How Could Lavan Be Right?

Vayomer Lavan lo yei’aseh chen bimkomeinu lases hatze’irah lifnei habechirah (Bereishis 29:26)

When Yaakov discovered that his swindling father-in-law Lavan had tricked him by substituting Leah for Rochel under the wedding canopy, he went to confront him. Lavan responded to Yaakov’s accusation of deceit by justifying his decision to switch his daughters based on the local custom that children get married in order of age, in which case his younger daughter (Rochel) could not get married before her older sister (Leah).

Apparently, Lavan’s defense was valid, for the Bach (Yoreh Deah 244) rules in accordance with his position that children should be married off in the order of their births. However, in his sefer Techeiles Mordechai, the Maharsham points out that it is difficult to understand why Jewish law is established in accordance with the specious logic of a renowned trickster like Lavan, instead of in line with the position of the righteous Yaakov, who was clearly not concerned about marrying the younger Rochel while her older sister Leah remained single.

The Seder Olam (2) writes that Leah and Rochel were twins. Rashi writes (25:26) that Yaakov was born holding on to the heel of his twin brother Eisav because he believed that he was legally entitled to be the firstborn. Rashi compares this to a tube in which a person places two rocks. When the tube is turned upside down to empty it, the first stone to come out will be the one that was inserted last, and the first one to have gone in will exit last. Accordingly, Yaakov attempted to block Eisav’s birth and be born first, as he was rightfully the firstborn. Eisav disagreed and maintained that because he emerged first, he was legally the firstborn, and therefore Yaakov had to acquire the birthright from him (25:29-34).

With this introduction, the Maharsham suggests that Lavan adopted Eisav’s position and maintained that because Leah was born first, she was considered the firstborn, while Yaakov argued that according to his reasoning, Rochel was the older sister. In light of this explanation of their dispute, we now understand that Yaakov agreed with Lavan’s claim that children should get married in age order, and their argument was only regarding which daughter was considered older. Thus it is not problematic for the Bach to rule in accordance with Lavan’s reasoning, for Yaakov himself also agreed with it.

Q: In his dream, Yaakov saw a ladder that stretched from earth to Heaven, upon which angels were ascending and descending (28:12). How many rungs did the ladder have?

A: The Radal interprets the Midrash as saying that there were three rungs on the ladder. The Rambam quotes a different Midrash that says there were four rungs, which is also the opinion of the Kli Yakar and Megaleh Amukos. In his commentary on Megillas Esther, the Rema quotes an opinion that maintains there were seven rungs.

Rashi writes (47:28) that Yaakov called his sons together before his death to reveal to them when Moshiach will come. Where did Yaakov learn this information? The Daas Z’keinim writes that by counting the number of rungs on the ladder in his dream, he was able to ascertain when Moshiach would arrive, which implies that there were many more rungs on the ladder.

Q: A part of the body mentioned in Parashas Vayeitzei is immortal. Which part is it, why is it immortal, and where in the body is it located?

A: After Yaakov awoke from his dream, he named the place Beis El, but the Torah records (28:19) that the original name of the city was Luz. The Rokeach writes that when a person dies and decomposes, his luz bone always remains intact, and this bone will enable him to be resurrected when Moshiach comes. The Shibbolei HaLeket writes that this bone only receives sustenance from food eaten on Motzoei Shabbos, which underscores the importance of eating melaveh malkah each week.

Accordingly, the Eliyahu Rabbah explains that when Adam ate from the forbidden fruit on Erev Shabbos, his luz bone got no pleasure from it, and it was therefore exempted from the curse of death that he received. Rashi and the Aruch both write that the luz bone is found at the bottom of the spine, while the Arizal maintains that it is located in the area where tefillin are placed on the head.

Q: In which two months of the year were no children born to Yaakov?

A: The Yalkut Shimoni records that Reuven was born on 14 Kislev, Shimon was born on 28 Teves, Levi was born on 16 Nissan, Yehudah was born on 15 Sivan, Dan was born on 9 Elul, Naftali was born on 5 Tishrei, Gad was born on 10 Cheshvan, Asher was born on 20 Shevat, Yissachar was born on 10 Av, Zevulun was born on 7 Tishrei, and Binyamin was born on 11 Cheshvan.

The Midrash concludes by stating that the two months in which none of the tribes were born are Iyar and Shevat. However, the Zayis Re’anan points out that this is difficult to understand, since according to these dates, none of the tribes were born in the months of Tammuz or Adar. Further, Asher was in fact born in the month of Shevat. Therefore, he suggests editing the Midrash to state that Yosef was born in the month of Tammuz and Asher was born not in Shevat, but in Adar.

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