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Vayeitzei 5770-2009

“Punishment Awaits the Evildoers”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Vayeitzei, we read of the deception of Jacob by his father-in-law, Laban. Jacob, of course, intends to marry Rachel, but discovers, only too late, that he has unwittingly married Leah.

The entire episode of the deception is brilliantly analyzed by Nehama Leibowitz (famed Bible teacher, 1905-1997) in her Studies of Bereishit (Genesis).

Professor Leibowitz begins her analysis by comparing the welcome that Laban extends to Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, who seeks the hand of Rebecca for Isaac, and Laban’s welcome of Jacob, who arrives alone in Charan. In Genesis 24:28-30, we are told that when Rebecca reported the arrival of Eliezer to her family, her brother, Laban, immediately runs out to the man at the well. When Laban sees the nose-ring and the bracelets on his sister’s hands, Laban gives Eliezer an enthusiastic welcome saying (Genesis 24:31), “Come O blessed of the Lord! Why should you stand outside, when I have made ready the house, and room for the camels?”

On the other hand, when Laban hears that his nephew Jacob has arrived, Scripture states in Genesis 29:13, “Va’yaratz lik’rato, va’y’chabek lo, va’y’nashek lo,” Laban ran to meet Jacob, embraced him and kissed him, brought him into the house, and he [Jacob] told Laban all the events [that had happened].

While, at first glance, Laban’s welcome to Jacob seems extremely warm, Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105, foremost commentator on the Bible) cogently declares that Laban’s reason for running toward Jacob with great enthusiasm was due to Laban’s mistaken assumption that Jacob had arrived with great wealth in hand. After all, Abraham’s servant had arrived with ten camels laden with wealth. Rashi similarly maintains that Laban’s embrace and kissing of Jacob was also insincere. In fact, when Laban saw that Jacob had no camels, Laban embraced Jacob to feel if he had any gold pieces hidden in his bosom, and kissed him, to determine if he had secreted any precious jewels in his mouth.

Rashi, seeing Laban as a consummate mercenary, continues this train of thought in his commentary. Consequently, when Laban says to Jacob, Genesis 29:14, “Ach ahtz’mee oov’sah’ree ah’tah,” Surely, you are of my bone and my flesh, Rashi interprets the Hebrew word “Ach” as an expression of disgust. “Despite the fact that you [Jacob] are my bone and my flesh, I don’t really have to take you in or provide for you, since you are destitute.” Out of kinship, however, Laban offers to look after Jacob for one month. But, this also was hardly altruistic, since Laban made Jacob tend his flocks without compensation.

In order to develop the picture more fully, Nehama Leibowitz analyzes Rashi’s words carefully. She points to the next verse in the text, Genesis 29:15, in which Laban says to Jacob, “Just because you are my brother, should you therefore work for me for nothing. Tell me, what shall be your wages?” Nehama Leibowitz notes Rashi’s unusual grammatical comment on the word “Va’ah’vah’d’tah’nee,” that you should work for me, implying, that if you [Jacob] work for me in the future, then I will pay you. But, all the work that you have done for me until now, will not be compensated!

Before Jacob has an opportunity to respond and declare what he believes would be fair compensation, Scripture unexpectedly interrupts. Providing a description of Laban’s two daughters, the Bible informs the readers that the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel, and that Leah was tender eyed, but Rachel was shapely and beautiful. Scripture then states that Jacob loved Rachel.

It’s at this point that Jacob responds (Genesis 29:18), “Va’yomer, eh’eh’vahd’cha sheva shah’neem b’Rachel bitcha hak’tahna,” And he [Jacob] says, I will serve you for seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter. Again, Rashi notes that Jacob obviously suspected Laban of planning to deceive him, so he carefully identified Rachel with an exacting description. “Her name is Rachel, she’s your daughter, and she’s the younger of your two daughters!” Laban, however, responds rather ambiguously, saying (Genesis 29:19), “Better I give her to you than give her to another man, stay with me.” Laban, as we see, never definitively promises that Rachel will be given as a wife to Jacob. Despite Jacob’s valiant attempt to be specific, he was cheated just the same.

