Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And Yaakov went out from Beer Sheva. (28:10)

When Yaakov Avinu fled his father's home, he was sixty-three years old. He was a wholesome, G-d-fearing Torah scholar whose entire life was devoted to studying Torah. Yet, prior to arriving in Lavan's home, he had chopped arein, grabbed, another fourteen years of Torah study in the yeshivah of Shem and Eivar. Rashi writes that during those fourteen years our Patriarch was glued to the sefer. He did not lay down in bed to go to sleep the entire time he was there. Why? He was preparing himself for his entrance into the outside world. Imagine, if this was Yaakov Avinu's attitude, what ours should be. One question needs to be addressed: If these fourteen years of Torah study were so critical, why are they not mentioned in the Torah? The Torah seems to gloss over this significant period of time. If this learning period was so crucial to Yaakov's development, why does the Torah ignore it?

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, explains that the Torah is teaching us that, while it is of the greatest significance, Torah study must be a natural occurrence for a Jew. No pat on the back is received for doing exactly what is expected of us. One is not over-extending himself by learning "extra." There is no category of learning extra. Torah study is a Jew's raison d'etre. It defines us. Yaakov's fourteen years of Torah study need not be mentioned. It was like breathing. The Torah does not mention breathing either.

Horav Benyamin Zev Chashin, zl, cites the Zohar HaKadosh that illuminates the reason why Eisav did not attempt to harm Yaakov during this entire period of time. Who was going to protect Yaakov? The yeshivah bachurim? Yet, Eisav stayed away, because he was well aware of his father's blessing. As long as the kol Yaakov, the sound/voice of Torah emanating from the Patriarch, is in full force, Eisav stands powerless. Eisav, thus, decided to wait until Yaakov left the yeshivah and moved in with Lavan. Then, the kol Yaakov would cease to sound. During the stillness that would prevail, Eisav would make his move.

Eisav erred. He made the same mistake that is made by so many others like him, who have no idea of the power of Torah or of the value of a Torah education. Yaakov's preparations in the yeshivah, the strengthening of his character and refinement of his middos, character traits, were not for naught. Even in the house of iniquity that personified Lavan's home, one can survive - if he has filled himself with Torah. The plateau of kol Yaakov achieved in the yeshivah will carry over to the outside world - when necessary. This is what Yaakov implied to Eisav, when he said, Im Lavan garti, "I lived with Lavan" (Bereishis 30:5). Rashi adds, V'taryag mitzvos shomarti, "And I (still) kept the 613 mitzvos." Even after the "Lavan years," Yaakov maintained his original plateau. That is the power of Torah study.

Some individuals are in a rush to jump headfirst into the allure of the outside world. Others are forced to leave yeshivah prematurely by well-meaning parents and in -laws. What they all fail to understand is that every bit of time spent in the yeshiva provides an inoculation against the pressures and influences of Eisav's world. One can make it "out there," as long as he is protected.

He encountered the place and spent the night there…He took from the stones of the place which he arranged around his head, and lay down in that place. (28:11)

Yaakov Avinu left for Charan without any assurances. The road was dangerous. His brother, Eisav, who had sworn to do him bodily harm, was after him. He was on the way to the home of Lavan, the corrupt swindler, to a house filled with idols. One wonders what motivated him to go to Charan. Did Hashem promise him safe passage? No! Hashem was allowing him to go to Charan, but had made no promises. Yaakov was basically on his "own," or as much on his own that anyone ever is. One is never on his own - only in his mind. Yet, Yaakov moved on: Be'er Sheva; the Negev; Midbar Yehudah; Shomron; Beit Shaan; the Lower Galil; the Golan Heights. He finally reached Charan - not a word from Heaven - as of yet. Indeed, he stopped at Har HaMoriah, the place of the future Bais HaMikdash, prayed, and continued on. He received no messages from Above. In fact, as the Midrash notes, Yaakov had no intention of stopping there. It was Heaven that delayed him. Yaakov was a man on a mission - a singular mission: arrive in Charan; go to Lavan and marry into the family. He had been blessed by Yitzchak Avinu. The sooner he executed his mission, the sooner the blessings would take effect.

