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-“An Eligible Fugitive” Parashat Toledot 5784

The Portion of Toledot ends with Isaac and Rebecca sending off their son, Jacob, to far-away Aram with Rebecca’s brother, Laban. Why was Jacob sent to Laban? Most schoolchildren know the answer: Jacob fled to Aram to put some distance between him and his irate brother, Esau, whose blessings Jacob had just pilfered. As is often the case with answers from schoolchildren, this is only partially true. After Jacob steals Esau’s blessings, Rebecca overhears that Esau wants revenge. She sends for Jacob and tells him [Bereishit 27:42-44]: “Behold, your brother Esau regrets [his relationship] with you [and wishes] to kill you. Now, my son, hearken to my voice, and arise, flee to my brother Laban, to Haran. Stay with him for a few days until your brother’s wrath has subsided.” After ordering Jacob to run for his life, Rebecca consults with Isaac. Rather than telling Isaac that she wants Jacob sent to her brother until things blow over, she tells him [Bereishit 27:46] “I am disgusted with my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth… of what use is life to me?” Rebecca’s words resonate with Isaac. He calls Jacob and gives him his marching orders [Bereishit 28:1-2]: “Do not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padan Aram… and take yourself from there a wife of the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.” Isaac sends Jacob to Aram not to run away from Esau, but, rather, to find a wife. Notice the difference in the wording of the two orders that Jacob receives from his parents: While Rebecca tells him to “flee”, Isaac tells him to “go”. So why did Jacob go to Aram – because he was an eligible bachelor or because he was a fugitive on the run? What was the primary reason? Prima facie, the answer is that Jacob went to find a wife. Evidence for this hypothesis is found in the first words of the Portion of Vayetze [Bereishit 28:10]: “Jacob left Beer Sheba, and he went to Haran.”. Jacob did not “flee” to Haran, he “went” to Haran. This leads to a highly counterintuitive conclusion: I had always thought that Jacob’s escapades with Laban – how Jacob worked for seven years for Rachel, how Laban switched Leah for Rachel, how Jacob worked another seven years for Rachel, how he worked another six years for Laban, who forced him to work in the rain and snow, how Laban [Bereishit 31:7] “swindled him out of wages tens of times” – were the direct result of Jacob’s swindling of Esau out of his blessings. You reap what you sow. But if Jacob went to Aram in order to find a wife, then he would have undergone the exact same trials and tribulations, with or without stealing Esau’s blessings.

My wife, Dr. Tova Sacher, disagrees, asserting that had Jacob gone to Laban for the sole purpose of finding a wife, and not to take refuge from Esau, things would have turned out very differently. Jacob was not the first person to go to Aram to look for a wife. Abraham sent his trusty servant, Eliezer, to Aram to Laban’s father, Bethuel to search for a wife for Isaac. Eliezer sets off to Aram with an entourage [Bereishit 24:10]: “The servant took ten camels of his master’s camels… and all the best of his master was in his hand; and he arose, and he went to Aram Naharaim”. In an earlier essay[1], we noted that camels were not yet dmosecitcated in Mesopotamia in Abraham’s time and the fact that Abraham owned so many of them was a sign of his great wealth and stature. According to Rashi[2], Abraham wrote a gift deed to Isaac for everything he owned in order to sway a prospective bride. After Rebecca waters Eliezer and his camels, he gives her a gift [Bereishit 24:22]: “A golden nose ring, weighing half [a shekel], and two bracelets for her hands, weighing ten gold [shekels].” After Eliezer tells his story to Rebecca’s family and they agree to send her back to Canaan as a wife for Isaac, he takes out even more gifts [Bereishit 24:52]: “The servant took out silver articles and golden articles and garments, and he gave [them] to Rebecca, and he gave delicacies to her brother and to her mother.” Eliezer comes to Aram with a dowry: a fleet of Rolls Royces, Rolex watches, and Amazon Gift Cards. Jacob, on the other hand, left home empty-handed. He had no time to put together a dowry – he was running for his life. This is made clear by two comments made by Rashi. [1] When Jacob first meets Rachel [Bereishit 29:11], he bursts into tears. Rashi, quoting from the Midrash, explains: “Since [Jacob] came empty-handed, he said, ‘Eliezer, my grandfather’s servant, had nose rings, and bracelets and sweet fruits in his possession, and I am coming with nothing in my hands. [He had nothing] because Eliphaz the son of Esau had pursued him to kill him at his father’s orders; [Eliphaz] overtook him, but since he had grown up in Isaac’s lap, he could not kill him. He said to [Jacob], ‘What shall I do about my father’s orders?’ Jacob replied, ‘Take what I have, for a poor man is counted as dead.’” Jacob cried because he arrived in Aram destitute. [2] When Laban hears that Jacob has arrived, he runs to greet him [Bereishit 29:13]: “He ran towards him, and he embraced him, and he kissed him, and he brought him into his house. He told Laban all these happenings.” Rashi explains that Laban expected to see Jacob arrive with the same wealth that Eliezer arrived with. When he sees no Ferraris or Hublot watches, he strip-searches Jacob, probing Jacob for concealed jewels. When he finds none, Jacob “told Laban all these happenings”, explaining that he didn’t have time to pack a bag. In summary, Jacob’s troubles with Laban are all a direct result of him arriving without a dowry. Had Jacob arrived with a dowry, he would have given gifts to Laban and then taken Rachel home[3]. Instead, he had to work for her and from the moment he agreed to work for Laban, things went south.

