Judaism: Agreements; The Big Picture
How would you define an agreement? I believe most would define it as: a harmony of opinion, action, or character between two parties.
We find, in Parshat Vayetzei, the "agreement" between Yaakov (Jacob) and Lavan (Laban) regarding Yaakov taking Rachel as his wife.
Yaakov told Lavan, in 29:18, "I will work for you for seven years, for Rachel your younger daughter." The obvious question to be asked on Yaakov's words is: Why did Yaakov have to specify that he wanted to marry Lavan's "younger daughter"? Could it really be that Lavan did not know that Rachel was his younger daughter? All Yaakov had to say was "I will work for seven years for Rachel."
Rashi brings down the Mdrash, in Bereishet Rabbah 70:17, to explain why Yaakov felt it necessary to specify whom he was referring to. The Midrash says the following: "Why all of these signs? Because Yaakov knew that Lavan was a fraud. He said to him: "I will work for you... for Rachel..." - and if you might say that the agreement is for some other Rachel, from the marketplace, the verse says, "your daughter." And if you might say, "I will change Leah's name and I will name her Rachel," the verse says, "the younger...."
Although Yaakov knew that Lavan was a conniving individual, Yaakov thought he had figured out a way to get around Lavan's trickery. The Midrash continues and says, "And despite this, [all of these precautions] did not help, for [Lavan] deceived him."
How was Lavan able to deceive him? Wasn't Yaakov's agreement foolproof? Apparently not: Yaakov woke up, saw that he had been given Leah as a wife, and went and complained to Lavan. Yaakov told him, in 29:25, "What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I worked for you? Why have you deceived me?" Lavan then responded in the next verse, 29:26, "Such is not done in our place, to give the younger before the elder." PerhapsLavan was telling Yaakov, "You think I care that we had an agreement? It doesn't matter! That is not the way I work. An agreement doesn't mean anything to me - I am a deceiving person and I work on my terms, not according to an 'agreement.'"
Last year, at the time of this week's parsha, Israel agreed to a "ceasefire" with Hamas. The "ceasefire" was supposed to put an end to over 2,000 aerial attacks against Israel that the Gaza Hamas regime had launched since the last day of Operation Cast Lead (January 18, 2009). The world pushed for a ceasefire, claiming that Israel must "give Hamas a chance for a ceasefire with Israel." Did the world not remember the two failed "ceasefires" that were reached with the Gaza Hamas regime over the past six years? Did they not remember what had occurred during those "ceasefires"? I do and the people of Sderot and the western Negev do as well. I am not the biggest history buff but one does not really need to be one when it comes to this issue.
To quote Noam Bedein, founder and director of Sderot Media Center:
From November 26, 2006, until May 15, 2007, the first "ceasefire" between Hamas and Israel lasted for six months. Here is the statement made by Hamas five days before agreeing to that ceasefire: "Hamas's military wing will stop rocket fire when residents evacuate the city of Sderot"(-from November 21, 2006). During that "ceasefire," the Gaza Hamas regime launched 315 attacks on Sderot and the western Negev. There was no IDF response to those attacks during that "ceasefire." The second "ceasefire" took place from June 19, 2008 (1 year after the Hamas military took control of Gaza) until December 19, 2008. During those six months of "we cease, they fire," the Gaza Hamas regime launched 530 attacks on Israel. 2008 was the most intense year of the decade; the entire western Negev region was under constant rocket fire, with approximately 3,200 aerial attacks on Israel. Three days before the end of 2008, the IDF military launched "Operation Cast Lead'' to stop the attacks from the Gaza Hamas regime.
How does one define a ceasefire? Would one define it as "they cease, we fire"? Nobody would, but Hamas did.
How would one define an agreement? Would one define it as "A harmony of opinion, action, or character within oneself, having nothing to do with the other party?" No, because that would not make any sense!
I believe there is a serious lesson that we are supposed to take out from this parsha and the whole episode of Lavan and that is, "Always be aware of the surroundings you are getting yourself into and the person you are getting involved with." Yaakov tried his hardest to make sure he did not get cheated by Lavan, and what happened? He got cheated and had to pay the price for it.
Israel has tried countless times to make peace with Hamas and what has come of it? Nothing. We continue to get cheated and pay the price. There is a concept in Judaism called "Maysa Avot Siman Libanim" (the actions of our forefathers are to be lessons for their children). We are supposed to learn from the actions of our forefathers - not just read these episodes in Sefer Bereishet and think they are just cute bedtime tales.
Perhaps we can learn from Yaakov that it does not matter we think when we are dealing with a conniving and deceitful person - and all the more so a conniving group. They will do what they want regardless of what an "agreement" says. Whether it is a verbal agreement or a written agreement, it really doesn't matter. To them it is just words or papers with words on them. Hamas has already broken last year's agreement numerous times. How much longer will the sirens go off in the South as Jewish people simply try to live their lives in peace?
We need to take this to heart and be aware of our surroundings and the people we involve ourselves with. If we do not, we are putting ourselves in danger and potentially in a position where we will have to pay a heavy price.
