“Fly by Night” Parashat Vayetze 5778

While Israel is a small country with a small number of politicians, it is blessed with a large number of politicians who have retired from public office only to reappear a few years later, reinvented and ready to be re-elected. The most famous example is Binyamin Netanyahu, who left politics for the private sphere after being trounced by Ehud Barak in his re-election bid in 1999. Netanyahu spent four years in political exile until he agreed to return as Ariel Sharon’s Minister of Finance in 2003. The most recent example, one that is still in the making, is that of Ehud Barak, who actually reinvented himself twice. After losing badly to Ariel Sharon in his re-election bid in 2001, Barak also left politics for the private sphere. He returned to politics in 2005, and in 2007 was sworn in as Ehud Olmert’s Minister of Defence. Barak quit politics “forever” in 2012. That is, at least until last week, when he made an unequivocally vague announcement that he may or may not be re-entering politics as the “only person with the experience to lead the State of Israel”.

It is fitting that Barak is re-entering politics on the eve of Parashat Vayetze. In May 2000, while Barak was the Prime Minister, the Israeli Army evacuated Southern Lebanon after eighteen years of occupation. While there had been vigorous discussion as to the value of remaining in Lebanon, given the mounting death toll of Israeli soldiers, it was the way in which the army withdrew from Lebanon that left an ugly stain on Barak’s record. One day Israel announced its intention to unilaterally withdraw her troops from Lebanon and one day later not one Israeli soldier remained in the entire country. Troops did not “withdraw” – they ran as fast as they could by the cover of night. We were living in Australia at the time and we hosted an Israeli backpacker who was there. He was emotionally scarred. He told us that they had to bury their Torah scrolls in Lebanon because they did not have the time or the means to carry them back to Israel with the necessary respect. While Barak has always maintained that the withdrawal was a “tactical victory”, many Israelis believe that the army simply fled[1]. In fact, many subsequently refer to Barak as “Barach”, meaning “fled”.

What is the connection between leaving Lebanon and Parashat Vayetze? Yaakov Avinu, having spent twenty years working for his devious father-in-law, Lavan, decides that the time has come to return home. He tells Lavan [Bereishit 30:25] “Send me away and I will go to my place and to my land”. Lavan is amenable and Yaakov celebrates by using genetic engineering to expropriate most of Lavan’s flocks. After Yaakov feels that the time has finally come to go home, we are told [Bereishit 31:17-18] “Yaakov rose and he lifted up his sons and his wives upon the camels. He led all his livestock and all his possessions that he had acquired… to come to Yitzchak his father, to the Land of Canaan.” On the way out the door, Rachel, realizing that her father is away, grabs her father’s idols [Bereishit 31:19]: “Lavan went to shear his sheep and [meanwhile] Rachel stole her father’s idols”. The Torah describes what happens next [Bereishit 31:20-22]: “Yaakov concealed from Lavan the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing. He and all that were his fled, and he arose and crossed the river… On the third day, Lavan was informed that Yaakov had fled.” Lavan runs after Yaakov, catches up with him, and they eventually sign a peace treaty. It is strange that the Torah does not use the word “flight” until Rachel steals her father’s idols. Until this point, it seems as if Yaakov is leaving almost regally – he “rose”, he “lifted his sons”, and he “led” his family home. Yaakov stands tall. In fact, the Torah tells us that it was specifically Rachel, and not Yaakov, who exploited Lavan’s absence to do something furtively, i.e. to steal her father’s idols. Rachel had something to hide – Yaakov did not.

So how did Yaakov leave Lavan’s house: did he walk out the door with his head held high or did he flee with his tail between his legs? The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh offers a fascinating explanation: He asserts that Lavan had always suspected that Yaakov would one day decide to return home. But when Yaakov explicitly asked for his permission to leave, Lavan figured that he would never walk out the door without saying good-bye, and if and when that moment came, Lavan would make certain to do what was necessary to ensure that Yaakov did not leave. What surprised Lavan was that Yaakov got up and walked out the door without pomp and without circumstance, such that Lavan didn’t get a chance to “convince” him to stay a bit longer. But make no mistake: Yaakov did not flee – he outmaneuvered a consummate liar.

