Vaya’avod imo od sheva shanim acheiros (Bereishis 29:30)
Yaakov was exemplary in his devotion to Torah study. At the age of 63, instead of traveling immediately to Lavan’s house to seek a wife, he first stopped at a yeshivah to study Torah for 14 years. There he didn’t sleep a single night as he was completely engrossed in the in-depth study of Torah (Rashi, 28:11). Upon arriving at the house of Lavan, he agreed to work for seven years in order to marry Rochel. At the end of that period, Lavan tricked him into marrying Leah instead.
When Yaakov confronted him about the trickery, Lavan proposed that he would allow Yaakov to marry Rochel if he agreed to work for an additional seven years. Rashi writes that whereas the first time Yaakov was required to work all seven years before the wedding, this time Lavan allowed him to marry Rochel immediately, after which time he was to complete his obligation by working for seven years.
As it was Lavan who had intentionally deceived him and reneged on their original agreement, why did Yaakov remain to work for Lavan for an additional seven years? Yaakov committed himself to work for seven years to marry Rochel, and he had fulfilled this obligation. As he never agreed to work for an additional seven years to marry Leah, why did he do so instead of returning to Canaan to study Torah?
The following story will help answer this question. Harav Aharon Kotler was legendary for his devotion to studying and teaching Torah. Once, shortly after leaving his home on his way to yeshivah, he asked his driver to turn around and return to his house. His driver couldn’t imagine what he had forgotten that could possibly be so critical, but he immediately returned to Rav Aharon’s home.
The driver offered to run inside to fetch whatever was forgotten, but Rav Aharon insisted that he would go to the house himself. The curious driver followed to observe what was so important and was astonished to observe Rav Aharon tell his wife, “Goodbye, and have a wonderful day,” and return to the car. Rav Aharon explained that every day he would say good-bye to his wife before leaving. That day he had forgotten, and he didn’t want to hurt his wife’s feelings. Only after expending the time to return home and personally say goodbye was he able to proceed to the yeshivah to give his shiur.
In light of this story, we can appreciate the answer given by Harav Dovid Feinstein to our question. Although Yaakov wasn’t legally required to do so, had he in fact departed prematurely, Leah would have been devastated. She would have felt that her husband viewed his beloved Rochel as worthy of seven years of work, but that he viewed her as unworthy. Even though the extra seven years of work came at the expense of Yaakov’s ability to study Torah and to escape the evil influences of Lavan, it was worth seven full years of spiritual sacrifice to avoid hurting the feelings of his wife Leah. The Mishnah in Avos (3:17) teaches that without proper character traits and sensitivity to others, there can be no Torah study — a lesson we should learn from the actions of Yaakov Avinu and Rav Aharon.
Q: Rashi writes (29:11) that Esav commanded his son Elifaz to chase the fleeing Yaakov and kill him. Instead, Elifaz took all of Yaakov’s possessions, as the Gemara in Nedarim (64b) teaches that a poor person is considered as if dead and this was considered a partial fulfillment of his father’s instructions to kill Yaakov. Why is a poor person considered as if dead?
Q: After Yaakov explained to Rochel and Leah that Hashem had commanded him to leave Lavan’s house and return to the land of Canaan, they responded with their consent. They explained (31:14–16) that they had no hope of inheriting their father’s possessions together with their brothers and had been treated by their father as strangers when he sold them and held back their money, and added almost as an afterthought that they should go as Hashem had instructed. Why did they begin with rational justifications for their agreement to depart rather than focusing on the primary consideration — Hashem’s command to do so?
A: The Maharal explains that a poor person is considered dead because he is forced to rely on others for his sustenance and is unable to live independently, which is the definition of life. Shlomo Hamelech teaches (Mishlei 15:27) that “sonei matanos yichyeh — one who hates gifts will live,” as being self-sustaining is the very definition of living. Similarly, the Torah (Vayikra 14:5) refers to a stream which flows on its own and is not stagnant as mayim chaim — living waters — because its ability to sustain itself is the very essence of life.
A: Harav Moshe Feinstein answers that Rochel and Leah gave this explanation to teach that a person should not view the performance of mitzvos as difficult. If one understands that doing mitzvos will not result in financial loss or other setbacks, it will be much easier to do them. For this reason, they stressed that they would not be incurring any financial loss by following Hashem’s command because Lavan would not have given them a portion of his estate even if they remained, and as a result, following Hashem’s instructions was much less of a challenge. He adds that transmitting this insight to children is critical in ensuring that they will remain observant when they get older. If they view mitzvos as burdens which their parents were strong enough to handle, they may choose to opt out, but if they appreciate that keeping mitzvos will not cost a person, and in fact will only bring rewards of all types, they will be much more likely to continue doing them.
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.