A. Yaakov’s Dream. During Yaakov’s journey from Be’er Sheba to Choran, he reached Mt. Moriah (where the Akeidah had taken place and where the Temple would be built) and slept there overnight. In a dreamlike vision, he saw angels ascending and descending a ladder which stretched from the earth to the heavens. Hashem then appeared to Yaakov and promised that the land on which he was resting (Canaan) would be given to him and his descendants and that he would return home under Hashem’s protection. Upon awakening, Yaakov anointed and consecrated the stone which he had used as a pillow as an altar to Hashem, and promised that when he returned safely to his father’s home he would offer Hashem one-tenth of all of the possessions which Hashem had given him. He would return to worship and pray to Hashem at the altar he had just consecrated.
B. Yaakov at the Well. Yaakov arrived at the wells in a field in the outskirts of Choran. He noticed that three flocks of sheep and their shepards had gathered around the well and were sitting by idly. Yaakov asked them from where they were, and was told they were from Choran. He asked if they knew Lovan, which they said they did. They then pointed out his daughter, Rachel, who was coming with Lovan’s sheep. Yaakov noted that the day was yet long and asked them why they weren’t giving the sheep water and taking them out to pasture. The shepards explained that they couldn’t until other shepards arrived to help them move a large boulder covering the well. When Rachel arrived, Yaakov singlehandedly removed the boulder and gave Lovan’s sheep water.
C. Yaakov Marries Leah and Rachel. Yaakov informed Rachel of their familial relationship and she ran to inform her father, Lovan, of Yaakov’s arrival. Lovan welcomed Yaakov, who agreed to work as Lovan’s shepard for seven years in order to marry Rachel, whom he had come to love. Lovan agreed, but after the seven years had elapsed, tricked Yaakov into marrying his eldest daughter Leah whom he substituted in Rachel’s place under the wedding canopy. Lovan excused his deceitful conduct on the basis that Leah was older and should be married first. Yaakov had no choice but to accept the situation. He soon afterwards also married Rachel on the condition that he would work an additional seven years for Lovan.
D. Yaakov’s Sons (a/k/a the 12 Tribes). Hashem saw that Leah was not as well liked by Yaakov as Rachel, and He consequently allowed Leah to have children while Rachel remained childless. Leah gave birth to Yaakov’s first four sons: Reuven, Shimon, Levi and Yehudah. Rachel saw that she wasn’t having children, so she followed Yaakov’s grandmother Sarah’s example and offered her handmaiden, Bilhah, to Yaakov as a wife; Bilhah bore Yaakov’s next two sons: Dan and Naftali. Leah saw that she had stopped giving birth and gave her handmaiden, Zilpah, to Yaakov as a wife; Zilpah bore Yaakov’s next two sons: Gad and Usher. Leah herself then gave birth to two more sons, Yissocher and Zevulen. (She also gave birth to a daughter, Dinah.) Hashem then remembered Rachel’s prayers and she gave birth to a son, Yoseph. (See Attached Chart).
E. Yaakov Leaves Lavon. With Hashem’s help, Yaakov became very wealthy, arousing Lovan and sons’ jealousy and cold shoulder. As a result, Yaakov took his wives, children and flocks and left Choran while Lovan was away and began the journey homewards. Unbeknownst to Yaakov, Rachel stole her father’s idols to prevent him from worshiping them. Three days later, Lovan was told of Yaakov’s departure and Lovan pursued him, overtaking him at the mountains of Gilad. Hashem appeared to Lovan at night in a dream and warned him not to try in any way to influence Yaakov to return to Charon. Lovan rebuked his son-in-law for having left so hurriedly, and accused him of stealing his idols. Yaakov denied Lovan’s accusation and unwittingly proclaimed that the real thief would die. Lovan began a search of Yaakov’s possessions, which proved fruitless since Rachel had carefully hidden the idols. Lovan and Yaakov then parted after completing a peace treaty. Yaakov met a group of Hashem’s angels as the journey continued. Yaakov named the place where he saw these angels “Machanoyim” (group).