When Yaakov arrived at Charan, he realized that he had passed the place where his father and grandfather had prayed, but he had not. He now returned through the treacherous road, with its challenges and obstacles, to pray to Hashem, to follow the family tradition. He was filled with regrets, with enough remorse to attempt the return trip. Hashem provided him with kefitzas ha'derech, a "quick" way of return. Otherwise, he would not have returned. After all, he had made a mistake. Yes, it would cost him time and he would confront danger, but he had to correct his error.

We, too, have situations in which we realize that we have erred, and should go back. It remains on our minds, in our hearts. No more. We are not prepared to take that return step. We regret. We feel bad. We know we should return, but we do not return. That "one step" is so difficult. One must make up his mind - not vacillate back and forth - before it is too late. The opportunity is lost. That one step, that "follow through" on our decision to return, is so difficult. Without that commitment, we remain hanging in the balance, wishful losers, dreaming of what could be, but never will. When Yaakov made his decision to return, Hashem took over, and he received the blessings. Hashem always takes over. Regrettably, we are not always prepared to make that "one step" commitment.

In his sefer, Nitzotzos, Horav Yitzchak Hershkowitz, Shlita, relates a compelling story concerning a Jewish prisoner incarcerated in one of America's correctional institutions. A rabbi, who served as a volunteer chaplain at a prison near his community, visited the Jewish prisoners prior to Rosh Hashanah. After explaining the significance of the Yom Ha'Din, Day of Judgment, he added that one who accepts upon himself a kabalah tovah, a good deed, to fulfill a mitzvah that seemed to "slip by" in the past year - in short, to begin the process of change - this acquiescence will quite possibly help to bring about a positive Heavenly verdict on the Yom Ha'Din.

When the rabbi concluded his lesson, he asked all of the men to sit quietly for five minutes and meditate concerning what they would like to do differently in the coming year. Which mitzvah would they add to their repertoire of mitzvos, which good deed? What would they change in their lives? We must bear in mind that none of these inmates was observant, or, for the most part, ever had been. This was a brand new experience for them. Even a simple mitzvah was considered a major endeavor for them.

After the five minutes were up, most of the group disbanded. One inmate approached the rabbi and asked to speak with him: "Rabbi, my name is Carl, and I have decided to become Shabbos observant, but I am not really sure what this means and how to go about it." The rabbi immediately explained that Shabbos is a difficult mitzvah to observe. It entails many halachos, with complex stringencies. Perhaps he would like to select something less compelling. What about Tzitzis, Tefillin, davening, learning a little? Carl was adamant: "I made up my mind. That is it. I have made a sincere pledge to observe Shabbos."

The rabbi agreed to bring him a volume in English detailing the laws of Shabbos. It was now up to Carl. The ball was in his court. One month later, the rabbi returned for his monthly visit and was surprised that Carl was not in attendance. The inmates explained to the rabbi that when Carl had received the Hilchos Shabbos book, he became totally engrossed in it. He was aware of how little he knew, and since he had promised to keep Shabbos, he refused to do anything. Unaware of what was or what was not muktzah, forbidden to move on Shabbos, he touched nothing. He sat in his cell doing absolutely nothing all Shabbos. His friends fed him, because he refused to touch a dish, lest it be muktzah. After two Shabboses, the warden summoned Carl to his office - not to be heard from again. Apparently, due to prison overcrowding, Carl was permitted to leave wearing an electronic monitoring device. Interestingly, out of the 120,000 prisoners in that state's prison system, only four from their prison were allowed to leave. Carl was one of those four fortunate individuals.

This was too much for the rabbi to digest. Carl had observed two Shabboses, and he was immediately freed from prison. The rabbi sought out Carl and found him in a small apartment, diligently studying Hilchos Shabbos. It did not take long before Shabbos led to other mitzvos, and Carl became fully observant. His name was changed to Reb Yehudah, as he became an accepted member of the Orthodox Jewish community.

