Fleeing and Marrying, Reality and Vision

  • Rabbanit Sharon Rimon
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Parashat Hashavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion

This parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.


This parasha series is dedicated

in honor of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Rabbi Elchanan Samet.


This month's parasha shiur is dedicated in memory of our mother Tovah bat Chanah Chava vTzvi Hersh (Tovah Bodek Rosenfeld) – the Rosenfeld family.


This shiur is dedicated to the memory of Szore Rivka Kitay of Lakewood, New Jersey, whose yahrzeit will be on the 6th Day of Kislev.



Parashat Vayetze


Fleeing and Marrying, Reality and Vision


By Rabbanit Sharon Rimon




Yaakov departed from Be'er Sheva and he went to Charan. (10)


Why does Yaakov leave Be'er Sheva and head for Charan? There are two reasons, both set out at the end of last week's parasha.  The first reason is:


Rivka was told the words of Esav, her elder son, and she sent and called for Yaakov, her younger son, and said to him: Behold, Esav your brother is comforting himself over you, (planning) to kill you.

And now, my son, obey me and arise, flee to Lavan, my brother, in Charan.

Dwell with him for a few days until your brother's fury is turned away,

Until your brother's anger turns away from you and he forgets that which you have done to him; then I will send and fetch you from there. Why should I be bereaved of both of you in the same day? (Bereishit 27:42-45)


Immediately thereafter, the Torah goes on to provide the second reason for Yaakov's flight:


Rivka said to Yitzchak: I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Chet. If Yaakov takes a wife of the daughters of Chet – such as these, of the daughters of the land – then for what am I living?

So Yitzchak called Yaakov and blessed him and commanded him and said to him, Do not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.

Arise, go to Padan Aram, to the home of Betuel, your mother's father, and take for yourself from there a wife from the daughters of Lavan, your mother's brother.

And may the Almighty God bless you and make you fruitful and cause you to multiply, that you may become a multitude of peoples.

And may He give you the blessing of Avraham – to you and to your descendants with you – to inherit the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Avraham.

And Yitzchak sent Yaakov, and he went to Padan Aram, to Lavan son of Betuel the Aramean, the brother of Rivka, the mother of Yaakov and Esav. (27:46 - 28:5)




Are both reasons equal in weight? From the way in which they are presented, the first reason seems to take precedence. Rivka wants, first and foremost, for Yaakov to get away from Esav. However, when Rivka approaches Yitzchak, she makes no mention of the fact that Esav is planning to kill Yaakov. Rather, she presents a different pretext for sending Yaakov to Charan. The pretext she chooses is that Yaakov must find a wife who is not one of the "daughters of Canaan."


The narrative then accompanies Yaakov on his way to Charan. Along the way, God is revealed to Yaakov and He conveys to him both the promise of the land and the promise of descendants. He also promises to protect him and to bring him back to Canaan.


Following this revelation, Yaakov makes an oath:


If God will be with me, and guard me on this way that I go, and give me bread to eat and a garment to wear,

and I return in peace to my father's house, then the Lord will be my God.[1] (28:20-21)


Yaakov makes no mention of the great promises of the land and of descendants. Nor does he ask for Divine assistance in finding a wife. He asks only that God look after him and bring him back to the land. It seems, therefore, that Yaakov's mind is on fleeing. Therefore he asks God for protection, and to return home safely.


When Yaakov reaches Charan, he sits by the well, and it is there that he encounters Rachel for the first time. He is enthusiastic about this meeting, but we are not told here that he is struck by her beauty, nor even by her personality. It should also be noted that their dialogue contains no mention of marriage. The verses emphasize a different point altogether:


And it was, when Yaakov saw Rachel, the daughter of Lavan, his mother's brother, and the flocks of Lavan, his mother's brother, then Yaakov approached and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well, and he watered the flocks of Lavan, his mother's brother.

And Yaakov kissed Rachel, and he lifted his voice and wept.