F. The 12 Tribes. In this Parsha, the birth of the Shevatim (12 tribes) is mentioned. The birth of Binyomin (the youngest) is mentioned in next week’s Parsha. (See attached chart.)
II. DIVREI TORAH
A. Lilmod U’Lilamed (Rabbi Mordechai Katz)
1. Yaakov and Lavon: Learning Good Even From the Wicked. Yaakov made a special point of practicing honesty throughout his life, even in the corrupting environment of Lavon’s home. When taking care of Lavon’s sheep, he cared for each one and make sure that no harm came to any of them even though they weren’t his possessions. Yaakov was a firm believer in the statement: “truth is a tree of life whose fruits you should eat all of your days.” Our Rabbonim learned from and copied Yaakov’s admirable traits. Rav Saffra owned a store. One day, while he was reciting the Shema a man entered his store and asked to buy a certain item. Not noticing that Rav Saffra was reciting the Shema, he offered a particular price. Rav Saffra didn’t reply since he was in the middle of the Shema. The customer thought that Rav Saffra’s silence meant that his first offer was too low, so he raised his offer. Again, Rav Saffra was silent, so again the man raised his offer. Finally, Rav Saffra finished his prayers and turned to the man. Though he could have easily gotten the higher price, he said “I will accept your original price, for in my mind I had decided to sell it to you at that price. The only reason I didn’t respond to you what that I was praying and if I accepted more money that your original offer, I would be dishonest.” (Makkos 24a). Another story is story of Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair, who lived in the South of Israel. Two poor men who had come to seek a livelihood in that area came to his house and inadvertently left a small amount of barley seeds in his house. In their absence, Rabbi Pinchas planted the seeds and reaped the harvest each year. Seven years later, the men passed by Rabbi Pinchas’ home and remembered that they had left the seeds. “Please return the seeds,” they asked Rabbi Pinchas, “if you still happen to have them.” Instead of merely giving them the seeds, he took them to the barn and opened it up; to their surprise, he told them that the entire harvest from the past seven years had been saved and was theirs! (Bava Metzia 28b).
2. Rachael and Leah: the importance of not embarrassing someone. Lavon agreed to marry off Rachel to Yaakov in exchange for Yaakov labor, but had nothing of the such in mind. Yaakov knew that Lavon might try to trick him, so he gave Rachel some secret codes to identify her under the “chuppah” (bridal canopy). However, when Rachel learned of Lavon’s plan, she revealed these codes to Leah. She felt that she couldn’t let her sister, who was older, be embarrassed under the chuppah. So Rachel, who had waited seven long years to marry Yaakov, delayed her chance for happiness simply because she didn’t want to see her sister embarrassed. This act of selflessness is a lesson to us all. (Megillah 13). Reb Nechunya Ben Hakanoh was asked by his disciples to what he attributed his longevity. He responded “I have never gained honor from a colleague’s disgrace”. (Berachos 43) A story is told of a Rabbi who delivered a sermon about “Lechem Haponim” (the breads which were offered in the Beis Hamikdosh, Holy Temple, every Shabbos) and how unfortunate we are to not be able to perform this mitzvah today. The sermon left a deep impression on a congregant, a poor man, who decided that he would use the purest and finest flour he could find to bake two challahs and leave them on the Aron HaKodesh (Ark) each Erev Shabbos. The shammos of the shul came there every Erev Shabbos, saw and smelled the delicious challahs and took them home for Shabbos. When the poor man came later and noticed the loaves missing, he assumed that Hashem had accepted them, and he was overjoyed. When the Rabbi learned was happening, he scolded the poor man for being naive enough to think that Hashem would accept his challahs. The poor man left ashamed. Soon afterwards, a message came for the Rabbi from Rabbi Yitzchak Yuria telling him to make out a will since he was destined to die within the next few days. The Rabbi rushed to Rabbi Yitzchak to find out what he had done to deserve this sudden fate. Rabbi Yitzchak responded that nothing since the days of the Holy Temple had caused Hashem such joy than the challahs baked with such sincerity by the poor man. By shaming the poor man, the Rabbi had sealed his fate. Embarrassing another is a most grievous fault; If we kill someone he dies only once, but if we embarrass him he dies many times over. (Midrash Eliyahu 42).
