Vayeitzei 5779

A fortunate chain of events[1]

וירדף אחריו דרך שבעת ימים וגו’ וישג לבן את-יעקב וגו’‏
[Lavan] chased after [Yaakov] a seven-day journey…and Lavan caught up to Yaakov…[2]

After Yaakov was scammed and abused by his uncle Lavan for over twenty years, he decided to flee with his family back to his homeland. Instead of informing his uncle of their departure, he decided to leave without notice. He was a six-day distance from Lavan before the latter realized what had happened[3]. Lavan chased after Yaakov on the seventh day, and on that very day managed to catch up with him. This is seemingly miraculous. How did Lavan travel so far in one day, something which took Yaakov much longer? This tells us that a miracle happened, and the Earth contracted[4] so that Lavan would catch up to Yaakov[5]. Why didn’t this same miracle happen for Yaakov, so that he would arrive home before Lavan could catch up[6]? Also, why would such a miracle be performed for Lavan, who’s intention was to kill Yaakov[7]?

What happened after Lavan caught up to Yaakov? Hashem kept his promise[8], and Lavan wasn’t able to harm Yaakov. However, a dispute ensued. Lavan’s precious idols were missing, and he suspected Yaakov of stealing them. Insulted at such an accusation, Yaakov cursed that whoever had the missing idols would die. Yaakov was unaware that his wife Rachel was actually the perpetrator[9]. Unfortunately, Yaakov’s curse came true. As they continued their journey to the land of Israel, Rachel went into labor. She died while delivering her son Binyamin. The reason she died before her time just as they had entered the land of Israel was because of Yaakov’s curse[10]. Yaakov buried her where she died. Why didn’t he bury her in his future burial plot, along with his forefathers and foremothers[11]?

The answer is found in a Midrash[12], which describes the emotional scene which occurred in the Heavens and on Earth when the Jews were exiled by the Babylonians. Thousands were brutally slaughtered, many were sold as slaves. The rest were sent to wander aimlessly without a home. Yirmiyahu, the leading prophet at the time, was called upon by Hashem to summon in Heaven the Avos, the forefathers, as well as Moshe, to see if they could overturn this harsh decree. Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov all pleaded the case for the Jews, but to no avail. They wept bitterly at the hopeless situation of their descendants. Moshe, their great leader, also tried and wept in vain. Suddenly, the foremother Rachel made a case for the Jews[13]. She too, wept greatly for their vindication. Hashem responded to her by saying that her tears were not in vain. There was great merit for her efforts, and Hashem declared that the Jews would one day return to their homeland[14].

This is why Yaakov buried Rachel where she died[15]. He saw that one day his future descendants would be exiled, and they would walk by her grave. As they walked by, Rachel would pray and weep for their redemption[16], and be answered. What caused Rachel to die early in the first place? Yaakov’s unintentional curse that she should die. What was it that caused Yaakov to unintentionally curse his wife? Lavan catching up to Yaakov’s family. We see from here that Hashem’s miracle of the Earth contracting for Lavan was the catalyst for the future redemption. Although at the time it seemed hopeless, that Lavan’s agility would cause him to kill Yaakov and his whole family, they left unscathed. Lavan’s argument with Yaakov did however lead to Rachel’s untimely death. While this was a personal tragedy, it wasn’t a meaningless one. It was to pave the way for the future redemption of Yaakov’s children from their exile[17]. It was to allow Rachel to cry for her children.

This is a lesson that we can take with us throughout our lives. Hashem is behind the scenes in everything that happens to us. He sometimes causes events which on the surface appear to be unfair. They may even be tragic. We see from Lavan that they can even sometimes occur through a miracle. However, they are not without purpose. There’s an end-goal in mind. Everything that Hashem does is for the good[18]. We just may not see the big picture yet.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on a devar Torah heard from Rabbi Frand at Ner Yisroel in 5778

[2] Genesis 31:23,25

[3] See Rashi to verse 23

[4] The idea that the Earth contracts for people to shorten their travel appears in Sanhedrin 95b and Chullin 91b. There, it says that the Earth contracted for three people: Eliezer, the servant of Avram, Yaakov, and Avishai Ben Tzeruya. See Ramah to Sanhedrin loc. cit. who says that the Earth doesn’t literally contract, just their travel pace is quickened to the point that it appears as if the Earth contracted for them. It’s curious why the gemarra doesn’t cite this case as another example of the Earth contracting

[5] Rabbi Frand cited this idea from the Ohr HaChaim. I didn’t see this explicitly, but see what he does say in the next note

[6] Ohr HaChaim ad. loc. He says that since we see that this miracle occurred for Eliezer, surely it should have occurred to save Yaakov from Lavan. I’d add that we have even seen that it previously occurred for Yaakov

[7] This is Rabbi Frand’s own question

[8] See Genesis 28:15, 31:24, 29

[9] Ibid 31:29. For why Rachel stole the terafim, see Rashi ad. loc., who’s source is Bereishis Rabbah 74:5. Cf. Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 36, Midrash Tanchuma Vayeitzei § 12, and Zohar I p. 164a

[10] Rashi to verse 32, quoting Bereishis Rabbah 74:9. See also Targum “Yonasan” ad. loc. and Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer loc. cit. While she may have died before her time because of Yaakov’s curse, that doesn’t necessitate that she should die just as they entered the land of Israel. Ramban to Leviticus 18:25 says that because Yaakov was married to two sisters, which the Torah prohibits, and Yaakov kept the whole Torah while in the land of Israel (Ramban to Genesis 26:5), Hashem caused it that she should die at this point. This way, Yaakov wouldn’t be violating the Torah. See also the next note

[11] See Rashi to Genesis 30:15 (quoting Bereishis Rabbah 73:2), who says Rachel didn’t merit to be buried with Yaakov she spurned intimacy with him, and Ramban to Genesis 48:7, who says that Yaakov didn’t bury her in Mearas HaMachpelah so as to not embarrass his forefathers regarding his marrying two sisters

[12] Eicha Rabbah Pesikta § 24

[13] See Gur Aryeh to Genesis 48:7 § 12 for an explanation of the depth of her arguments

[14] Jeremiah 31:15-17

[15] Bereishis Rabbah 82:10, brought by Rashi to Genesis 48:7

[16] It’s not one-hundred percent clear to me the connection between the Jews walking by her grave and her praying for them. As seen from Eicha Rabbah loc. cit., the Avos and Moshe were already praying for the Jews, and then Rachel comes and joins them. It doesn’t sound like it was prompted by the Jews walking by her grave. What started everything was that Hashem told Yirmiyahu to inform the Avos and Moshe about the exile. This sounds like the opinion in Berachos 18b, 19a (see also Tosafos to Sotah 34b s.v. אבותי) that the dead don’t know what’s happening in this world. We don’t see Yirmiyahu informing Rachel. Perhaps she became informed when the Jews walked by her grave and prayed. This doesn’t sufficiently answer the question, as she could just as much been buried in Mearas HaMachpeilah and be informed by Yirmiyahu when he informed the Avos. My roommate Chezky Freund suggested that her being there during the exile helped strengthen her prayers. However, the Midrash sounds like Yirmiyahu took the Avos to the scene of the exile as well. This requires further study

[17] Ohr HaChaim loc. cit.

[18] See Berachos 60b and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 230:5