Torah Portion: Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3)
Rabbi Avraham Twerski’s Insights on Torah
When Years Seem Like a Few Days
by Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerksi
He (Jacob) said, “Look, the day is still long; it is not yet time to bring the livestock in; water the flock and go on grazing” (Genesis, 29:7).
Jacob was rather harsh in reprimanding the shepherds. Wasn’t it obvious that the stone covering the well was so massive that it required many men to move it? The Rabbi of Gur (Imrei Emes) said that Jacob was aware of this, but that he rebuked them for not trying to move it. But is it not possible that they had in fact tried but could not move it? Yes, but just because they failed once, why were they not trying again? But how did Jacob know that they had not tried repeatedly? Was his rebuke justified?
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch sheds light on this episode by asking, why was it necessary to cover the well with so massive a stone? Could they not have covered it with something not quite as heavy? He answers that the shepherds were suspicious of one another, and feared that a lighter cover would enable one of them to uncover the well on his own and take an unfair share of the water for his flock. In order to prevent this, they made it impossible to have access to the water unless they were all present.
Jacob understood this, and reasoned that people who had no trust in one another were likely to be indolent and not exert themselves. Traits are infectious. Trust and diligence are likely to go hand in hand, as are distrust and sloth. Jacob knew that they had not even tried to uncover the well.
Even in a competitive world, we should have faith that what God decreed for us to have cannot be taken from us. Begrudging other people’s success because we may think that it comes at our expense is a contemptible character trait, and unless we rid ourselves of this trait, it may affect other aspects of our character.
Character traits are not likely to exist in isolation. True faith in God and to fargin others (be happy for someone else’s good fortune) tend to go together.
I am indebted to one of my patients for an insight into this verse. This young man was recovering from an addiction to alcohol. He had become dependent on alcohol, and the thought that he could never drink again was intolerable. When he joined the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, he was told not to focus on the rest of his life, but to deal with just this day. “It is not impossible for you to abstain from drinking just today, is it? Then focus only on what you must do today. There is nothing you can do today about tomorrow’s sobriety, so there is no point in contemplating it.”
I have found this principle in the works of mussar. The yetzer hara (evil inclination) says, “What point is there in trying to observe all the Torah prohibitions? There is no way you can do so for the rest of your life. You are certain to violate Torah in quest of your desires. Why fight a losing battle? Why struggle and deny yourself so many pleasures when you are doomed to fail at it? You might as well just give in now.” The response to the yetzer hara should be, “I do not have to deal with the rest of my life today. I know that today I can withstand temptation, and that is all I am concerned with. When tomorrow comes, I’ll deal with that challenge then.”
The literal translation of the verse above is not “they seemed to him a few days.” The Hebrew word achadim means “single days.” The delay of seven years would have been very difficult to manage. Jacob, therefore, did not think of seven years, but took each day as it came. He could tolerate the deprivation today, and that was all that was necessary.
This is an important lesson for us. It is commonplace for people to make “New Year’s resolutions,” and these are soon broken. The reason for this is that a year is too great a task to undertake. One should resolve, “I will not lose my temper today,” or “I will not smoke today” or “I will adhere to my diet today.”
Reducing challenges to smaller segments of time makes them much more manageable.
Seize the Moment
by Rabbi Jared Viders
Several Augusts ago, our house was somehow designated as a drop-off site for new school supplies that would ultimately be distributed to financially-strapped families whose budgets simply did not allow for the significant costs associated with outfitting one’s children with brand new backpacks, binders, composition notebooks and glue sticks. Supplies of all sorts poured in.
To our surprise, one particular woman dropped off loads and loads of supplies. While we knew her to be a very generous soul, this particular display of generosity caught us somewhat off-guard because she did not boast such a robust income to be lavishly doling out gifts to others. After her third trip to the car, she mentioned how this particular cause struck such a soft-spot in her heart.