B. Kol Dodi on the Torah (Rabbi David Feinstein)
1. The “Ladder” of Prayer. The “gematria” (numerical value) of the Hebrew words for “ladder” and “voice” are equivalent. From this we learn an interesting symbolism — just as the ladder in Yaakov’s dream connected the earth to heaven allowing the angels to ascend and descend on it, so do our voices (i.e., our prayers) connect us to heaven.
2. Sensitivity to One’s Feelings. Why did Yaakov agree to work an additional seven years in order to marry Rachel? He could have correctly claimed that the seven years he already worked were for Rachel, not Leah. Why did he ignore his rights and acquiesce to Lavon’s trickery without protest? Yaakov’s behavior was motivated by a strong respect for Leah’s feelings; he knew that if he insisted on marrying Rachel without further payment, she would be devastated. From here, we see the lengths to which the Torah expects us to go to avoid hurting the feelings of another person.
C. Peninim on the Torah (Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum)
“Achdus” (Unity). “And he [Yaakov] took from the stones of the place and placed them at his head and laid down to sleep.” Rashi cites the Talmud which states that the 12 stones began arguing with each other, each urging Yaakov to rest his head on it. Hashem therefore merged them into one large stone. The Gerar Rebbe, z’tl questions this consolidation, since Yaakov could rest his head on only one area of the stone. The Rebbe insightfully suggests that when the stones merged, they blended together with such harmony that they were no longer distinguishable from each other. Every aspect of the consolidated stone was a fusion of each of the individual stones. This is essence of “achdus” (unity); we should strive for a harmonious blending of personalities such that as a community we respond as one. Through the undermining of jealousy and other manifestations of intragroup discord, we merit the appreciation of “who is like your nation Israel, one People in the land.”
D. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
1. Climb Higher On the Spiritual Ladder Each Day. The Chofetz Chaim cited the idea expressed by many commentators that the ladder in Yaakov’s dream symbolizes the situation of every person in the world — i.e., we either ascend or descend the spiritual ladder based upon how we deal with life’s daily challenges. If we have the will power and self-control to overcome these challenges, we go up the spiritual ladder; if, however, we fail to overcome these challenges, we lower ourselves. This is our daily task — to climb higher every day. There is no standing in one place.
2. Yaakov’s descendants will be triumphant in the end. “And your descendants will be like the dust of the earth.” Everyone tramples on the dust of the earth, but in the end it covers up everyone of those people. This will be the history of the Jewish people — there will be exile after exile, persecution after persecution, but in the end we will overcome in the days of the Final Redemption (may it come soon).
3. Hard Work Is Easier When You Focus On The Benefit. Yaakov was able to endure the fourteen years of labor since he remained focused on the benefit — Rachel’s hand in marriage. We must keep focused on the benefit when we encounter hardships in our work, relationships, Torah study, etc.
4. Make An Effort To Perceive Others’ Pain. As indicated by the names “Reuven” and “Shimon”, Hashem both “saw” and “heard” Leah’s pain — we must perceive others’ pain, whether or not they verbalize it.