Seeing the Big Picture
At least three of the four mothers of the Jewish people have something in common - they are initially unable to have children. Sarah, Rivkah, and Rachel each endure years of pain and frustration at their inability to conceive, but ultimately each is rewarded with offspring who go on to shape the Jewish people. Leah, on the other hand, does not face the same predicament. The Torah tells us that Yaakov loved Rachel more than Leah, and because Hashem saw that Leah was hated, He blessed her with children. Rachel, seeing that her sister's tally outnumbered her own, six to none, grows jealous and demands that Yaakov give her children (hava li banim). Rashi, quoting the Midrash Rabbah, says that Rachel was not jealous of her sister's children; rather, she was jealous of the reason that Leah merited all of her children. Leah, she reasoned, was much more righteous than she; therefore, Hashem rewarded her with offspring.
Rav Yosef Salant, in his Be'er Yosef, questions Rachel's course of action. If, as she surmised, her sister merited six children because of her righteous deeds, why did Rachel not simply try to emulate her older sister, thereby giving Hashem a reason to reward her just as He rewarded Leah? Why does Rachel demand children from Yaakov instead, implying that there is nothing she can do to help herself?
The Be'er Yosef suggests that it would have been impossible for Rachel to replicate the righteousness of her sister. Rashi quotes the Gemara in Bava Basra to explain the reason that Leah's eyes are described as "soft." The Gemara says that Leah spent most of her young life crying because she assumed that as Lavan's older daughter, she was going to have to marry Rivkah's oldest son Eisav. She despised Eisav's pernicious and deceitful ways, and lived in misery thinking that one day she would have to become his wife.
The Gemara explains that is what the Torah means by the phrase vayar Hashem ki snuah Leah - not that Hashem saw that Leah was hated; but rather, Hashem saw and recognized that Leah hated Eisav's ways. It was because of this hatred of evil that Leah merited her children.
Rachel, on the other hand, always expected to marry Yaakov, the righteous, truthful, and devoted scholar. She never had to endure the dreadful anticipation with which her older sister suffered for years. Unlike Leah, she was never faced with the prospect of marrying an evil man, so she never had to actively despise the evil ways of such a person. Unable to emulate her sister's predicament, she was thus unable to match her sister's righteousness. Therefore, in an act of desperation, she turns to her husband and demands that he do everything in his power to help her.
Yaakov's response, however, is perplexing. As Rashi explains, Yaakov basically tells her "it's your problem, not mine" - Hashem has withheld children from you, but I already have many children. Is this the proper attitude of any man, let alone a great tzaddik, to only care about himself but not about his beloved wife? Why does Yaakov respond so harshly?
The Be'er Yosef suggests that perhaps Yaakov was indirectly trying to help Rachel by replicating for her Leah's long time situation. After Yaakov's harsh response, Rachel began to think that if she couldn't conceive, Yaakov would have no need for her and would divorce her, making her available for Eisav. Faced with the reality (in her mind) of having to marry Eisav, Rachel begins to actively detest him and his evil ways. The merit of these thoughts ultimately led to Rachel's first child, as the Midrash (quoted by Rashi) says, "Vayizkor Elokim es Rachel - Hashem remembered her pain at the thought of having to marry Eisav, and rewarded her with a child." Once Rachel was able to achieve the same level of righteousness as her older sister, she merited children, just like Leah.
But why didn't these great women merit children due to their kindness or righteousness in other areas? Chazal teach us that they were prophets, ostensibly on a very high level of spirituality and closeness with Hashem, so why were Rachel and Leah only given children after going through the process of despising Eisav's evilness?
The Be'er Yosef explains that this was all part of Hashem's master plan to create twelve righteous sons, who would be the progenitors of the twelve tribes of the Jewish people. He begins by asking a simple question - how could Yitzchak, who was called an olah temimah, who was consecrated on Har HaMoriah, father a wicked man like Eisav? It must be that this spark of evil was passed on from Rivkah; although she was truly righteous, her impious family left a small amount of malice in her psyche that never manifested in her, but was passed on to her son Eisav. Rachel and Leah came from the same family, where lying, cheating, and deceiving were commonplace.
Hashem, in His master plan, wanted to ensure that no traces of evil remained in either one of them, because one drop of malice could ruin one or more of the twelve tribes. Therefore, He forced both Leah and Rachel to actively despise the ways of evil, thereby purifying their souls and guaranteeing that each of their children would become righteous and upstanding members of the tribes of Israel.
As we look at this story in hindsight, the difficulties that both Leah and Rachel endured were all part of the Divine plan to create Am Yisrael. Although perhaps Leah was treated unfairly, Yaakov was overly harsh, and Rachel was forced to suffer many years of infertility, in the end it is clear that these were necessary steps in the creation of our great nation. With a bit of reading between the lines, it is clear that Yad Hashem, the Hand of G-d, was present throughout this entire story. May we merit, be zoche, to see Hashem not only in hindsight, but also throughout every episode in our lives.