By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
December 5, 2003
Seven years have passed, during which time Yaakov worked
faithfully for Lavan in order to earn the right to marry his beloved Rachel.
Upon Yaakov’s request, Lavan complies:
And Lavan gathered all the men of the place and made a feast.
And it was in the evening that he took his daughter Leah and brought her to him,
and he came to her. And Lavan gave her Zilpah his handmaiden to Leah his
daughter [as] a handmaiden (SHIFCHAH) (Bereshit 29:22-24).
In the morning, Yaakov discovers Lavan’s deception, and complains. Lavan
explains that the younger daughter Rachel may not be married before her older
sister. He instructs Yaakov to wait until the end of Leah’s week-long marriage
celebration, when he can then marry Rachel.
And Yaakov did so; he completed this one’s week. Then he gave him his daughter
Rachel to him as wife. And Lavan gave Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaiden
to her as a handmaiden (L’SHIFCHAH) (28-29).
The mention of Zilpah and Bilhah is noteworthy. As Radak explains simply, each
of Lavan’s daughters is receiving a wedding present of one of his handmaidens
for her personal use. Also, Yaakov will later marry Bilhah and Zilpah at their
mistresses’ prompting, and each will bear him two children. Thus it is
understandable that the Torah sees fit to acquaint us with these two women at
this point, so we see how Yaakov’s two other wives first entered into his
But the descriptions of Zilpah’s and Bilhah’s introductions raise questions.
Chief among them is: Why does Lavan present his daughters with their “presents”
in what seems to be the midst of the consummation of the marriage? Would it not
have been more appropriate to do so either during the pre-wedding feast (when
Lavan could even show off his magnanimity!), or on the next day?
R. David Zvi Hoffman points out that, despite the fact that Yaakov worked for
fourteen years to marry two daughters, Lavan’s manner of giving his handmaidens
gives the impression that he still expects something in return. This is later
echoed in the complaint voiced by Rachel and Leah:
Were we not considered like strangers to him, for he sold us . . . (Bereshit
Moreover, there are differences between the two accounts:
• when giving Zilpah, Leah is not named (And Lavan gave her), while in the case
of Bilhah, her mistress is named (And Lavan gave Rachel his daughter);
• conversely, when it comes to receiving the handmaidens, Leah is named (to Leah
his daughter), while Rachel is not (to her); and
• the purpose of each “present” is as a handmaiden, but Zilpah’s account lacks
the preposition (SHIFCHAH), while Bilhah’s includes it (L’SHIFCHAH).
Wily Lavan must be up to something! But, what is it?
Rashi addresses this issue later on in our portion. When Leah sees that she has
stopped bearing children, she gives Zilpah as Yaakov’s fourth wife:
And Zilpah, Leah’s handmaiden, bore Yaakov a son. And Leah said, Fortune has
come, so she called his name Gad. And Zilpah, Leah’s handmaiden, bore Yaakov a
second son. And Leah said, For my happiness, Hashem has made me happiest of
maidens, so she called his name Asher (Bereshit 30:10-13).
Zilpah seems to bear two children without first conceiving!
Rashi explains, however (based on Bereshit Rabbah 71:9):
since she was the youngest of them and a child in years, pregnancy was not
noticeable in her.
Then, Rashi adds an idea not found in his original source:
And in order to deceive Yaakov Lavan gave her to Leah, so he would not
understand that Leah is being brought in to him, for such was the custom, to
give the older handmaiden to the older [daughter] and the younger [handmaiden]
to the younger [daughter].
In the midst of the proceedings, Lavan creates the illusion that Yaakov is
marrying Rachel first.
Parenthetically, scholars are unsure Rashi’s source. Some point to the
similarity between this addition and the following, from “Midrash Aggadah”
Zilpah his handmaiden And she was younger and was fit for Rachel, and she was
given to Leah in his deceit, so as to show Yaakov that this one is Rachel’s
However, despite its name (which was bestowed on the untitled
manuscript by its first publisher, Solomon Buber, in 1894), “Midrash Aggadah”
might not be a true midrash, based on the teachings of Tanaim and Amoraim.