“Because I remember when my kids were young and we simply didn’t have the money for school supplies. I remember the pain and disappointment of breaking the news to my kids that there would be no new marker sets this year. Even though the kids understood, for a parent it felt just awful. So now that our kids are grown and the situation has improved, I wanted to give a little bit more. Perhaps I can spare some mother somewhere the heartache of telling her child that she has to get by with last year’s binder. For kids it’s a big thing. Especially when all her classmates have new things.”
At first glance, the apparent rivalry between Leah and Rachel appears to be (yet another) Torah depiction of sibling rivalry. The parsha is seemingly pre-occupied with each and every round of one-upsmanship associated with “who can mother the most tribes.” Yet, for those not complacent with this superficial understanding, a look beneath the surface reveals a stunning display of Leah’s sensitivity to others – a sensitivity borne from her own personal travails.
“God hearkened to Leah; and she conceived and bore Ya’akov a fifth son. And Leah said, “God has granted me s’chari [my reward] because I gave my maidservant [Zilpah] to my husband,’ and she called his name Issachar.” (Gen. 30:17)
Truth be told, there was no compelling reasons for Leah to invite yet another co-wife into the equation. True, from a precedential standpoint, Sarah gave Hagar to Avraham – but that was only because Sarah herself was incapable of having children. Here, however, Leah had already borne four sons to Ya’akov. So why complicate matters further by bringing Zilpah into the picture?
The Darchei Shleimus explains that this was not a strategy to simply garner more sons in the name of Team Leah. Quite the contrary, Leah’s willingness to give her maidservant Zilpah to Ya’akov represented Leah’s sincere desire to avoid any slighting to Zilpah’s honor.
How so? Well, once Rachel gave her maidservant, Bilhah, to Ya’akov and Bilhah subsequently bore two sons to Ya’akov, it dawned on Leah that her maidservant, Zilpah, was now the odd man (or woman, to be more accurate) out. Lest that that sense of estrangement or dishonor fester, Leah selflessly and graciously suggested that Zilpah have an opportunity to mother sons to Ya’akov as well. Sure enough, Gad and Asher were born to Zilpah thereby putting her on “even footing “so-to-speak with Bilhah.
“Afterwards, [Leah] bore a daughter and she called her name Dinah.” (30:21) Why the name Dinah? Rashi explains, “because Leah made a din [judgment] about herself and reasoned, ‘If this one is a male, my sister Rachel will not even be like one of the maidservants [who each had two children.]’ So, Leah davened with regards to the fetus and it was transformed into a female.”
Here we find Leah (again) going to extraordinary lengths to spare her sister, Rachel, any “dishonor” associated with having fewer children than her either Zilpah or Bilhah — Ya’akov’s maidservants.
Even though Leah was surely not at fault for bearing so many of Ya’akov’s sons.
Even though Leah would still, at the end of the day, be the mother to many more children than Rachel.
Even though this effort to preserve Rachel’s honor would essentially require a genetic, in utero miracle (and we generally are cautioned against davening for the supernatural occurrences.)
Nevertheless, motivated by her heightened awareness for the honor of others (especially in the eyes of one’s husband) Leah initiated (of her own volition) this strategy on behalf of Rachel.
Perhaps the root of Leah’s “emotional antennae” in this department stems from the fact that she seemingly always played “second-fiddle” in her own home. It is apparent from several verses (both in this week’s parsha and in the Book of Ruth), that Leah – despite being Ya’akov’s first wife, despite having mothered the lion’s share of the tribes and despite her greatness of character, would never achieve the esteem that her sister Rachel experienced in Ya’akov’s eyes.
Our life’s journeys are unique. Along the way we suffer “slings and arrows” and challenges that, if internalized properly, provide each of us with a refined “emotional vocabulary” to process life – not just our own, but others’ lives as well. One person endures loneliness. Others struggle with regret and Monday-morning quarterbacking. Some confront “guilt” on a daily basis. Others experience low self-esteem. Others live through relationships that flounder or businesses that go bust.
Leah extracted emotional know-how from her own life’s challenges and channeled that knowledge to enrich the lives of others.
May she serve as a role model for our own paths towards greatness.