And so it is not surprising that after the wedding, we learn, (Genesis 29:25), “Va’y’hee va’boker, v’heenay hee Leah,” When the morning came, behold it was Leah. Jacob’s response to this deception is great anguish–the anguish of one who has served for seven years for someone he loved, only to be cheated! Jacob cries, Genesis 29:25, “Ma zot ah’seetah lee? Ha’lo b’Rochel ahvad’tee eemach, v’lahmah ree’mee’tahnee?” What have you done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you tricked me?!

Professor Leibowitz points out, that until now, all the commentators’ interpretations seem to side with Jacob, against Laban. Now, however, that sympathy vanishes. The Midrash Tanchuma maintains, that on the night of the nuptials, Leah acted as if she were Rachel. Jacob only discovers in the morning that the woman with whom he had lain was really Leah. Jacob cries out to Leah, “Daughter of the deceiver, why have you tricked me?!” According to the Midrash, Leah responds to Jacob saying defiantly, “Why did you deceive your own father? When he [Isaac] asked, ‘Are you my son Esau?’ you responded by saying, ‘I am Esau, thy first born!’ Now you ask me why I deceived you? Your own father said to Esau that you, Jacob, had come in deceit.”

Jacob is obviously being paid back measure-for-measure for his own misdeeds. Not only was Jacob punished for Esau’s exceedingly bitter cry, but Laban also socks it to Jacob by saying (Genesis 29:26), “Lo yay’ah’seh chen bim’koh’may’noo, la’tayt hatz’eerah lif’nay hab’chee’rah,” It’s not done like this in our place, to give away the younger before the firstborn! Clearly Jacob is being been paid back for his deceit.

Professor Leibowitz concludes, “Laban is seen here as alluding either consciously or unconsciously to Jacob’s dealing with Esau. Whatever the truth of the matter, the moral lesson remains clear–-sin and deceit, however justified, bring in their wake ultimate punishment.”

Even though Jacob saw himself as the victim, he, in truth, was also a villain, and was being paid back for his lack of honesty.

We could end this analysis at this point, but I feel compelled to say more. At the time of this writing, a debate is raging in our country concerning the Fort Hood gunman. Was the psychiatrist who murdered 13 innocent victims and wounded many more, just a sick man who snapped under pressure and fear of being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, or was he a fanatical follower of Islam, clearly identifying himself as such by crying out, “Allah Akbar,” before commencing his cold-blooded shooting?

Apparently, those who had worked with Major Nidel Malik Hasan had doubts about his stability, and had often heard his radical anti-American and anti-war rhetoric, but were afraid to speak up out of fear that their reports might be construed as anti-Muslim sentiments.

The story of Jacob and Laban, as we have presented it, clearly teaches that deception and evil cannot be countenanced even on the part of our forefather Jacob, who was trying to wrestle away the blessing from his brother Esau, perhaps justifiably.

If that’s the case, if evil is evil, then we must speak out, wherever evil may be encountered. Perhaps it’s time for Catholic leaders to speak out and say, “Enough is enough! We will not allow corrupt members of our faith who molest children to hijack our religion!” Leaders of the Muslim community throughout the world must speak up and say, “Enough is enough! We will not permit corrupt members of our faith who murder innocent people to hijack our religion!” And Jewish leaders must speak up and announce, “Enough is enough! We will not allow corrupt members of our faith who steal and deceive to hijack our religion!”

Leaders of all faiths must work to restore G-d’s dignity. Enough with political correctness. Let us recognize the shortcomings of those corrupt members of our own faith, and assume upon ourselves the responsibility to correct these shortcomings by speaking out firmly against the evildoers and by doing everything in our power to stop the unprecedented desecration of the Al-mighty’s name. Otherwise, I fear that we will all soon give out an exceedingly bitter cry.

We must speak out now, before it is too late!

May you be blessed.