Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Yeshivat Har Etzion
"Mei-Hashem Yatza Ha-davar" Perceiving Providence
by Rav Reuven Taragin
I) Vayetze - An Independent Cohesive Unit
Although Parashat Vayetze presents stories covering more than twenty
years, it contains no breaks. This presentation highlights the parasha's
status as an independent unit and reflects the relationship between its
The relationship between the stories is reinforced by the parallels
between the beginning and end of the parasha. The parasha opens with Yaakov's
voyage from Canaan on the heels of an angelic dream within which God promises
to be with and protect him in exile and eventually return him to Canaan
and concludes with the ultimate fulfillment of these promises - Yaakov's
return. The journey back ends as the first one began, with Yaakov's encounter
Additional textual similarities link the conclusion of the parasha to
Vayalen Sham (10)
Vayifga ba-makom (11)
ein zeh ki im bet elokim (16-17)
Vayashkem Yaakov ba-boker
Vayikach et ha-even
vayasem ota matzeiva (18)
Vayikra shem ha-makom ha-hu Bet El (19)
|Ve- Yaakov halakh le-darko
Vayifge'u bo malakhei Elokim
Machaneh elokim zeh (31:2)
Vayashkem Lavan ba-boker (31:55)
Vayikach Yaakov even...
vaye'rimeha matzeiva (31:45)
Vayikra et shem ha-makom ha-hu
Within the framework of Yaakov's departure from and return to Canaan,
the Torah presents five stories pertaining to the interim exile years.
Like the opening and concluding portions of the parasha, these stories
also exhibit a distinct relationship:
A 28:10-24 - Yaakov's departure / angels
B 29:1-14 - Yaakov's escape to Lavan
C 29:15-30 - Yaakov's labor for his wives
D 29:31-30:24- The birth of the children
C 30:25-42- Yaakov's labor for money
B 30:43-31:55- Yaakov's escape from Lavan
A 32:1-2- Yaakov's return / angels
The births at the center of the parasha's structure seems at first glance
to be out of place. How does the birth narrative, which seems to convey
mere technical data, function as the parasha's turning point? We will see
that in addition to expressing Yaakov's ability to flourish in exile, the
births also re- define the preceding stories and introduce the following
ones. This point becomes more evident after a careful study of the birth
II) The Birth Narrative
The birth narrative, like the entirety of the parasha, subdivides into
two chiasticly related sections:
A 29: 31-5- Birth of four children to Lea
B 30: 1-2- Story (Not of birth)
C 30: 3-8- Birth of two children to Rachel's maid
C 30: 9-13- Birth of two children to Lea's maid
B 30:14-16- Story (Not of birth)
A 30:17-24- Birth of four children to Lea/Rachel
Both sections describe God's favoring of one sister and the reaction
of the other. The difference between the two sections lies in the sister
chosen as benefactor. In the first section God "opens the womb"
of Lea while closing that of Rachel. Lea chooses names for her children
that reflect her recognition of and thanks to God for his merciful intervention.
Rav Shimon Bar Yochai highlighted this thanks by identifying Lea as the
first to offer thanks to God (Berakhot 7a).
After listing Lea's four births, the Torah depicts Rachel's reaction.
Instead of turning to God, the sole granter of child, she assails Yaakov.
The latter stresses her error by angrily retorting - "Am I in place
of God, Who has denied you fruit of the womb" (30:2). Only after her
misplaced complaint does Rachel grudgingly offer her maid in her place.
The second section opens with Lea's realization of the termination of
God's providence on her behalf - "Lea saw that she had ceased to give
birth" (30:9) ." Although we now expect Rachel to be the next
to give birth, God "hears" her (22) only after "hearing"
Lea (17). One wonders why Rachel is heard so late in the story and in far
lesser proportion than Lea?
The answer lies in the structure of the narrative which focuses on the
divergent reactions of the two sisters to the same circumstances. As opposed
to Rachel who offers her maid only after having incorrectly complained
to Yaakov, Lea immediately presents her maid in her place. Like the first
matriarch - Sarah, as soon as Lea realizes that she can no longer contribute
personally, she selflessly steps aside and hopes to continue to do so vicariously.
The difference between the two is expressed through the second story
- that of the mandrakes - as well. Notwithstanding the symbolism of the
mandrakes, Rachel's sale of a night with Yaakov reflects a denigrating
lack of appreciation of the sanctity of the conception experience. The
Ramban's appraisal of the mandrakes as fertility flowers attributes new
significance to the transaction. Rachel has not yet realized the need to
rely on God. There is no reason not to utilize the available medicine,
but doing so at the expense of a night with her husband reflects once again
Rachel's improper value system (see Sforno).
Leah, on the other hand, recognizes God's exclusive role as bearer of
the "birth key" and happily exchanges the flowers for an additional
night with Yaakov and another window for God's providence. God rewards
Lea's faith with three more children - two boys and Dina. Based on the
parallel to the first section and a fair basis of distribution, all four
boys should have been born to Rachel; two were given to Lea in recognition
of her exemplary faith.
In an ironic note, the midrash concludes:
"One lost and the other lost; one gained and the other gained.