How did he do it? What was Carl's recipe for success? He was determined. He made up his mind to do something - and he did it. Nothing was going to get in his way. Determination, perseverance, singlemindedness, focus - these are all qualities we have inherited from the Patriarch Yaakov. When one decides to go forward, his determination guides him, until Hashem embraces him and carries him for the rest of the journey to success.

Lavan had two daughters. The name of the older one was Leah, and the name of the younger one was Rachel (29:16)

When Boaz married Rus, the elders and the assemblage confirmed upon them the following blessing: "May Hashem make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and like Leah, both of whom built up the house of Yisrael" (Rus 4:11). The word shteihem, "both of them," seems redundant, since, if we are mentioning only Rachel and Leah, obviously there are two/both of them. Horav Arye Leib Heyman, zl, cites a number of places in Tanach which present a similar redundancy, whereby names are mentioned and a total number is reviewed. We find this especially significant concerning the two he-goats used for the Yom Kippur service. This prompts Chazal to derive that the "two" are to be equal. Since the redundancy is mentioned three times, they learn that this equality must extend to value, appearance and height. Accordingly, Rav Heyman posits that our two Matriarchs - Rachel and Leah - had an equal share in building Klal Yisrael. While, obviously, Leah had more sons/tribes than Rachel, the concept of equality does not mean that each has a fifty/fifty share of the total. Equality is not quantitative, but qualitative. Without Rachel's participation , there could be no Klal Yisrael; her progeny played a crucial role in the established nation.

Chazal teach us that there are three crowns of achievement: Kesser Torah; Kesser Kehunah; Kesser Malchus (Avos 4:13), translated as: The crown of Torah; the crown of Priesthood; and the crown of Monarchy. Let us face it, Leah has them all. Her descendant, Moshe Rabbeinu, brought the Torah down from Heaven and presented it to Klal Yisrael. The crown of the Priesthood was merited by Aharon HaKohen, another member of the "family." The crown of Monarchy went to David HaMelech, a descendant of Leah's son, Yehudah. How are we to suggest that there is a semblance of equality here? Leah has it all! Rav Heyman cites the pasuk in Bereishis 30:1, "Rachel saw that she had not borne children to Yaakov, so Rachel became envious of her sister." Rashi explains that ordinarily, envy is a deplorable character trait. This circumstance, however, presents an exception. Chazal teach that kinaas sofrim, the envy of scribes, or the envy one has of another's Torah achievements, leads one to greater Torah knowledge. In other words, there is such a thing as "good" jealousy. Here, too, Rachel was certain that Leah had warranted having children in the merit of her superior righteousness. Such envy is healthy. It is wholesome, for it catalyzes greater growth, greater achievement.

Hashem did not want Rachel to be envious of her sister - even if it was for a noble cause. Hashem wants shleimus, perfection, wholesomeness, in the world. When someone is obsessed with envy it creates a blemish and, thus, must be ameliorated. Therefore, Hashem saw to it that Rachel was placated, and that her descendants were going to participate "equally" in establishing the three crowns which underscore Klal Yisrael's uniqueness. How are we to understand this? The "numbers" seem to imply something far from equal. Rav Heyman takes us through these three crowns and demonstrates that, in fact, Rachel participated quite significantly in each of these crowns.

Let us begin with the Kesser Torah, which apparently goes to Moshe. There is, however, an aspect of the Giving of the Torah which we often forget. Originally, Hashem raised Har Sinai over the heads of Klal Yisrael and issued an ultimatum. "If you keep the Torah - good. If not, there will be your burial!" This does not appear to be a very positive manner in which to accept the Torah.

Chazal teach us that the Torah was accepted once again during the reign of Achashveirosh. Following the miracle of Purim, kiymu v'kiblu, they ratified and accepted, mah she'kiblu kvar, what they had originally accepted. In other words, while the Torah that was given through Moshe might have been accepted under what might be viewed as coercion, the Jewish People reaccepted it willingly in Shushan. The hero of the Purim miracle, and the enabler of the Torah's willful acceptance, was none other than Mordechai HaTzadik, of the tribe of Benyamin - Rachel's son. Rachel played her vital role in catalyzing Kesser Torah.

