Yoshev Ohalim

Vayigdelu ha’ne’arim vayehi Esav ish yodei’a tzayid ish sadeh v’Yaakov ish tam yoshev ohalim (Toldos 25:27)

Parashas Chayei Sarah concludes by recording that Yishmael died at the age of 137 (25:17). As the Torah only relates information that is relevant in every generation, why is it necessary for us to know the age at which Yishmael died? Rashi explains that this information is useful not for its own sake, but because it indirectly enables us to calculate the years of Yaakov’s life, and as a result of knowing how long Yishmael lived, we are able to determine that there are 14 years of Yaakov’s life that are unaccounted for. How is this calculated?

Rashi writes (28:9) that Yishmael died at the time Yaakov left his parents’ house to travel to the house of Lavan. Yishmael was 14 years older than Yitzchak, as Avraham was 86 when Yishmael was born (16:16) and was 100 at the time of Yitzchak’s birth (21:5). The Torah records (25:26) that Yitzchak was 60 when Yaakov was born, in which case Yishmael was 74 at that time.

If Yishmael was 74 at the time of Yaakov’s birth and died at the age of 137 when Yaakov left his parents’ home, Yaakov was 63 at that time, and he worked for Lavan for 14 years prior to Yosef’s birth. Yosef became viceroy in Egypt at the age of 30 (41:46), after which Yaakov waited an additional nine years before descending to Egypt, seven years of abundance and two years of famine, at which point he told Pharaoh that he was 130 (47:9). Collectively, these periods of time account for 53 years of Yaakov’s life after he arrived at Lavan’s house, in which case he was 77 at that time, yet we calculated that he was only 63 when he left his parents’ home. How do we account for the unexplained 14-year gap?

Based on the Gemara in Megillah (17a), Rashi concludes that although Yaakov left his parents’ house when he was 63, he first spent 14 years studying in the yeshivah of Ever before traveling to Lavan. However, Harav Yitzchok Hellman of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim points out a glaring difficulty with this explanation. Although 14 years of Yaakov’s life are unaccounted for, if the Torah doesn’t tell us what he was doing during that period, how did Chazal know that he spent this time in the yeshivah of Ever? Rav Hellman suggests that the source for Chazal’s statement is an explicit verse in Parashas Toldos: V’Yaakov ish tam yoshev ohalim — Yaakov was a wholesome man, dwelling in tents. Rashi explains that the tents to which the Torah is referring are the tents of Torah study. In other words, the Torah is teaching us that Yaakov’s default state was to dwell in the tents of Torah study, and any period in his life during which the Torah does not tell us that he was engaged in some other project or activity, he automatically reverted to his natural status of yoshev ohalim. As a result, once Chazal calculated that there were 14 years of Yaakov’s life during which the Torah does not tell us what he was doing, they understood that he used that time exclusively for uninterrupted Torah study.

Rav Hellman adds that as descendants of Yaakov, we must strive to emulate his singular dedication to Torah study. Although we all have family responsibilities, professional obligations, and numerous distractions throughout our daily lives, as Yaakov did as well, nevertheless, we should endeavor to inculcate within ourselves a default state of yoshev ohalim, and the moment our other duties and diversions cease, we should immediately return to our primary commitment in this world.

Q: Rashi writes (25:26) that Yaakov was born holding Esav’s heel. In what way did this conduct demonstrate his righteousness even at such a young age?

Q: Why did Yaakov bring his father wine to drink (27:25) when his mother only commanded him (27:17) to give him bread and meat, and from where did he get the wine?

A: The Paneiach Raza explains that Yaakov knew how difficult childbirth is, and with twins all the more so. As a result, he was born holding Esav’s heel, as he wished to make it as easy as possible for his mother.

A: The Chizkuni explains that Yaakov’s goal was for the alcohol to slightly confuse his father so that he wouldn’t pay so much attention to determining his true identity. The Tosefes Brachah suggests that the wine was for reasons of health, as the Gemara in Shabbos (41a) teaches that it is unhealthy to eat without drinking.

The Torah L’Daas suggests that if the meat was from the korban Pesach (Rashi 27:9), then Yitzchak needed wine for the four cups that are consumed during the Seder.

Alternatively, just as many mitzvos are done with a glass of wine, Yaakov reasoned that so, too, the blessings he would receive from his father should be given with a glass of wine. As for where Yaakov got the wine from, the Daas Zekeinim writes that the angel Michoel brought it to him from Gan Eden (perhaps that was the aroma of Gan Eden that Yitzchak smelled when Yaakov entered the room — Rashi 27:27).


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.