And Yaakov told Rachel that he was her father's nephew (literally, brother), and that he was the son of Rivka. And she ran and told her father. (10-12)


The encounter between Yaakov and Rachel is tightly wound around their family connection. Yaakov is excited to meet someone from his mother's family. Not a word is said about marriage.[2]


Even in his conversation with Lavan there is no mention of a request to marry Rachel:[3]


And it was, when Lavan heard news of Yaakov, his sister's son, he ran towards him and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house, and he told Lavan all of these things. (13)


What are the "things" that Yaakov told Lavan during their first meeting?


Rashi comments: "He told Lavan – that he had come only because he was forced to by his brother, and he had his fortune taken from him."


According to Rashbam: "All of these things – that his father and mother had sent him to his family's people."


Yaakov does not state at the outset that he wants to marry Lavan's daughter. He tells Lavan only that he has run away from his brother, and that his parents advised him to go to his extended family in Charan.


Yaakov then proceeds to stay there for an entire month without uttering a word about marriage:[4]


Lavan said to him: Surely you are my bone and my flesh. So he stayed with him for a month. (14)


After that month, Lavan starts a conversation with Yaakov, about something that has nothing to do with marriage:


Lavan said to Yaakov: Just because you are my brother, should you then serve me for nothing? Tell me what your wages shall be. (15)


Only in the wake of this proposal does Yaakov ask to marry Rachel:


Lavan had two daughters. The name of the elder one was Leah, and the name of the younger one was Rachel.

And Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was of beautiful stature and of beautiful appearance.

And Yaakov loved Rachel, so he said: I will serve you for seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter. (16-18)


Thus, while Yaakov does set off for Charan for two reasons – to escape from Esav and to find a wife – it seems that for him, getting away from Esav is the main reason. He does not appear to be thinking about marriage. Only when Lavan mentions the subject of wages for his work is Yaakov "reminded" of his father's instruction to find a wife, and then he raises the idea of marrying Rachel.


At this stage we discover that Yaakov loves Rachel. The Torah does not depict Yaakov's choice of Rachel as being based on her actions, nor does it describe any Divine assistance in bringing about the match. The text relates a regular, human story of "falling in love" with a woman who is "of beautiful stature and of beautiful appearance." And even now, when Yaakov finally asks to marry Rachel, he still makes no mention of the fact that Yitzchak had sent him to Lavan's house in order to find himself a wife.[5]


Yitzchak's Marriage vs. Yaakov's Marriage


There are some obvious parallels between the story of Eliezer's quest for a wife for Yitzchak and Yaakov's path to Rachel. In both cases, the father commands that no Canaanite woman be considered; the woman chosen for marriage should be from Charan. In both stories, the journey to Charan ends at the well, where the first encounter with the woman takes place, and in both cases the woman turns out to be from the family of Nachor. Following the meeting with the woman there is a meeting with the family.


Based on the above outline, the two stories appear to be quite similar. Nevertheless, it is specifically the similarities between them that serve to highlight the significant differences between them.


a. Yitzchak does not go out to seek a wife for himself. The quest for his wife is initiated by Avraham, and it is Eliezer who is dispatched to bring the woman. Yitzchak is involved in neither the choice of the woman or the decision. Yaakov, in contrast, is sent himself to Charan to find a wife, and he decides on his own whom to choose.

b. Yitzchak is forbidden from leaving the land and going to Charan; Yaakov goes to Charan.

c. For Yitzchak, the journey to Charan has only one purpose: to find a wife for him. For Yaakov, the journey is also a flight from Esav.

d. Yaakov experiences a Divine revelation on the way.

e. In the case of Yitzchak, throughout the narrative there is an emphasis on Divine signs that Rivka is the right woman to choose. In Avraham's directive to his servant, he says: "The Lord God of the heavens… He will send His angel before you, that you may take a wife from there for my son" (24:7).

