Vayeitzei – Shishi

What Yaakov Doesn't Know Can Hurt You a Great Deal

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Yaakov packed up his family and all of their stuff and headed for his homeland. Lavan was busy tending his own sheep, so Rachel took the opportunity to steal his terafim, which were small household idols. (Her intention may have been meritorious, i.e., to keep her father from worshipping them, but you know what they say about good intentions. This one will come back to bite Rachel big time.)

Yaakov and family slipped out quietly, behind Lavan’s back. On the third day, Lavan found out. He got his men together and they took off in hot pursuit. Because Yaakov’s party had a pretty big head start, it took Lavan a week to catch up.

When they were all together, Lavan scolded Yaakov for leading his daughters away like prisoners of war. Had Yaakov acted properly, Lavan said, he would have given them a huge send-off. As it was, he didn’t even get to say goodbye!

Lavan continued by telling Yaakov that his course of action was especially foolish as Lavan was a powerful enemy when crossed. However, G-d had appeared to Lavan in a dream and told him to leave Yaakov alone, so that was that.

“I understand that you were homesick,” Lavan said, “but stealing my terafim was really low.”

“Okay,” said Yaakov, “now I don’t know what you’re talking about! Nobody here has your terafim. If they do, may that person perish.”

Yaakov gave Lavan permission to search from tent to tent to see if he could find any stolen property whatsoever. (Of course, Yaakov had no idea that Rachel had taken them.) Lavan searched everyone’s quarters. When he got to Rachel’s tent, she asked his forgiveness for not rising. She explained that she was experiencing discomfort from her period, but she was really concealing the terafim, which were in the cushion beneath her.

When Lavan didn’t find anything, Yaakov took the opportunity to rub it in. “What’d you find?” he challenged Lavan. “Put it here, so we can all see it!” (This is ironic, since it was perhaps the only time in their relationship that Lavan was truly in the right!) Then Yaakov really let Lavan have it for two decades worth of abuse. “I never took a thing from you,” Yaakov told him. “In fact, if a sheep was carried off by a wild animal, I replaced it from my own funds! Hot, cold, day, night – I worked diligently for 20 years – 14 years to marry your daughters, then six more to build my own estate. And you changed the terms of our agreement ten times! If G-d hadn’t been with me, you’d have had me depart empty-handed.” We will see in the next aliyah that Lavan does not – cannot! – deny any of the charges with which Yaakov has accused him.

As far as Rachel, she won’t make it back with Yaakov. The consequences of his curse will become apparent in next week’s parsha, VaYishlach.

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