By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
November 16, 2002
Now that Rachel has borne him a child, Yaakov asks Lavan to
allow him to return home to Canaan, since his many
years of service were in order to marry and raise a
family. What follows is an often puzzling incident (Bereishit
30:27-31:1), which we present here according to the reading of
Malbim (R. Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael, 1809-1877):
And Lavan said to him, “If only I have found favor in your eyes!
I have divined that Hashem has blessed me because of you. You did not purchase
my daughters as slaves by your labor, so you have no
right to take them out of the country.” So he said,
“Name your wage for me and I will give.”
And he said to him, “You know how I have served you, and what
your flock has become with me. For the little that you
had before me has increased (VA’YIFROTZ) greatly and
Hashem has blessed you because of me. For my exceptional work, and the blessings
I brought, I deserve far more than the wages of a day-laborer. But now, when
shall I work for my household also?”
And he said, “What shall I give you?”
And Yaakov said, “You shall not give me anything because, for my
past labors, I acquired the right to take my wives with me; I will remain under
new terms if you will do this thing for me: I will return and tend your flock, I
will guard it. I will pass among all your flock today (HA’YOM), removing (HASEIR)
from there every spotted and mottled lamb, and every dark lamb among the sheep,
and every mottled and spotted among the goats, and it shall be my wage.
“Effective immediately, these three types of sheep and two types
of goats, which you can always verify, will be mine. Hashem’s Providence which
even you recognize will determine how large should be my wage, and my
righteousness shall testify against me hereafter (B’YOM MACHAR), when you will
go over my wage before you: any one that is not spotted or mottled among the
goats or dark among the sheep, is stolen with me.”
And Lavan said, “Yes! May it be so, as you say.”
However, Lavan immediately schemes to reinterpret and distort the terms of the
agreement First, Lavan himself removed (VA’YASAR) on that day (BA’YOM HAHU), the
mottled and spotted goats, feigning to understand Yaakov’s word HASEIR as a
command to Lavan to exclude from the deal those animals that currently have
white in their fleece and to keep them for himself, so that only such animals
that would be born thereafter would belong to Yaakov. Second, whereas Yaakov had
specified spotted and mottled animals, Lavan takes out the ringed and mottled
rams, and all the spotted and mottled goats every one
that had white (LAVAN) in them and all the dark ones among the sheep.
By slipping this change past Yaakov, Lavan establishes a precedent that he can
always claim occurred with Yaakov’s consent. Later, Yaakov would futilely
complain that Lavan constantly changed his wages (see 31:7-8,41). Third, while
Yaakov wanted these animals close-by, so their presence would influence the
birth of more of their type, Lavan gave them into the hands of his sons. And he
placed a distance of three days between himself and Yaakov, while Yaakov tended
the rest of Lavan’s flock. Realizing he has been tricked but unable to prove it,
Yaakov acts to recoup his losses without violating the agreement as he
established it. He is confident that Hashem will come to his aid, but he must
also make an effort:
And Yaakov took for himself rods of fresh aspen (LIVNEH), hazel and chestnut,
and peeled white (LEVANOT) streaks in them, thereby exposing the white (HA’LAVAN)
which can be found throughout the rods. But it is not the rods that would affect
the coloring of the animals; it is the sight of other animals with white
coloring that would do it:
And he set the rods which he had peeled in the gutters in the
watering troughs where the sheep would come to drink facing the sheep, and they
would look closely when they came to drink. And the sheep would go into heat
before the rods, and the sheep would bear ringed, spotted and mottled young. And
Yaakov separated the sheep, and he placed the sheep facing the ringed ones, and
every dark one among Lavan’s sheep. And he formed separate flocks and did not
put them with Lavan’s sheep. And it was that whenever the healthy sheep would go
into heat, Yaakov would place the rods before the eyes of the sheep in the
gutters, to stimulate them with the rods. But when the sheep were weak he would
not place, so the weak ones became Lavan’s and the healthy ones became Yaakov’s.
And the man increased (VA’YIFROTZ) very much, and he had many sheep and
maid-servants and men-servants and camels and donkeys. But he heard the words of
Lavan’s children saying, “Yaakov has taken all that was our father’s, and from
that which is our father’s he made all this wealth.” (30:38 – 31:1)
Undoubtedly, Yaakov is in the right. However, this incident indicates to what
extent living with Lavan has changed him:
• Lavan ("white") hides behind the veneer of propriety and
legality, even while he is cheating Yaakov. Likewise, Yaakov’s countermeasure
utilizes whiteness: LIVNEH . . . LEVANOT . . . HA’LAVAN.
• The same word (VA’YIFROTZ) is used to describe both men as their wealth
• The three days’ distance Lavan placed between the flocks parallels the three
times YOM appears in the negotiations. This may suggest that Yaakov is
redirecting Lavan’s “weapon” (3 days) so that it boomerangs.
• While Yaakov is acting honestly, his methods give a bad impression.
• Lavan’s own sons see that Yaakov has adopted their father’s ways:
“Yaakov has taken all that was our father’s…”
All this may allude to Yaakov’s subconscious change in attitude as a result of
Lavan’s insidious influence. This is certainly detrimental to Yaakov, and his
second dream (31: 11-13), is a clear Divine directive as to what he should do.
Indeed, it is time for Yaakov to return home.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"
Sleeping at the foot of Mount Moriah, Yaacov dreams: " ... a ladder set on
the earth and its top reached heavenward, and behold angels of God were
ascending and descending on it, and behold, Hashem was standing over him
... (Gen. 28:12-22)." Yaacov takes this dream seriously, as a promise from
Hashem. In turn, he makes a vow that the rock upon which he slept will
forever be "a house of G-d (28: 22)."
Yet Yaacov takes Yoseph's dreams so lightly. Yoseph, too, dreamt of earth
and heaven -- first of sheaves, and then of the sun, the moon and the
stars. What was Yaacov's response? "His father scolded him (Gen. 37:10)."
He rebuked Yoseph, at least publicly. Wherein lies the difference between
Yaacov's dream and Yoseph's dreams?
My colleague, Rabbi Philip H. Singer, and I arrived at the conclusion
that, although the dreams were similar , there was one essential component
missing in Yoseph's dreams: the ladder, the link between earth and heaven,
upon which angels could ascend and descend. A connection between heaven
and earth is necessary to make a dream a reality. And in our world, the
connection between heaven and earth is Torah.
Yaacov's dream which combines heaven and earth brings with it a promise to
"guard you wherever you go and return you to this soil (28: 15);" to Eretz
Yisrael. Dreams of heaven or earth, without this connection, can lead to
jealousy, to strife, to disenchantment and to rivalry between brothers.
These, in turn, may lead to expulsion from Eretz Yisrael. Eretz Yisrael
without Torah -- the link between heaven and earth -- or for that matter,
Torah without Eretz Yisrael, is an anomaly.
Rabbi Mallen Galinsky
Dean, Yeshivat Sha'alvim