Avraham, Yaakov and the Eruv

Vayavo Yaakov shaleim ir Shechem asher b’eretz Canaan b’vo’o miPadan Aram vayichan es p’nei ha’ir (Bereishis 33:18)

After Yaakov successfully placated his irate brother Esav, he traveled first to Sukkos and then to Shechem, where he encamped before the city. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 79:6) teaches that Yaakov arrived in Shechem just before the onset of Shabbos and established techumin — a border near the city that allowed him to enter it on Shabbos.

The Meshech Chochmah points out a fascinating difference between Chazal’s descriptions of Yaakov and of his grandfather Avraham. The Gemara (Yoma 28b) teaches that Avraham fulfilled the mitzvah of eruv tavshilin — a legal mechanism that permits a person to cook food for Shabbos on Yom Tov.

The Meshech Chochmah suggests that the two Shabbos-related mitzvos that are respectively associated with Avraham and Yaakov encapsulate the difference between their approaches to serving Hashem. Although their ultimate goal was the same — to create a dwelling place for Hashem in this world — they had different ways of accomplishing this objective.

The mitzvah of eruv tavshilin symbolizes Avraham’s distinct style of inviting guests to his tent, where he educated them about Hashem as they enjoyed his food (Sotah 10b). The Rambam (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 1:3) writes that wherever he traveled, Avraham gathered people together to prove Hashem’s existence to them. Thus, Avraham’s approach to bringing Hashem into this world was public in nature.

Yaakov, on the other hand, did not actively attempt to convert others to his religious ideology. He was a private person who spent his time dwelling in the tents of Torah study (25:27). Yaakov’s focus was on building the Jewish people from the inside out, and therefore he is associated with the concept of techumin, boundaries, which symbolize his efforts to protect his family from outside influences. Rather than working to bring Hashem to others, he focused on creating a resting place for Hashem within his own home.

With this introduction, the Meshech Chochmah explains that we can now appreciate more deeply why Avraham was more willing to travel to Egypt — which he viewed as a new venue in which to spread his religious beliefs by debating their wise men and magicians — than Yaakov, who did not seek to influence others in this manner and insisted on dwelling separately in the land of Goshen (46:28).

This also explains why Yaakov never attempted to persuade his father-in-law Lavan to abandon his idolatrous ways and was disturbed that somebody in his family would attempt to pressure Lavan by stealing his idols. For the same reason, Yaakov placed Dinah in a box to hide her from Esav (Rashi 32:23) rather than permit her to marry him and attempt to convert him to avodas Hashem, for this was not Yaakov’s methodology. He established borders for the purpose of remaining separate and focusing on building the Jewish nation from within.

Harav Meir Wahrsager of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim points out that according to the Meshech Chochmah’s dichotomy, it appears that Yaakov did not advertise his religious ideology as Avraham did. However, the Gemara (Menachos 53a) says clearly that all three of the Avos — including Yaakov — were involved in making Hashem known throughout the world. How can this be understood if Yaakov’s approach was to establish boundaries and keep to himself?

The Ramban (12:8) notes that the Torah refers to both Avraham and Yitzchak (26:25) calling out in the name of Hashem. Although the Torah does not describe Yaakov as doing so, the Ramban explains that he also spread emunah, albeit in a different manner.

By building a family of 12 righteous and devoted servants of Hashem, Yaakov developed the nucleus of a nation that is predicated upon doing Hashem’s will and laid the foundation for the continuity of future generations, which is the greatest form of publicizing emunah. When people saw how the private Yaakov succeeded in creating a family and nation of Divine servants, he achieved the same results as Avraham and Yitzchak did, even without following in their footsteps of publicly announcing his beliefs.

Rav Wahrsager adds that this theme is particularly relevant to the upcoming Yom Tov of Chanukah, which commemorates our victory over the Greeks. More than any other Yom Tov, our observance of Chanukah emphasizes the concept of pirsuma nisa. However, our publicizing is not done via flashy billboards or neon lights, as Western culture would recommend.

Instead of lighting our menoros in the public domain, we (ideally) light them next to the door of our houses, emphasizing the boundary that separates the sanctity of our homes from the outside world. Symbolically, we are declaring that miracles occur to those who cultivate homes in which Hashem is welcomed inside, while the outside world remains where it belongs.

Q: Dinah married at least three different people. How many of them can you identify?

A: Rashi explains that after Shimon and Levi killed all the men in Shechem, they went to rescue Dina, but she was worried that nobody would marry her after what happened in Shechem and refused to return with them until Shimon promised to marry her. The Gemara and Midrash teach that Iyov married Dinah. The Ben Yehoyada explains that this marriage took place after Shimon died. The Seder Hadoros writes that Dinah also married Zevulun, who was her twin (Ibn Ezra 30:21). Dinah did not marry Shechem, for Shimon and Levi killed him before the wedding could take place.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.