E. Darash Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, z’tl)
Do not focus on the difficulties in performing a mitzvah. After Yaakov told Rachel and Leah that Hashem had commanded them to leave Lavon’s house and return to their native land, they gave Yaakov other reasons for wanting to leave with him. Weren’t these reasons unnecessary, since they should have answered simply that they would comply with Hashem’s will? Their reply showed that didn’t desire to take any credit for fulfilling Hashem’s will. This teaches that we shouldn’t look at any mitzvah as a trial, something difficult to perform. If we can do mitzvot with this attitude, we will find that they become easier to perform. After all, a mitzvah never costs anything to perform. For example, refraining from work on Shabbos doesn’t cost us anything, since our livelihood for the entire year is decreed in advance on Rosh Hashonah. Furthermore, if we can inculcate this attitude in our children, it will be easier to teach them to keep the mitzvos. Those who boast about the trials and tribulations they endure to keep Shabbos or other mitzvos may instill pride and strength in their children, but they may also be doing them a great disservice. The message they may convey is that it is hard to be a Jew and that keeping Shabbos, Kashrus or other mitzvos requires great suffering and endurance. Their children may easily come to think that if they don’t have the same fortitude as their parents, keeping Torah and mitzvos is beyond their power. Thus, parents must emphasize must emphasize the rewards, rather than the difficulties, in keeping the Torah. This way they will instill in their children the attitude that for one who has faith, every mitzvah is easy and enjoyable to perform.
F. The Chassidic Dimension (the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, z’tl)
Giving Names. In this week’s Parsha, we learn of the birth of 11 of Yaakov’s 12 sons and the names given to each of them by their mothers. The reasons for the names of each of these children — who later went on to establish the 12 Tribes of Israel — are stated explicitly in the Torah. This is marked contrast to the names of the Patriarchs, where the Torah doesn’t explicitly spell out the reasons for the names given them at birth. Why the difference? A Jewish name is not mere happenstance — there is a direct connection between a person’s Jewish name and his/her soul. It is the name that connects the soul and the body. In its revealed form, as a specific name, it also serves as a personal expression of the particular qualities and personality of the individual so named. The Alter Rebbe, z’tl explains the difference as follows: “the spiritual level of the Patriarchs is found at all times in all individuals . . . this level was bequeathed by them to their prodigy in each and every generation .. . However, the other degrees of saintliness, such as those of the individual Tribes, may not necessarily be found in all individuals.” The names of the Patriarchs, who are the source and root of all Jewish souls, represent the collective quality of Judaism found within each and every Jew, while the individual names of the Tribes allude to the specific level and individual qualities of each Jew. Thus, while we all share equally in the Patriarchs’ bequest, we are each blessed with our individual qualities, capabilities and life task.
G. Living Each Week (Rabbi Abraham Twerski).
1. Seize the Moment. Jacob awakened from his sleep and he said, “surely G-d is in this place. . . he took the stone that he had put in his head and made it into an altar.” The Baal Shem Tov quoted the Talmudic statement that each day a heavenly voice emanates from Sinai urging us to do teshuvah (repentance). What use is this voice, he asked, if no one has ever attested to hearing it? Although it is inaudible to the human ear, it is heard by our souls. The moments of arousal to do teshuvah that we experience are due to our souls perceiving the voice from Sinai. The Divine voice arouses us. We must seize upon the opportunity or risk neglecting it.
2. If G-d Wills It. Jacob made a vow, saying “if G-d will be with me. . .” It is customary to say “G-d willing” or “with G-d’s help” when planning to do something. It is important that these words do not become rote, but that we focus on sincerely believing that without G-d’s assistance we can do nothing.
3. Try, Try Again. Why was Jacob so critical of the shepards’ failure to roll the stone from the mouth of the well? The S’fas Emes answers that even if they had made an unsuccessful attempt, they still had no excuse for sitting by idly. They should have tried again. While we cannot guarantee the success of our efforts, it is our obligation to keep trying.
4. Constructive Envy. After Leah conceived her fourth child, she said “this time I will be grateful to G-d.” It is at this point that the Torah teaches us that Rachel envied her. Why wasn’t Rachel envious when Rachel had her first three children? Only with the fourth child did Leah express her gratitude towards G-d. It was Leah’s spiritual attainment of this great degree of thankfulness – not her fertility – which provoked Rachel and caused her to be envious. While envy is usually a destructive emotion, it can in certain circumstances stimulate us to achieve a higher degree of connection to G-d.