Eliezer in turn does not rely on his own discretion, but asks for God's help in finding the right woman. When he finds Rivka and understands that she is the one, he once again emphasizes that it is God Who had made his mission successful.

f. How is the woman chosen? For Yitzchak there is a "character test," accompanied by Divine assistance. For Yaakov, there is no test. He sees Rachel and decides on his own that he wants to marry her.

g. As noted, Eliezer announces the purpose of his visit immediately upon arrival at Betuel's home; he will not eat with the family until he has made it clear why he has come, at Avraham's command. Yaakov, in his first meeting with Lavan, makes no mention of marriage at all. A month later, when he does talk about marriage, he says nothing about his father's command, but rather asks simply to marry Rachel.

h. In Yitzchak's case, there is a return journey to Canaan immediately upon finding the woman. For Yaakov the return takes much longer; he remains in Charan for many years.


What is the essential difference between the story of the match for Yitzchak and the story of the match for Yaakov? In Yitzchak's case, there are two great ideals that guide the search[6]. The practical difficulties are set aside; it is clear that God will help to overcome them. Likewise, Yitzhak has no personal involvement in the match. The marriage is directed from Above; the choice is explicitly left in the hands of God.


For Yaakov, the entire episode reflects an altogether human plot. A man is fleeing from his brother; he reaches some relatives and stays with them. In the natural course of events he falls in love with one of the daughters, and asks to marry her in return for his labor. There is no appeal by Yaakov for Divine aid in finding a wife, nor does there seem to be any Divine intervention in the course of events.




Clearly, the picture that emerges from the above description is not an accurate one. When Yaakov leaves Be'er Sheva for Charan, he is indeed fleeing from Esav, but he also receives a command from his father to find a wife. Together with this command he receives the all-important blessing, the blessing of Avraham: the promise of the land, and the promise of descendants.


May the Almighty God bless you and make you fruitful and cause you to multiply, that you may become a multitude of peoples.

And may He grant you the blessing of Avraham, to you and to your descendants with you – to inherit the land of your sojourning which God gave to Avraham. (28:3-4)


Yaakov had already received a blessing from Yitzchak (in chapter 27, detailing the manner in which the blessing was "stolen"), but here he receives the real blessing: the blessing of Avraham. Yaakov is destined to be the continuation of the House of Avraham and Yitzchak, and therefore he cannot marry a Canaanite woman. Just as Avraham said, concerning Yitzchak, "You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites," so Yaakov is told, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of the Canaanites."


The blessing that is bestowed upon Yaakov does not come to him by chance. He wants it, and he plans Esav's sale of the birthright to him – symbolizing a transfer of the rights to this blessing. Yaakov wants this blessing, with all the commitment that it involves: bearing descendants who will be worthy of continuing the path of Avraham and Yitzchak in the world.


Thus, it is not possible that Yaakov would "ignore" his commitment to marry a worthy wife. Even if he were not forced to flee from Esav, he would have to find a wife from Charan, rather than marrying a Canaanite woman.


Following Yitzchak's command, the Torah notes:


Yitzchak sent Yaakov, and he went to Padan Aram. (5)


It is Yitzchak who sends Yaakov to Charan. Yaakov goes there only after Yitzchak has sent him, with a command and a blessing. And once again, in the description of his journey, we read:


Yaakov obeyed his father and his mother, and he went to Padan Aram. (7)


His journey is motivated by both his father and his mother. His father commands him to take a wife, while his mother advises him to flee from his brother.[7] In this verse, Yitzchak's words are given precedence, such that we may conclude that Yaakov regards them as being more important.


Clearly, then, the matter of finding a wife is not a mere "pretext." In terms of inner significance, it is the most important element of the journey.[8]


On the way to Charan, Yaakov receives further reinforcement, in the form of a Divine revelation:


And behold, God stood above it and said: I am the Lord God of Avraham, your father, and the God of Yitzchak. The land upon which you lie - I shall give it to you and to your descendants.