Shame on … Nobody!
by Nesanel Yoel Safran
From this week’s Torah Portion
Not embarrassing people is a major Torah value. In this week’s Torah portion, Rachel gives up something very important to her to save her sister, Leah, from embarrassment. We, too, should try our best not to embarrass others.
In our story, a girl gets a chance to put another into an embarrassing situation.
Debby and her cousin, Jan, were walking home from the library, when they saw a little kid sitting and crying on the sidewalk.
“What’s the matter?” they asked the distressed girl.
The kid let out a couple of sniffles and pointed to a shiny, red training bike lying on its side like a beached whale, its chain having come out of its gear.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll get that fixed for you in a jiffy,” Debby assured her. She lifted the bike and sat down to work on it when she heard a loud laugh that could only come from one source.
“Just look at who’s trying to fix a bike!” Debby’s older brother, Kyle, who, with a few of his friends had just come back from soccer practice.
She tried to ignore him, hoping he’d be kind enough to do her the same favor – but that wasn’t happening.
“What a joke!” Kyle went on, turning to his friends and then back to his sister. “If we leave it up to you, by the time you fix the kid’s bike she’s gonna be old enough for a driver’s license!” He burst out in raucous laughter along with his buddies.
“Get outta the way and let a pro do the job,” Kyle said, tugging Debby on the arm.
Miffed, but not ready to make a scene over it, she stood up and stepped aside.
“Here, you can all watch and learn something,” Kyle said to his pals, bending over and moving the chain and bike pedals this way and that. But each time the chain seemed about to go back on, it would slip right off again.
Debby glared at him. She was about to say something, and then stopped.
“Wow, this bike is pretty badly broken,” Kyle said, now pushing harder, still without success, his friends nodding in agreement.
After a few more futile tries, the boy stood up and shrugged his shoulders. “Nope. This bike is totally busted. The gear’s all bent and the chain’s all stretched out. No way to fix it. You’re just gonna have to get a new one, kid,” Kyle declared. He turned to his buddies and they began laughing and talking together.
Debby smirked and walked back over to the bike. Then she stopped herself, bit her lip and silently waited for her brother and his friends to walk away. When they were out of sight down the block, she crouched down next to the broken trainer-bike. Seconds later the chain was firmly back in place and the bike was running perfectly.
“Thank you!!!” the little kid said, clapping with glee and happily wobble-wheeling down the sidewalk.
“Hey, you did that so fast!” Jan said. “You knew how to fix it all the time, didn’t you?”
“I suppose I did,” Debby said.
“So why didn’t you step right up and show that boasting brother of yours who was the real pro? Then he’d have been good and embarrassed when his friends had themselves a nice big laugh – this time at him!”
Debby shrugged, gave a little smile and thought to herself… But that’s exactly why I didn’t.
Q. How did Debby feel at first when her brother couldn’t fix the bike?A. She wanted to show him that she could.
Q. How did she feel afterwards?
A. She didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his friends, so she waited until he left, to fix the bike.
Q. What life-lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. When something we can say or do will embarrass another person, we may be tempted to do so, or at least not to give it a second thought. However, embarrassing people really hurts and we should avoid it whenever and however we can.
Q. Since Kyle was so obnoxious to her, wouldn’t Debby have been justified in showing him up?
A. It would be natural to feel that way; however, another’s insensitivity doesn’t justify our hurting him with embarrassment.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is ‘wounding someone’s pride’ really wounding him?
A. Since it’s not an apparent, physical wound, we can easily feel that it’s nothing so serious. However, embarrassment and wounded pride are in a way even deeper, crueler and less healable than physical wounds.
Q. If someone embarrasses us, how should we respond?
A. Certainly, taking revenge and embarrassing him back won’t make things better. A healthy response would be to remain silent and to remind ourselves of the inherent dignity we each possess – despite others’ denial of it – as human beings and creations of God.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” – Golda Meir
JOKE OF THE WEEK
A guide is showing a group of Israeli tourists the world famous Niagara Falls. “I’ll bet you don’t have anything like that in Israel!” said the tour guide.
“You are right, we don’t,” said one Israeli. “But we’ve definitely got engineers who could fix it.”
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