H. Soul of the Torah: Insights Of the Chasidic Masters of the Weekly Torah Portions (Victor Cohen).
1. The Ladder. The S’fas Emes noted that the meaning of the verse “a ladder was sent earthward and its top reached heavenward” is that the material aspects of our being dwells earthward but our spirituality is heavenward.
2. The “Stone” Impeding Our Prayers. “Roll the stone from upon the mouth of the well.” The S’fas Emes commented that when it comes to prayers, it often seems as though there is a stone in our mouth. Our prayers often lack sincerity and do not seem to be a service from the heart. This is why we recite “my Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise” before the Amidah. That is, roll the stone from our mouths so that we may pray with sincerity.
I. Windows To the Soul (Rabbi Michael Bernstein).
True Love. From the moment Jacob first saw Rachel, he was enraptured. The Torah tells us that the seven years of servitude which Jacob endured in exchange for her hand in marriage “were in his eyes as but a few days, in his love for her.” Given his intense love, how was it that these years flew by? Doesn’t time pass slowly when we are anxiously awaiting something? The Torah is not speaking of frustrated earthly passions. It was Rachel’s immense spiritual value that inspired Jacob’s love. To Jacob, seven years of service seemed but a small consequence for the great spiritual good he would gain with Rachel as his wife. What a powerful lesson in the characteristics of true love.
J. Reflections on the Sedra (Rabbi Zalman I. Posner).
The Meaning of Prayer. In Jacob’s famous dream, he saw “a ladder standing on earth and its top reach[ing] heaven”. A common interpretation is that the ladder is prayer. That prayer should reach heaven is obvious; that prayer “stands on earth” is less clear. The Jewish conception of prayer treats it not as in and of itself, but rather as an instrument. Prayer is effective not in its effect on G-d but in its influence on us.
K. Love Thy Neighbor (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
Be Careful Not To Speak Harshly Even When Angry. “And Jacob was angry, and quarreled with Lovan. And Jacob answered and said to Lovan: what is my trespass? What is my sin that you have pursued after me?” The Midrash notes Jacob’s self-control. Despite his anger and Lovan’s accusation, Jacob did not say anything that would antagonize Lovan or stir up animosity. He merely defended himself against the accusation and restated his own innocence. The Chofetz Chaim said that from here we learn that we should avoid becoming involved in dispute, even when we know that we are in the right.
L. Wellsprings of Torah (Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman)
1. The Reward For Humility. “. . . and behold a ladder set up on the ground and the top of it reached to heaven . . . “If we regard ourselves as humble (i.e., “set up on the ground”) then “our head will reach to heaven.” That is, G-d will consider us truly great. As the Zohar notes: “he who is small is actually great.” Then, too, he will deserve to have “the Lord stand beside him”.
2. The Power of Truth. “. . . Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well . . .” The strength of Jacob was truth. Truth enables us to roll even the heaviest of boulders of deceit and concealment from the well of living waters.
M. Growth from Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
In Spiritual Matters, Have The Persistence To Continually Try. “And Rachel said, with great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed, and she called his name Naftali.” Rashi explains that the name Naftali comes from the word meaning being stubborn. R’Yeruchem Levovitz says that from here we learn two things about spiritual matters: (a) it is proper to be stubborn and even obstinate. Rachel saw that G-d did not want to give her children, yet she did not accept this and fought with all her strength to achieve her wishes; (b) when we try to elevate ourselves and are determined to accomplish this with all our will, we will eventually be successful. When we try to study Torah or are engaged in mitzvot, we often find obstacles in our path. Do not allow them to stop you. Rather, use the difficulties as a que to try even harder, for if you keep on trying you will eventually be successful.
N. Torah Gems (Rabbi Ahron Yaakov Greenberg)
Perfect Harmony. “And your seed will be as the dust of the earth. . . ” The Jewish people are compared to the stars, sand and dust. With stars, each one is separate from another. With sand, one can place a pile of grains of sand together, but the grains are still separate from one another. Only dust clings together and form a single block. G-d’s blessing to Jacob was that his children should live, like dust, in perfect harmony and clinging to one another.