And your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread to the west and to the east, and to the north and to the south, and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and through your descendants.

And behold, I am with you, and I shall protect you wherever you go, and I shall bring you back to this land, for I shall not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you. (13-15)


As noted above, Yaakov relates mainly to the final promise – the promise of protection. However, it is inconceivable that he completely ignores the main promises – the promise of the land and the promise of descendants. He goes to Charan with the personal burden of having to flee from his brother, but he is accompanied all along, profoundly and inwardly, with his father's blessing; the blessing of God.


Yaakov reaches Charan with the knowledge that he must choose one of Lavan's daughters to marry.[9] When Rachel comes to the well and he discovers that she is Lavan's daughter, he has no need for any further tests. It is clear to him that she is apparently going to be his wife, even if he is not in love with her.[10]


Yaakov does not simply fall in love with a woman who he meets by chance. He headed for Lavan's home with a view to marrying one of his daughters, and that is exactly what happens.


Choice and Deception


The only room for choice that is left to Yaakov is the question of whether to marry Leah or Rachel, since both are daughters of Lavan. Here there is room for personal preference, and Yaakov prefers Rachel. Why does he choose her? We might expect his choice to be based on some test of character, as in the case of Rivka, but the Torah describes his motives as being quite different:


… But Rachel was beautiful of stature and of beautiful appearance.

And Yaakov loved Rachel, so he said: I will serve you for seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter…

And Yaakov served for seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him like just a few days, for his love for her. (27:17-20)


The choice of Rachel is based on "regular," human love.


This simple human preference[11] once again emphasizes the natural, human behavior which we noted previously. Once again we feel that Yaakov's marriage is a routine, natural, human affair that starts with his flight from Esav and ends up with him "falling in love" with Rachel.


Yaakov proposes that he will serve Lavan for seven years, and receive Rachel in return. Lavan agrees:


And Lavan said: It is better that I give her to you than that I give her to someone else; remain with me. (19)


Yaakov then goes on to fulfill his commitment:


And Yaakov served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him like just a few days, for his love for her.

And Yaakov said to Lavan: Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may come to her. (20-21)


It is clear that Yaakov loves Rachel. After he has paid the full price in labor, he asks to marry her, as agreed. Up to this point, Yaakov has been in control of his marriage plans. But now Lavan interferes, disturbing the proper course of events:


Lavan gathered all the people of the place and made a feast.

And it was, in the evening, that he took Leah – his elder daughter – and brought her to him, and he came to her. (22-23)


Lavan deceives Yaakov and marries him to Leah instead of Rachel. His behavior is not all that surprising; what does surprise us is the success of his ruse. How is it that both Leah and Rachel are silent, revealing nothing of the exchange? How is it that Yaakov fails to discover the deceit? And once he finds out how he has been deceived, why does he remain married to Leah? Why does he not divorce her? If Lavan has disturbed the proper course of Yaakov's marriage, how is it that ultimately his deceit is accepted and Leah remains married to Yaakov, later on even becoming the mother of most of his children, including the progenitors of both the priesthood (kehuna) (Levi) and Israelite royalty (Yehuda)?


How is it possible that the House of Yaakov, the origin of Am Yisrael, is built on a foundation of trickery, a "mistake"?


Reality and Vision


Further reflection on the story as presented above leads us to a different understanding of its significance.


We see a natural, human process in which Yaakov flees from Esav, reaches Lavan's house, and falls in love with Rachel; Lavan deceives him and causes him to marry Leah, and then Yaakov finally manages to marry his beloved Rachel, too.


