Vayeitzei 5777

Tzaddik VeRah Lo, Rasha VeTov Lo – The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper[1]

ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה
Yaakov left Be’er Sheva and went to Charan[2]

This week’s parsha begins Yaakov’s journey to find a wife. He had just found out his brother was planning to kill him, so he took the opportunity to find refuge with his uncle Lavan. Rashi[3] is bothered that the Torah already described at the end of last week’s parsha[4] (only five verses earlier) that Yaakov went to Padan Aram, which is located in Charan. Why is the Torah repeating itself, telling us again at the beginning of the parsha that Yaakov went to Charan? He answers the reason is because the Torah interrupted the narrative of Yaakov’s flight to describe Eisav marrying the daughter of Yishmael[5]. Now that the Torah is resuming Yaakov’s journey, the story is started anew.

This begs the question: why did the Torah interrupt the story of Yaakov in the first place? Rashi[6] explains that the marriage of Eisav, through various calculations of dates and ages, teaches us that Yaakov spent 14 years preparing for the dangers that his conniving uncle posed before he actually headed there. This preparation was clearly necessary, as Lavan ended up successfully tricking Yaakov in the end. In order that we would not be mistaken to believe that Yaakov went straight from his home to Lavan, the Torah inserted the side point about Eisav in order to allude to the detour Yaakov made.

Perhaps there’s another explanation for the interruption in the flow of the story. The gemarra[7] relates a dialogue between King David and Hashem. We say in our prayers that Hashem is אלקי אברהם אלקי יצחק אלקי יעקב, the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak and the G-d of Yaakov. King David asked Hashem why He isn’t also referred to as אלקי דוד, the G-d of David. Hashem responded that the forefathers were all given tests which they had passed, giving them this honor, whereas David was never tested. Chazal, our sages, declare[8] that Avraham was given ten tests. Yitzchak was given the test of the Akeida, known as the Binding of Isaac[9]. The problem is, we haven’t seen explicitly which test was given to Yaakov.

Chazal make a statement about Yaakov which could refer to this test. The gemarra[10] describes Hashem’s rebuke to Moshe after he complained about the Jewish enslavement in Egypt. Hashem responded that Moshe wasn’t like the forefathers. Unlike him, they didn’t question Hashem’s motives. They assumed everything was for the best. Hashem recounts that He told Yaakov that He will give the entire land of Israel to Yaakov and his descendants. When Yaakov at a later date wanted to pitch his tent, he couldn’t find a place to do so, until he had to purchase a plot of land for an exorbitant amount of money. Despite this glaring contradiction, Yaakov didn’t question Hashem’s promise. This is similar to Avraham’s difficulty finding a place to bury his wife after she died. Despite this difficulty, Avraham didn’t question Hashem. However, despite this show of faith, we don’t see this counted as one of Avraham’s ten tests[11]. So, this can’t be the test that was given to Yaakov. What then was it?

Perhaps, the test of Yaakov is the question Moshe asked Hashem on Mount Sinai[12]: Why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper[13]? This problem can be asked by anyone, but was highly apparent to Yaakov as it very much applied to himself and his wicked brother Eisav. One of the answers the gemarra posits that Hashem gave Moshe[14] is a righteous person who is the child of a wicked person sometimes needs to suffer. This is to atone for the sins of their father. The gemarra rejects this possibility because “children will not be put to death for the [sins of the] fathers”[15]. The second suggestion was the answer that a purely righteous person won’t suffer, whereas one who isn’t 100% righteous will suffer. A purely wicked person will not prosper; only one who is partly wicked will prosper. Both of these answers don’t apply to Yaakov and Eisav. They both come from the same parents, and Eisav was pure evil. This doesn’t explain his success. Yaakov was pure righteousness, yet he suffered tremendously. This glaring question should have crossed Yaakov’s mind. Amazingly, he accepted all of his suffering with love. This was his test that he passed.

In the quest to find a wife, we find Yaakov went through many struggles. He worked seven years, day and night to marry Rachel, only to be tricked into marrying Leah. To finally marry Rachel he had to agree to work another seven years, and he was already eighty-four years old. Opposite this we see his brother Eisav. His whole life he snatched women from their husbands, and when he reached the age of forty he was already married to two women. At the end of last week’s parsha, when he saw Yaakov running to Charan, he decided to marry the daughter of Yishmael. He achieved all of this without any difficulty or effort. After Yaakov was finally married, he continued to have difficulties. Lavan tried to kill him, Eisav tried to kill him, his daughter Dina was raped, his son Yosef was presumed dead. All the while Eisav was enjoying himself without any difficulties whatsoever.

Perhaps all of this is why the Torah interrupted the story of Yaakov running away with the story of Eisav marrying his third wife. It shows how effortless it was for Eisav to get married. This was to contrast all the years of toil and pain that was about to meet Yaakov. Despite this, Yaakov never wavered in his faith in Hashem. Even though it was staring him in the face, that the wicked Eisav was prospering while the righteous Yaakov was suffering, he knew it was all for the good. This was the test of Yaakov. Not so with King David. While he also withstood difficult hardships, he never had this glaring contradiction in his face. This is why it wasn’t considered a test for him.

Although it’s often difficult to see how difficult times can be for the best, very often after deep reflection a hint of purpose is detectable. Looking back, it can be clear why certain things played out the way they did. Similar to a parent giving a child a vaccine, the parent knows it’s for the best of the child, while the child does not. This is why Rabbi Akiva always said[16], כל דעבד רחמנא, לטב עבד, everything that Hashem does is for the good.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Be’er Yosef to Genesis 28:10

[2] Genesis loc. cit.

[3] Ad. loc.

[4] Ibid verse 5

[5] Ibid verses 6-9

[6] To verse 9

[7] Sanhedrin 107a

[8] Avos 5:3

[9] Cf. Emes L’Yaakov to Genesis 27:12 who says that the Akeida wasn’t a test for Yitzchak, as it suited his trait of gevurah. Rather his test is yet to come and will be against his nature; see Shabbos 89b which describes what will happen

[10] Sanhedrin 111a

[11] In truth, Rabbeinu Yonah to Avos loc. cit. counts this as one of the ten, but inter alia Rashi quoting Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, the Avos D’Rabbi Nosson, Rambam and Bartenura ad. loc. all don’t count this as a test

[12] See Berachos 7a

[13] Cf. Emes L’Yaakov loc. cit. who says the test of Yaakov was his mother’s command that he lie to his father, which went against his trait of emes

[14] Berachos loc. cit.

[15] Deuteronomy 24:16

[16] Berachos 60b, see the story there with Rabbi Akiva

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