Let us take this idea a few steps further. The prophet Hosea [12:13] describes Jacob’s travails with the following words: “Then Jacob had to flee to the land of Aram; There Israel served for a wife, for a wife he had to guard [sheep].” Jacob fled; Israel served. Often in these essays we have discussed the two personas of Jacob, “Jacob” and “Israel”. The name “Jacob” comes from the word “heel[4]”, the lowest part of the body. The name “Jacob” comes from the word “trickery[5]”. “Jacob” uses every means at his disposal to get what he needs. The name “Israel” comes from word “officer[6]”. “Israel” is given what he justly deserves. “Jacob” shoots down rockets. “Israel” does not tolerate rocket fire and he takes out the launchers. “Jacob” is content to “manage the conflict”. “Israel” will accept nothing less than victory. “Jacob” runs away from his home and arrives in Aram only with the clothes on his back. There, for twenty long years, he remains “Jacob”, always trying, sometimes successfully, to stay one step ahead of his sly uncle. Finally, Jacob stands up for what is rightly his. He tells Laban [Bereishit 30:25-26] “Send me away, and I will go to my place and to my land! Give [me] my wives and my children for whom I worked for you, and I will go, for you know my work, which I have worked for you”. By standing up to Laban[7], “Jacob” attains the title of “Israel”. Now he can return home to face Esau.

One final step: Jacob did not need to go to Haran as “Jacob”. He could have gone as “Israel”. When Jacob leaves for Aram, he is already of marriageable age. According to our Sages in the Midrash, he was already sixty-three years old. His father, Isaac, was married when he was forty. Indeed, Esau took a wife when he is forty. For whatever reason, Jacob chose to wait before taking a wife. Instead of leaving for Aram when it was optimal, he left because he was forced. “Jacob” allows his moves to be dictated by his circumstances. “Israel” takes the initiative. Our Sages teach that “The actions of the fathers are a sign for the children”. At this critical moment in history, let us face our destiny as the Children of Israel.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5784

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Sheindel Devorah bat Rina, Hila bat Miriam, Rina bat Hassida, Pinchas David ben Gittel and Esther Sharon bat Chana Raizel.

[1] Chaye Sarah 5783

[2] Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known by his acronym “Rashi”, was the most eminent of the medieval commentators. He lived in northern France in the eleventh century.

[3] Jacob still would have needed to wait for Esau’s anger to subside, but he could have stayed with Laban, as per Rebecca’s orders, as a son-in-law and not as a migrant worker.

[4] See Bereishit [25:26]

[5] See Bereishit [27:36]

[6] See Bereishit [32:29]

[7] Jacob’s name is changed to Israel on his way home from Aram.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. 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 2000 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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