At the same time, there is another process going on: a Divine plan in which Yaakov sets out to find a wife from among Lavan's daughters, meets Rachel at the well, believes that she is the right woman for him – the wife that Yitzchak had in mind, the woman for whose sake he was sent to Charan. He asks to marry her, out of natural, human preference, but God brings about a situation in which he marries both Leah and Rachel. In other words, it is not Lavan's deceit that leads to Yaakov's marriage to Leah, but rather God's will. Lavan's deceit is merely a vessel through which the proper marriage in God's eyes is brought about.[12]


The image of Yaakov that arises from the narrative is that of a man who lives within his human, existential reality and deals with all of its complexities and difficulties in an independent, human way. At the same time, he is not devoid of vision. Yaakov has received Yitzchak's blessing – the blessing of Avraham – and God Himself was revealed to him, as he set out on his journey, reiterating this most significant blessing. It is with this vision that Yaakov heads into exile, to deal with his difficult, complex, human reality.


Indeed, the story of Yaakov's life is not an easy one. He has to find a way to deal with Esav in such a way as to obtain his father's blessing, he is forced into exile and to dealing with Lavan's trickery, he finally flees Lavan's house in fear, deals with a complicated family life involving four wives, two of whom are sisters with complicated relations between them; his daughter Dina is raped, and in the wake of his sons' response he fears that the people of the land will wage war against him; the relations between him and his sons are complex and strained, to the point where they sell Yosef.


Yaakov's life descends to the depths of human experience; he struggles at every stage. However, this is not the only dimension to his life. At every important stage of his life God appears to him and inspires him with vision.


The complexity of Yaakov's life is apparent at every stage. Many things that happen to him reflect dual causality: a human, natural process and a Divine one.

·                    The departure from Charan is not only an escape from Esav, but also a move inspired with the mission of finding a wife, and accompanied by God's blessing.

·                    The return to Canaan is not motivated solely by fear of Lavan, but also accompanied, once again, by a Divine revelation.[13]

·                    The arrival in Beit El is not only prompted by the fear that the men of Shekhem are going to kill him, but also in response to God's command to return to there.[14]

·                    The descent to Egypt is likewise not prompted solely by the desire to see Yosef. God's word accompanies Yaakov's journey, imbuing the descent with a meaningful spiritual dimension:

God said to Yisrael in the visions of the night, and He said: Yaakov, Yaakov. And he said, Here I am.

And He said: I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I shall make a great nation of you there.

I shall descend with you to Egypt, and I shall surely also bring you up again. (46:2-4)


Yaakov himself, when describing his life to Pharaoh, testifies to the great difficulties that he has encountered:


Yaakov said to Pharaoh: The days of the years of my sojourning are a hundred and thirty years; few and hard have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained the days of the years of the lives of my fathers, in the days of their sojourning. (47:9)


Yaakov declares that his life has been difficult. He compares his life with that of his fathers, and the comparison appears to be intended not only on the quantitative level, but also in terms of his quality of life. Yaakov, unlike Avraham and Yitzchak, has been through some very difficult experiences. He has battled with the reality of this world, with its basest, ugliest phenomena. Ramban comments:[15]


"It seems that Yaakov was white-haired, and appeared very old, and Pharaoh was surprised at his old age since most people at that time did not live so long; their years were shorter. It was for this reason that he asked him, ‘How many days are the years of your life' – for I have not seen anyone as old as you in all of my kingdom. And Yaakov answered him that he was a hundred and thirty years old, and that this should not surprise (Pharaoh), for this was little when compared with the lives of his fathers, who had lived longer. But since his life had been bitter with labor and sighing, he was white-haired and appeared much older."


The difference between Yitzchak's marriage and Yaakov's marriage is a reflection of the difference between them throughout their lives. Yaakov, unlike Yitzchak, does not live his whole life in Canaan, and he does not live exclusively in the "upper worlds." He goes into exile and is sucked down into the ugliest, most complex realms of reality. He deals with them himself, in a human, independent manner. This aspect of his life is reflected in his name, "Yaakov" (recalling his grip on Esav's heel (ekev) during their birth).


However, deep in his heart, in the innermost part of himself, he is accompanied all along by a great vision. It is this vision that bestows his other name – "Yisrael."