Lea lost the mandrakes and gained two tribes and the firstborn; Rachel
gained the mandrakes and lost tribes and the firstborn" (Bereishit
Eventually, even Rachel concedes that God, not Yaakov or mandrakes,
grants child and beseeches Him with the birth of her first child for a
second. Her request, rooted in her painfully learned lesson, is eventually
granted, but at the cost of her life.
C) Role as Turning Point
The message of the birth narrative facilitates the transition from the
first to second section of the parasha. Despite God's promises to Yaakov
at the parasha's inception, the first section brings Yaakov only frustration.
Although he safely reaches his destination, his stay with Lavan soon turns
into backbreaking work on behalf of a wife he doesn't actually receive.
The reader cannot help but wonder how God allowed such a thing? What happened
to the promised protective aid?
While the first part of the parasha reinforces the hidden nature of
God's providence within it by not mentioning His name, the birth narrative
compensates by mentioning His name fourteen times. Within the narrative,
we are presented with Lea's recognition of God's exclusive control of nature.
Appropriately, Yaakov's unintended wife directs Yaakov and us to recognize
God's hand, even in its obscurity.
Only after Lea's clarification does God reveal His providence - first
in the form of the angel who assists Yaakov in outsmarting Lavan and finally
by personally intervening to secure Yaakov's escape.
III) The Second Part of the Parasha - Providence Perceived
The second part of the parasha leaves no doubt as to providence's presence
by depicting its recognition by all characters.
A) Yaakov and Family
First Yaakov realizes (after sensing Lavan's unwarranted jealousy) that
it has been "only the God of hfathers" (31:5) who has cared for
him. The angel's aid in outsmarting Lavan proved to Yaakov that the angels
he had seen at his journey's inception had indeed remained with him all
Yaakov makes this pointto his wives - Lavan's daughters - and challenges
them to fulfill God's command to abandon their home and family. Lea and
Rachel, the first to have recognized God's providence, of course immediately
concede (31:17). By doing so they reaffirm their place in the family of
Avraham and Rivka, who likewise abandoned their families in compliance
with God's will.
The ultimate recognition of God's providence comes from Lavan in the
context of his pursuit of Yaakov. Despite God's demand that Lavan refrain
from telling Yaakov "good or bad" (31:24), Lavan proceeds with
his verbal attack. Although Lavan realizes that he will not succeed in
repossessing his family and possessions, he feels that he bears a just
claim. Was he not the catalyst of Yaakov's growth? Did he not offer Yaakov
refuge, work, and a wife when the latter had nowhere to turn? Did he not
deserve at least to be informed of Yaakov's migration? Additionally, Lavan
is intent on finding his gods who he views as responsible for his, as well
as Yaakov's, success.
When Lavan first arrives, Yaakov allows him to vent his frustration,
but his aggressive, suspicious search of Yaakov's possessions as if they
were his own forces Yaakov to respond. Yaakov reminds Lavan that despite
Yaakov's faithful service, Lavan took every opportunity to deceive him
- "Had not the God of Avraham and the Fear of Yitzchak been with me,
you would have sent me now away empty-handed. God saw my plight and the
toil of my hands and He showed it last night" (31:42).
Yaakov explains the true significance of the heavenly revelation. God's
protection of Yaakov reflected His exclusive role in his success. By protecting
Yaakov God was merely asserting his deserved right to Yaakov; Lavan deserved
not even the right to give his blessing. God used the phrase "tov
ad ra" (good or bad) to remind Lavan of the conclusion he himself
had reached as a youngster after having heard the providential story of
Avraham's servant - "And Lavan and Betuel said: It has come from God;
we cannot tell you anything bad or good (ra o tov)" (24:50). In addition
to God's revelation to Lavan, his inability to find his own gods was meant
to signify their and his own irrelevance to Yaakov's success.
C) Yaakov's Matzeivot
The meeting ends with Lavan's request to formalize a treaty. Yaakov
responds by constructing two stone structures - a "matzeiva"
(45) and a "gal" (46). Significantly, the creation of the matzeiva
precedes that of the gal and is carried out by Yaakov alone. Before assenting
to Lavan's request and joining him in the construction of the gal, which
symbolized their mutual treaty, Yaakov expressed his thanks to the one
truly responsible for his success - God. The matzeiva created here parallels
the one Yaakov constructed in response to God's promises at the beginning
of the parasha. By constructing this second matzeiva, Yaakov expressed
his appreciation of God's fulfillment of the promises He made during the
angelic vision which Yaakov had commemorated by creating the first.
Yaakov's recognition of the consistent providence shown to him during
his years in exile with Lavan readied him for his return to Canaan and
his encounter with Eisav and serves as the precedent for his descendants
- a nation whose ideology centers on the belief in providence's universal
Note: This difference between the two sections accounts for the alternative
usages of God's various names. In the first section Lea calls God "Hashem"
while Rachel calls him "Elokim," whereas in the second section
Lea calls Him "Elokim" while Rachel employs both names. Chazal's
association of "Hashem" with justice and Elokim with mercy explains
the switch. In the first section Lea realizes that her exclusive births
are the expression of God's merciful intervention on her behalf, while
Rachel claims what she sees as hers by right. In the second section Leah
realizes that now she is being discriminated against and that she receives
children in merit of her faithful actions and therefore refers to God in
her thanks as Elokim. Since Rachel surely deserved at least one child,
she thanks Elokim for Yosef, but beseeches Hashem to graciously grant her