By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
7 Kislev 5765 - November 19, 2004
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] (Bereishit 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, Leah. 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] (vs.
The mention of Zilpah and Bilhah is noteworthy. As Radak explains simply, each
of Lavan’s daughters receives as a wedding present 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 mentions these two women at this point, so we can
see how Yaakov’s two other wives first entered into his household.
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 Rachel and Leah, 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 . . . (Bereishit
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).
• 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 to Yaakov as his 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 (Bereishit 30:10-13).
Zilpah seems to bear two children without
first conceiving! Rashi explains, however (based on Bereishit 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
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 of 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
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 Sheleimah, 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!
There are two episodes found at opposite ends of our parsha. At the
beginning of the parsha, Yaakov leaves his father's house and heads toward
Charan, whereas at the end of the parsha, Yaakov leaves Lavan's house and
goes his own way.
There are clear similarities between the two stories yet the differences
are very striking. In both segments, Yaakov leaves one place and goes
somewhere else, but in the first story he heads for a specific location,
namely Charan, whereas in the second account, Yaakov goes on his way, "b’darko,”
without a precise destination. In the first segment, Yaakov moves and the
place remains stationary – he goes to the place. In the second segment,
Yaakov is encamped and the angels of God come to him. At the beginning of
Vayetze, Yaakov emphasizes that he is in the place of God, a permanent
fixed and immovable place. On the other hand, at the end of Vayetze,
Yaakov discovers a portable Shechinah, an encampment of God.
These segments may be similar but they reveal a major difference. We are
witness to two approaches to the Shechinah. When he left his father’s
house, Yaakov, “the dweller of the tents,” had to seek out the Shechinah.
God’s presence is found in a specific place. Yaakov goes on a pilgrimage
to that place we call Yerushalayim.
After his travails with Lavan, Yaakov emerges unscathed. He has succeeded
because he has internalized the Shechinah – it goes wherever Yaakov goes.
This Yaakov calls “Machanayim” – an encampment of God; not a house. Yaakov
enters the galut of Charan with a vision of a fixed place for the Divine
Presence, but he emerges with an element of the Shechinah that is forever
with him wherever he might go.
A person must internalize his religious experiences and create a dwelling
place for the Shechinah. In the galut, we pray towards Jerusalem to reach
our spirituality – but in Eretz Yisrael our whole life is surrounded with
Shechinah wherever we go.
Rabbi Chanoch Yeres
Yemin Moshe, Jerusalem
*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.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness ,
Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254