Yaakov continues to bear both names, because both realities continue to exist within him to the end. And it seems that it is specifically this complex challenge that is the source and root of Am Yisrael. Yaakov's family is the founding family of the nation. The nation is called "Am Yisrael," but sometimes they are also referred to as "Yaakov." The grappling with all aspects of reality, including its most difficult challenges, while all the time bearing the great vision accompanying the entire journey – that is the foundation of Am Yisrael, the children of Yaakov.



Translated by Kaeren Fish













[1] The commentators are divided in their interpretation of the words "ve-haya Hashem li le-lokim" are meant as part of the condition ("and I return in peace… and the Lord will be my God"), or as the result ("then the Lord will be my God").

[2] Even if Yaakov was thinking about marriage, it seems from the wording of the text that the main reason for such a thought would be the fact that Rachel is "the daughter of Lavan, his mother's brother," and the fact that he was sent by his father to find a wife among Lavan's daughters.

[3] We conclude that they did not speak of marriage at all, since there is no mention of it here, and later on Yaakov raises the subject only in response to Lavan's initiative.

[4] In contrast, Eliezer – upon reaching Betuel's home – would not agree to so much as sitting down and eating with the family before discussing the purpose of his visit.

[5] Once again a comparison with Eliezer serves to highlight the contrast. Eliezer announces right away that he has come to take the woman, at Avraham's command.

[6] One is to find a woman worthy of establishing a home with Yitzchak and continuing Avraham's tradition. She must therefore not be a Canaanite, but rather someone from Avraham's birthplace, a descendant of Shem. The other ideal is that of (Yitzchak) remaning in the land. (See the shiur on Parashat Chayei Sara for elaboration on these two ideals.)

[7] Actually, it is Rivka who also initiates Yaakov's dispatch by Yitzchak for the purposes of finding a wife, but ultimately the conversation between her and Yaakov concerns fleeing from Esav, while the conversation between Yitzchak and Yaakov concerns marriage.

[8]  If the most important aspect had been the flight from Esav, Yaakov would not have gone to Charan. It would be more logical for him to lie low somewhere where his identity would not be known.

[9] He has been commanded explicitly to take a wife from the daughters of Lavan, whereas Eliezer was required only to take a woman from the local people of Avraham's birthplace. Yaakov's choices are far more limited; as far as he knows, perhaps he has no choice at all: he is most likely unaware of whether Lavan has only one daughter or several daughters.

[10]  Especially in light of the story of Yitzchak's marriage to Rivka, where the woman who came to the well ended up being the woman who was chosen as the bride.

[11]  Especially when compared with the meaningful choice of Rivka!

[12]  For a discussion of the idea behind Yaakov's marriage to both Leah and Rachel, see "Ve-At Alit Al Kulana" by Gilad Messing, chapter 4.

[13]  "He heard the sons of Lavan speaking, saying: Yaakov has taken all that our father has, and from that which was our father's he has made all of this fortune. And Yaakov saw Lavan's countenance, and it was not towards him as it had been previously. And God said to Yaakov: Return to the land of your forefathers, and to your birthplace, and I will be with you." (31:1-3)

"And Yaakov went on his way, and angels of God met him. And Yaakov said, when he saw them: This is God's camp. And he called the name of that place Machanayim" (32:2-3)

"And Yaakov remained alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. And he said: No more shall your name be Yaakov, but Yisrael, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed… and he blessed him there." (32:25-29)

[14] "Yaakov said to Shimon and to Levi: You have brought trouble upon me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land – the Kena'ani and the Perizzi. I am but few in number, and they may gather against me and attack me, and I and my household will be wiped out…" (34:30)

"And God said to Yaakov: Arise, to up to Beit El and dwell there, and make yourself an altar there to God, Who appeared to you when you fled from before Esav, your brother." (35:1)

[15]   See also Rashi and Rashbam.