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Parashat Vayetze 5778 — 11/25/2017

Parashat Vayetze 5778 — 11/25/2017

Bereishit 28:10-32:3

And Ya’akov loved Rachel more than Leah (miLeah) … (29:30)

The whole family situation of Ya’akov and his wives raises a multitude of questions, and here Abarbanel takes a minority opinion on some of its aspects. But let’s first fill in some of the back-story from the Midrash. Lavan had two daughters. The older one was Leah, and the younger one was Rachel. Some say they were twins. Lavan, of course, was the brother of Rivka, Ya’akov and Esav’s mother. People assumed that the older boy (Esav) would marry the older girl (Leah) and the younger twins would also marry. Leah wanted no part of that bargain, hence her “eyes were weak” (from crying and praying to be spared having to marry Esav).

When Ya’akov arrived in Haran, he immediately met and fell in love with Rachel. When we are speaking of people of the spiritual level of Ya’akov and Rachel, “falling in love” does not mean swooning from a massive hormone rush – it means recognizing one’s partner in his/her life’s mission. Ya’akov agrees to work for 7 years for the right to marry Rachel. At the end of the 7 years, having become thoroughly acquainted with Lavan’s lying, thieving ways, and suspecting, rightly, that he was going to switch Leah for Rachel, Ya’akov and Rachel decide to “password-protect” their first night together. However, when Rachel sees Lavan’s plans unfolding, she thinks of her sister’s humiliation, and giving up (she thought) any chance to marry Ya’akov, gives Leah the password. Ya’akov and Leah consummate their marriage, Lavan then gives him Rachel as a second wife and they all live happily ever after. Not.

There are several serious issues with this story. First, and perhaps most serious, our Sages tell us that the Patriarchs observed the entire Torah, even the Rabbinic hedges around the Torah’s explicit commandments. But the Torah forbids marrying two sisters while they’re both alive (even if the first one is divorced). How could Ya’akov have married these two sisters? (Both of them of course were his first cousins, however such marriages are not prohibited either Biblically or Rabbinically.) Some of the “standard” explanations are that since the Torah had not yet been given, exceptions could be made based on the perceived spiritual need (the Patriarchs all being on a very high spiritual level, they were allowed to make such determinations), and that all the rules did not apply outside the Land of Israel (even though they do now that the Torah is an explicit command from Gd). Thus Ya’akov could marry two sisters in Charan, but Rachel died when they came back to the Land of Israel so that he would not be in violation of the prohibition.

Further questions: Ya’akov had prophetic abilities. We later find him genetically modifying the sheep and goats in Lavan’s flocks so that they would become his pay! How could he not know that Lavan had given him Leah and not Rachel, password or no password? Or did he sense that he was with the right woman, just not the one he thought was right? And in that case, why did he insist on marrying Rachel too? And why did Leah describe herself as “hated” – did Ya’akov really hate her?

Abarbanel takes the minority view that Ya’akov did hate Leah, at least initially. Hatred can be shown on various levels – through action, through speech and through thought. When Leah bore her first son, she named him Reuven, from the root “to see” – behavior is obvious for all to see. Her second son she named Shimon from the root “to hear” (as in Shema Yisrael…) – speech is heard. Speech is a more subtle form of behavior. Finally, the third son is named Levi, from the root “to accompany, join” – Ya’akov names this son, indicating that his thoughts were now more positively inclined towards Leah. Additionally, Abarbanel translates the verse we quoted using the prefix mi in the literal sense, as “from” – Ya’akov loved Rachel from Leah. That is, in contrast to his aversion to Leah, he loved Rachel all the more. I might add two things: others have translated mi as from, but interpret that it was from / because of Rachel’s care and concern for Leah’s humiliation, and her self-sacrifice to prevent it, that aroused Ya’akov’s love for her. Another way to read miLeah is to vocalize it m’le’ah / fully. Ya’akov loved Rachel fully, in contrast to Leah. Her estimation that he hated her was perhaps only by contrast to the way he loved Rachel – not that it was any the less painful.

We are still left with the questions of why Ya’akov didn’t know he was with Leah, and how, if he followed the entire Torah, he could have permitted himself to marry two sisters. I think by extending Abarbanel’s 3 levels of action to one other level we can gain an insight into both issues. In order of increasing subtlety, we act, we speak and we think. But from where do thoughts arise? We experience that thoughts come spontaneously from inside us – a constant stream of thoughts in fact.

We have analyzed in the past that just as physicists are closing in on a unified field, of which the entire creation is an expression, so consciousness has a level in which all the laws of nature reside, and this level of consciousness is accessible to us by allowing our conscious mind to relax to its state of minimum excitation. With repeated experience of this level of consciousness, we accustom ourselves to be able to think thoughts consciously from their source. When one can think from this level, one is attuned to the Will of Gd, because one is thinking from the most basic level of creation. Thus Ya’akov was able to intuit Torah – which is the Will of Gd in the language of human beings – before it was given. He was also able to intuit when the Will of Gd required a deviation from Torah, as in the case of his two wives.

Some 200+ years later, Ya’akov’s descendents had lost the ability to think at such subtle levels, and with it, the ability to live life in accordance with Gd’s Will in a spontaneous manner. Gd therefore had to reveal His Will explicitly, and leave it to the Sages of each generation to approach Ya’akov’s level as closely as possible, and thereby interpret Gd’s Will for the use of the people. Since nobody nowadays is able to think at the level from which Torah was revealed, we do not have the right to deviate from its teachings – even a prophet who teaches that it is OK to violate Torah is not heeded. Even if someone were at Ya’akov’s level, the atmosphere is so polluted by the general violation of the Divine Will that clear perception of it is not fully possible. We believe that at some point Gd will send Mashiach, who will restore our spiritual level of the whole world to a point where everyone lives Torah spontaneously, and we all enjoy Heaven on Earth, may it come speedily in our day.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Vayetze quotes Maimonides as saying that the place where Jacob dreamed of the ladder and of Gd speaking to him is the same place where the Altar of the Holy Temple stood, where David and Solomon built an altar, where Abraham bound Isaac, where Noah built an altar, where Cain and Abel made offerings, where Adam made offerings and from whose earth Adam was fashioned.

This is obviously a very special place but as Torah says, “Be still and know that I am Gd.”

We have the ability to experience Gd not only at the place of Jacob’s dream but also within our own Stillness and to build the Altar of the Holy Temple within this Stillness, becoming aware of Gd, Gd’s Altar of Holiness, of Liveliness, of Love.

We are doing this. Let us continue more and more sweetly, easily, lovingly and experience the Altar in our Still, Lively, Loving Consciousness—which is everywhere.
Baruch HaShem