Instead, it might be a medieval anthology of midrashim and later commentaries,
since it dates from the period around Rashi. In other words, Rashi’s additional
comments here might be his own, and the anonymous writer of “Midrash Aggadah”
might have used Rashi as a source!
The subtle differences between the two accounts of Lavan’s “presents” further
show his deceit. With regard to the public gift to Leah, And Lavan gave her ---
without indicating which daughter --- Zilpah his (younger) handmaiden, thereby
giving the impression that Rachel is the recipient; but, as Lavan knows full
well, Zilpah is really being given to Leah his daughter [as] a handmaiden (SHIFCHAH).
R. Menachem Kasher, in Torah Shelemah, quotes “Rimzei Torah” by R. Yoel (13th
century), who explains the significance of SHIFCHAH, without the preposition L’:
Since Zilpah is more suitable for Rachel, Lavan gives her to his daughter
without specification, just a handmaiden. And this completes the deception.
On the other hand, when Lavan later gives Bilhah to Rachel, there is no longer a
need for him to dissemble. Therefore, he acts openly:
And Lavan gave Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaiden --- expressly --- to
her as a handmaiden (L’SHIFCHAH).
Notice how cunningly Lavan manipulates the situation for his own purposes. And
it matters little to him who will suffer: his daughters, his handmaidens (who,
as we learn in Bereshit Rabbah 74:14 and Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 36, were also
Lavan’s daughters), or his new son-in-law. And he “pulls it off” without anyone
--- except our Sages --- realizing what he is up to.
What a sneak!
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
In Parshat Vayeitzei stones symbolize both unity and disunity. In the
first story (Bereishit 28:10-22), Yaakov comes to Charan, bunks down for
the night and gathers some stones for a pillow. After his famous dream,
Yaakov wakes up and says, “This is a place where Hashem is, I didn't
know!” He takes the stone that he had put under his head and makes it into
an altar. The focus on this stone is noteworthy.
Yaakov continues on his journey and comes to a field where there is a
large well covered by a huge stone (29:2). The stone is so big that the
shepherds have to wait until they are all gathered in order to roll it
off. But Yaakov sees the beautiful Rachel coming and single-handedly
(29:10) “rolls off the stone.” He approaches Rachel, kisses her and cries.
Again, a stone plays a role in the story.
In the last story of the parsha, Lavan chases after Yaakov insisting that
Yaakov stole his idols. After a search that finds nothing, Lavan suggests
they make a covenant. As a symbol of the covenant (31:45), Yaakov chooses
a stone. The agreement between them is that the stone will be a sign or
demarcation that neither of them will pass to harm the other. What's with
all the stones?
In the first story, Rashi notes that Yaakov gathered many stones (28:11)
for his pillow, but after his dream he took (28:18) “THE stone.” Rashi
explains that all the stones vied for the position directly under Yaakov's
head, because each one wanted to have that tzaddik's head on it, so Hashem
caused all the stones to merge into one. The stones went from a symbol of
disunity to one of unity. Since this is the place where the future Temple
would stand, the message seems to be that the Temple, which connects
Heaven and Earth, is the ultimate place where a Jew finds unity with
In the second story, Rashbam says that there was such a huge stone on the
well because the shepherds didn't trust each other not to steal extra
water, so they wanted to make sure no one could take water by himself.
Here again the stone symbolizes disunity. When Yaakov sees Rachel and
realizes he has found his soul mate (someone with whom he will be unified
or “one”) he throws off the stone. Now that the well has become a place of
unity, the stone has no place there.
In the last story, both connotations of the stone are again implied. Lavan
and Yaakov agree that only in unity can they live together. If they would
try to harm each other, it is better that they be apart.
The overall message here is that stones are not inherently good or bad;
rather it depends on how we use them. We choose whether to throw them at
each other, or to use them to draw one another together. Hopefully we will
choose the latter.
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320