Not so fast. It appears that the Prophet Hoshea feels differently, explicitly accusing Yaakov of fleeing [Hosea 12:13]: “Yaakov fled to the field of Aram [where Lavan lived]”. The sharp-eyed reader will have noticed that Hoshea says that Yaakov fled to Lavan, and not from Lavan. This is because Yaakov fled twice. After Rivka helps Yaakov steal Esav’s blessing, she overhears Esav plotting to kill Yaakov. She calls for Yaakov and tells him [Bereishit 27:43] “Now, my son, listen to my voice, and arise, flee to my brother Lavan, to Haran”. That said, Rabbanit Sharon Rimon notes that the reason for which Yaakov went to Lavan was not at all clear cut. When Yitzchak sends Yaakov off to Lavan, he tells him [Bereishit 28:2] “Arise, go to Padan Aram… and take yourself from there a wife of the daughters of Lavan, your mother’s brother”. In other words, Yaakov did not run away from home to save his own hide, rather, he left home for the express purpose of finding a wife. Indeed, the Torah never tells us that Yaakov “fled”, only that Yaakov “went” or “left”, meaning that the reason for his exit was open to interpretation.

When Yaakov arrives at Padan Aram, he is ushered into Lavan’s house, where he gives Lavan the background for his surprise visit [Bereishit 29:13]: “He told Lavan all these happenings”. According to many of the medieval commentators[2], Yaakov told Lavan that he was fleeing from his brother, Esav. Conversely, it is worthwhile looking at the explanation of Rav Zalman Szorotzkin, who possesses an ear keenly attuned to politics. Rav Szorotzkin explains that Yaakov told Lavan how he had aroused Esav’s ire by stealing both his birthright and his blessing. When Lavan heard of Yaakov’s duplicity, he knew that he had found a kindred spirit.

The conclusion is clear: “Flight” is a subjective, and not an objective, concept. Whether you “fled” or whether you “tactically retreated” is determined by the impression that you make and by the stories that they tell after you are gone. When Yaakov arrives at Lavan’s home, he impresses Lavan with tales of his exploits. As far as Lavan is concerned, Yaakov did not run away from home – he left home to find his next victim[3], and so the word “flight” is never mentioned[4]. Similarly, when Yaakov leaves Lavan, he leaves with his head held high. Only after Rachel steals Lavan’s idols does it begin to look like Yaakov is running away under the cover of darkness, and only then does the Torah accuse Yaakov of “flight”[5].

Finally we return to Ehud Barak. No matter what justification he gave at the time or ever since, the perception of our enemies is that the Israeli Army fled. We showed weakness to people who understand only power. While the truth might be very different, it is immaterial. Even if all of the military experts in the world unanimously justify the withdrawal, it is the audience who determines who has fled and who has held his head high. While Yaakov managed to convince Lavan, the Lebanese are still laughing at us.

ere’s

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5778

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza and Tzvi ben Freida.

[1] In an effort to steer clear of unnecessary political analyses, we will leave it for the reader to acquaint himself with how Israel’s hasty withdrawal directly led to the empowerment of Hezbollah and to the Second Lebanon War of 2006. See for instance https://www.timesofisrael.com/why-israels-retreat-from-lebanon-marked-the-birth-of-todays-middle-east/.

[2] See, for instance, Rashi, Rashbam, and Seforno.

[3] The next victim turned out to be Lavan.

[4] The reason that the prophet Hoshea uses the word “flight” is a topic for another shiur.

[5] It is interesting that the Torah uses the same words – Rachel “stole” her father’s idols and Yaakov “stole” the heart of Lavan by not telling him he was leaving, as if the two thefts are somehow connected.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including two briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. He speaks regularly for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Ari is a highly requested speaker at AIPAC events, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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