Concerning Kesser Kehunah, Rachel's descendants also played a critical function in its realization. When Aharon HaKohen ascended together with his sons to the Priesthood, one individual was not included - Pinchas, the son of Elazar HaKohen. It was not until after his pivotal act of zealousness in slaying Zimri ben Salu that Hashem conferred the eminent position on him. Forty years after the "rest of the family" became Kohanim, Pinchas finally was inducted by Hashem. The Almighty wanted it this way. Pinchas symbolized peace, a quality endemic to Kehunah. In detailing Pinchas's lineage, the Torah writes that his mother was from the daughters of Putiel (Shemos 6:25), a name attributed to both Yisro and Yosef. Therefore, Pinchas was Yosef's grandson. That makes Rachel the vital link in Kesser Kehunah.

Kesser Malchus seems to belong to David HaMelech, the progenitor of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, but the case is not yet closed. We must not ignore Moshiach ben Yosef. Why was it necessary to have the role of Redeemer divided between two Meshichim, one from David and one from Yosef? This was done in order to placate Rachel Imeinu, so that she, too, would share in the monarchy of the Jewish nation.

Rav Heyman adds that, quite possibly, this is why Moshe added half of the tribe of Menashe to Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven's inheritance of Eivar HaYarden. We do not find Menashe asking to remain there. Perhaps it is because of Rachel, who is to be included in every aspect of Klal Yisrael's development.

What an important lesson for us. How important it is to be inclusive - rather than exclusive. The more of Klal Yisrael that is involved, the greater the spreading of each one's individual character traits, the stronger and more balanced the foundation becomes.

Reuven went out in the day of the wheat harvest, and he found dudaim in the field…Rachel said to Leah, "Please give me some of your son's dudaim." But, she said to her, "Is it a small thing that you have taken my husband? And to take my son's dudaim as well?" And Rachel said, "Therefore he shall be with you tonight in exchange for your son's dudaim." (30:14,15)

There is a reason that one must learn Torah from a rebbe and that, without the interpretation of the commentators, the Torah remains a closed book. We often come across instances, attitudes, actions, that seem strange, atypical and questionable. We are struck by glaring reactions, which are obvious to one who is seeking a way to question the Torah. There is no shortage of bonafide commentators who elucidate and not only make sense of the circumstances, but also illuminate for us a perspective which indicates that this was specifically the only approach to ameliorate a potentially volatile situation. The above pesukim, detailing Rachel Imeinu's encounter with Leah Imeinu and their dialogue concerning the dudaim, present a prime example of a passage in the Torah that begs explanation.

Throughout her short conversation with Rachel, Leah seems to have forgotten exactly how it transpired that she became Yaakov Avinu's wife in the first place. She apparently ignored the fact that Rachel helped her in Lavan's ruse. Rachel gave her the predetermined simanim, signs, so that she would not be humiliated when she was wed to the great tzadik. It is one thing to ignore the past, but, she added insult to injury when she said, "Is it no small thing that you have taken my husband?" What is most difficult to understand is that Leah is viewed as the paradigm of those who properly express gratitude. After all, it was Leah who named her fourth son Yehudah, which is derived from Odeh l'Hashem, "I thank Hashem."

Clearly, undercurrents of tension exist between Rachel and Leah. Indeed, Rabbeinu Saadya Gaon views Leah's retort as a condemnation against Rachel. "Is it not enough that you have taken my husband?" Chizkuni goes further when he adds that Leah was qualifying her status as Yaakov's first wife. Indeed, Rachel was the rival wife. Sforno even wonders how Rachel could have married Yaakov, once he was married to Leah. The various commentators all point out that Leah was acting in a manner atypical of her nature and reputation. Did she suddenly forget that her present position as Matriarch was due only to Rachel's kindheartedness? How are we to understand this?

