticipating her role in the building of Klal Yisrael.

Her father, the evil swindler Lavan, actively sought to undermine her aspirations. She could have offered any of a number of excuses not to permit the exchange. She wanted to be the Matriarch who would establish Klal Yisrael with Yaakov. She wanted justice and truth to prevail - and not to permit an underhanded swindler to have his way. Rachel wanted to marry the tzaddik and spend her life in an atmosphere that epitomized holiness and purity. Yes, she had many reasons for saying no to Leah. However, she did not. She was prepared to relinquish everything, even not honoring Yaakov's desire to marry her and not Leah. What gave her the strength of character and courage to act in the way she did?

Horav Mordechai Kukis explains that after all has been said and done, Rachel understood that a spiritual ascension standing upon the back of another person is a blemished progression. Rachel could have achieved the spiritual advancement of her dreams, marrying Yaakov and becoming the Matriarch of the Jewish People, but at whose expense? If it meant indirectly humiliating her sister, Leah, then it was not worth it. To paraphrase the Alter, zl, m'Novordok, "The test of overcoming the desire for ill-gotten money ceases as soon as one discovers that the money is counterfeit." What value is there to pennies when one can gather diamonds? One whose heart is filled with compassion cannot infringe in any way upon the feelings of another person. It is related that when the Alter z"l, m'Kelm would take a stroll on the city's main thoroughfare, which was paved by the government's prisoners who were subjected to every type of menial and brutal labor, he would always keep their pain in mind. He would wonder, "How could anyone be at ease when walking on a road on which so many people suffered and whose ground is soaked with their sweat and blood?"

One who strives to achieve true purity of heart and soul may not climb the ladder of spiritual advancement if the rungs of the ladder rest upon the suffering of another human being. One does step on his friend in order to reach spiritual heights. Rachel Imeinu understood fully well what she was giving up. An achievement earned at the expense of her sister, Leah, however, was not much of an accomplishment in her eyes. It took super-human strength for Rachel to overcome the battle that raged within her. Should she reveal the signs to Leah and, thereby, lose Yaakov, or was Yaakov more important than Leah's feelings? She was thus rewarded by Hashem with a reward that extends beyond the physical realm. It would be in her merit that Hashem would rescind His decree against the Jewish People.

Overcoming one's "natural" tendency can warrant great merit, as indicated by the following incident: Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, would relate the story of the agunah, woman whose husband had abandoned her for over twenty years. She was a bitter, tormented person who lived next door to the Mirrer Yeshivah. She supported herself and her children from the meager earnings she received as a laundress. When the Six Day War broke out, she, like hundreds of others, crowded into the yeshivah dining room, which also served as the neighborhood's bomb shelter. The shells were whistling overheard, striking dangerously close to the yeshivah. Finally there was a direct hit: an explosion shook the building. People thought this was the end and began to wail, "Shema Yisrael!"

Suddenly, at that moment, the agunah's voice was heard crying out, "My husband discarded me and left me alone for twenty years. Hashem! I have suffered so much, but I forgive him! You, too, Ribono Shel Olam, forgive the Jewish People for all we have done wrong!" They were saved! When Rav Chaim related this story, he would pause and begin to cry as he described the miserable lot of the pitiful agunah. Then he would say, "Her prayer saved us!" It was the acute awareness that she had been rejected - totally - by the very person who had chosen her to be his life's partner. It was a realization with which she was condemned to live every waking moment for the rest of life. It was her ability to triumph over her emotions, her capacity for forgiveness, despite all she had been through, that gave such import to her act of reprieve. Overcoming a natural inclination earns us a reward that is supernatural.

Give me children - If not, I am dead. (30:1)

What woman does not yearn to have a child? Some are fortunate enough to be blessed with children soon after marriage. Others wait, pray and go for a blessing from a tzaddik, righteous, G-d-fearing Torah scholar, in whose merit they are blessed with a child. At times, even this does not help. Hashem has decided. We may find the decision difficult to accept, but we must believewith conviction that it is the correct decision. At times, the tzaddik's blessing may have a long term effect, as evinced by the following story:

Horav Shlomo, zl, m'Zvehil's blessings were known for their effectiveness. He had a laundress who was a righteous, G-d-fearing woman. She was a special person who was known for her good deeds. She was basically a content person, except, for one thing that kept gnawing at her: she had no children. One day after work, she was determined to speak to the Rebbe. She stood by his door, refusing to go home. The Rebbe looked up and inquired if something was the matter. She immediately responded that she would like a berachah, blessing, to have a child. The Rebbe thought for a few moments, then looked up at her and said, "I am sorry, but I cannot be of help to you." This response tore at her heart. This was her last hope. She was devastated. After a few moments, the Rebbe looked up again and added, "I bless you that in your merit, other women will be blessed with children."

For many years, this woman thought about the Rebbe's promise, but, apparently, nothing had happened. In 1964, she passed away - childless and with no indication that the Rebbe's blessing had been fulfilled. Her passing left no impression on the Yerushalayim community. She died as she lived - quietly. She was buried on Har Hamenuchos in a simple grave. Her monument read: Po Nitman, "Here is buried, Miriam bas Mamon, died 24 Teves, 5724."

Twenty nine years later, in 1993, the time had come for her story to be revealed. One of the laundress's neighbors had a dream during which the laundress appeared and related to her the entire story that had occurred. "During my lifetime, I was not to be blessed with children, nor was the Rebbe's blessing realized. Now, however, the time has come for a number of neshamos, souls, to descend from Heaven. I assure you that those women who come to my grave and pray on behalf of my neshamah will be blessed with children." A number of women followed her advice and were subsequently blessed with children. The Rebbe's blessing had finally reached fruition.

Questions and Answers

1) Yaakov referred to Lavan as "Lavan ben Nachor." Why did Yaakov mention Lavan's grandfather, Nachor, as opposed to his father Besuel?

2) How did Rachel and Leah relate to Bilhah and Zilpah and their children?

3) How old was Yaakov when Yosef was born?

4) How were Bilhah and Zilpah related to each other? Who was their father?


1) Nachor was a more well-known personality than Lavan. An alternative explanation is that Besuel is not mentioned because he was a rasha, wicked man. Indeed, it is derived from here that the son of a kofer, apostate, should be called up to the Torah by his grandfather's name, so as not to embarrass him (Ramban, Terumas Hadeshen).

2) They set them free and subsequently their children were accepted as sons of Yaakov (Sforno).

3) Yaakov was 77 years old when he first met Rachel. He left home at the age of 63, then studied in the Yeshivah of Shem and Ever for 14 years. Yosef was born at the end of his seven years of labor for Rachel, which was 14 years after he had arrived. Hence, he was 91 years old when Yosef was born (Sforno, Rashbam).

4) They were sisters, both daughters of Lavan from a different wife other than Rachel and Leah's mother. They are called maidservants, because their mother was a pilegesh, concubine, and not a regular wife (Rashi, Pirkei d'R' Eliezer).

In loving memory of our father and grandfather on his third yahrtzeit
Mordechai & Jenny Kurant,
Aliza & Avrohom Wrona
Naomi & Avrohom Yitzchok Weinberger
Dovid & Yossi Kurant


Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

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