Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s Parsha, VaYetzei, describes the stormy odyssey of our third and final Patriarch, Yaakov. His life was saved by his mother, Rivka, who divined with her prophetic spirit that her older son had decided to wait for the death of Yitzchak, and then execute his younger sibling.
However, she chose not to inform Yitzchak of Eisav’s plans. She very shrewdly, utilized the need of Yaakov, to find an appropriate Shiduch (match) as the basis for the idea, that he should travel to the house of her brother, Lavan, and seek a wife from among his daughters. Yitzchak acceded to this initiative, and sent Yaakov–with blessings–to the house of Lavan.
Initially, things went well for Yaakov, in his encounter with Lavan, who provided hospitality to his nephew. When Lavan informed him that he wanted to compensate him–for the work of shepherding his animals–Yaakov, saw an opportunity to secure a marriage with the woman he loved, Rachel.
Yaakov was extremely generous in his offer. Being as precise as he could, he said, “l will work for you for seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter.” And Lavan was equally explicit in his response. “It is better for me to give her to you, than to give her to another man. Stay with me.”
It seems that seven years of wages is a long time and a high price to pay for a marriage. But Yaakov didn't look at it that way. “Yaakov worked seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to like him a few days, because of his love for her.” In other words, this felt like a small price to pay, for a woman of such superlative qualities. We learn from this, that if one has an opportunity for a great Shiduch, but obtaining it will require an enormous amount of capital, he should not be deterred. That is what money was made for!
But, in spite of Yaakov’s best efforts, things did not go as planned. The time came for the wedding, and Lavan made all the arrangements. Yaakov entered the Chuppah (wedding canopy), believing he was marrying Rachel; but, “When morning came behold it was Leah.” The darkness of the tent, and the extreme modesty practiced by these righteous individuals, prevented this crucial discovery from being made, until the light of day.
Yaakov, expressed his severe disappointment to Lavan, saying, “Was it not for Rachel that I worked for you? Why have you deceived me?” Lavan, didn’t skip a beat and had a ready retort; “It is not done that way in this place, to give the younger before the older. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other one too, for the work which you will perform for me, yet another seven years.”
With great smoothness and deception, Lavan had been able to achieve his objectives. He secured a great husband for his older daughter, and obtained fourteen years of honest labor, from his trusted nephew; in exchange for his younger child. Of course, this entailed the blatant cheating of Yaakov, with whom he had made a clear-cut agreement. But Lavan, could comfort himself with the assurance that he really had no choice; because, “that is not done in this place…” After all, one must respect the Minhag HaMakom (“custom of the place”).
It should be noted that Yaakov only voiced his anger to Lavan. One wonders, why he said nothing to Leah. After all, it was she who directly participated in the deception, by pretending to be Rachel. This would certainly seem to be valid grounds for divorce. Yet Yaakov, neither divorced nor rebuked Leah. He simply adjusted to the new reality, and moved on. The matter never came up again.
Yaakov remained married to Leah, but could not masquerade the fact that it was Rachel who he loved. Once Leah began having children, it became clearer to Yaakov that she would be a partner in his mission to establish the “Shivtei Kah” (Tribes of the A-mighty); and he acted accordingly.
Yaakov recognized that what he had regarded as a deception, was actually a good thing. For, it was through Leah, the unwanted wife, that most of his children were born. In remaining married to her, he relinquished his personal preferences in the area of family life, and embraced the plan of Hashem.
And, it is interesting to note, that he never rebuked Leah–for willingly going along–with the cheating scheme of Lavan. In my opinion, it is because he didn’t blame Leah for what she did. Yaakov believed that she acted in innocence–because she (as well as Rachel)–was never informed about the agreement between Lavan and Yaakov; whereby Rachel would be given to Yaakov, in exchange for seven years of work. When the time for the nuptials arrived, Lavan informed Leah that he had arranged for her, to be the bride of Yaakov.
This explains the great pain Leah felt, when she sensed that Yaakov loved Rachel more than her; and why she hoped and prayed, that the children she was having, would effectuate a change in Yaakov’s feelings toward her.
The most compelling piece of evidence, to support my contention, is to be found in Leah’s angry response to Rachel’s request for the Dudaim; which Reuven had found. Leah said; “Was your taking my husband a small thing? And now you even take my son’s Dudaim?” How could Leah have said such a thing, if in fact, it was she, who had stolen the husband; whom Rachel was designated to marry?
I believe that Yaakov never told Rachel and Leah about his original agreement with Lavan; which had been betrayed. He realized that it would serve no purpose, and only increase strife in the family. And we should learn an important lesson from our forefather. Very often, we reveal things and share information, which serves no useful purpose, and in fact, causes pain. Especially, when we feel aggrieved, we must be careful about blurting out things which will come back to bite us. Shemirat HaLashon (guarding one's speech), is a great value in Judaism. Let us strive to emulate the behaviors of our great forefathers.