In his sefer, Livyas Chein, Horav Reuven Cohen, Shlita, cites the sefer, Galia Razia, which is quoted by Midrash Talpios, that offers an esoteric explanation of the course of events. Satan saw that Yosef HaTzadik's birth was imminent and that the entire world would be beholden to him. This is taught in the pasuk, V'Yosef hu ha'shalit, "And Yosef is the ruler" (Bereishis 42:6). This concerned Satan, since he feared that Yosef, the son of his archenemy, Yaakov, would surely starve his legions. Thus, when Rachel said, Havah, "Give me children," Satan said, Havah, "Come, let us be cunning," as in, Havah nischakmah lo, "Come, let us outsmart it." (Shemos 1:10). Satan felt that he must do something to prevent Yaakov from producing havah, "Give me children," Havah being the gimatriya, numerical equivalent, of twelve, which is the number of tribes Yaakov was destined to father. This is why Satan was bent on pursuing Yosef, even before he had been born. He had to prevent his birth.

When Satan saw Rachel asking Yaakov to help her conceive, he saw an opportunity to take her down. A woman of her spiritual caliber should have relied totally on Hashem. Asking her husband to intercede was a slight taint on her middas bitachon, attribute of trust in Hashem. Satan immediately went to work aligning himself for participation in Yosef's birth. If he could somehow become a partner in Yaakov and Rachel's efforts to give birth to Yosef, Satan would be in. Yosef would now have to sustain his legions. After all, they were family.

How did he do this? First, he attempted to divest Rachel of all bitachon, trust, in Hashem. To do this, he "allowed" Reuven to discover the dudaim. He then convinced Rachel to ask Leah for her son's dudaim, which resulted in an argument between the two sisters. During the course of the argument, harsh words were spoken. As a result, Rachel was punished and she gave birth to only two of Yaakov's twelve sons.

From the Galia Razia, we understand a deeper insight into the conversation that took place between Rachel and Leah. It was fed by the fires of strife stoked by Satan. Otherwise, it never would have occurred. It was a maasei Satan, action of the Satan, to assure that his legions would be fed when Yosef became the sovereign in Egypt. Satan was able to meddle in Yaakov's affairs due to a slight taint in Rachel's trust in Hashem.

This parshah is not about what we might see as a compelling argument between two sisters. It was deeper. It represents an important chapter in the story of good and evil and the eternity of the Jewish People.

I believe that this is an important lesson to take with us on the journey called life. Often, occurrences take place that seem nonsensical, and, at times, frightening. There does not appear to be rhyme or reason for these occurrences. A Jew must believe that there is a powerful reason for everything. Hashem does not have to share His reason with us. I am reminded of the saying of the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, which puts this all into perspective: "I would not want to believe in a G-d Whose actions always made sense to me." After all, that is why He is our G-d, and we are His subjects.

Va'ani Tefillah

Ha'meshubach, v'ha'mefoar, v'ha'misnasei mi'yemos olam. Who is praised, glorified and elevated since days of old.

The Malbim distinguishes between two words which describe honor: kavod and pe'er. An elderly man is given kavod, honor, because of his age. His metzius, essence, demands respect. Pe'er, glory, is the esteem one gives to a chacham, wise man, sage, whose personal attributes cause him to stand out, and thus, be worthy of accolade. Horav Chaim Friedlandler, zl, employs this idea in explaining the tefillah. We praise Hashem concerning His control of teva, nature, maintaining the world on a natural course. In addition, we glorify Him for those activities which transcend the realm of nature. This is what is meant by ha'mefoar, (He is) glorified. We then add v'ha'misnasei (and Who is) "elevated," to emphasize that with all of the glorification that we mere mortals express, Hashem is elevated and even greater, for we cannot possibly aptly venerate Hashem. His eminence is far beyond our comprehension.

in loving memory
Harav Yeshayahu ben Nachman z"l
niftar 9 Kislev 5747
By his children and grandchildren
Birdie & Lenny Frank & Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel