<I>Vayetze:</I> Good Taste and Good Will

Ya'akov's good will is almost unbounded. He meets shepherds who are complete strangers at the well, and he says, "My brothers, where do you come from?"

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
The commentary Ha'Amek Davar is famous for its introduction to the book of Genesis, elaborating on our forefathers' honesty, love of mankind, and ability to immediately forgive those who had tried to harm them: "And Ya'akov Avinu, after becoming very angry with Lavan (as he knew that were it not for Divine intervention, Lavan would have tried to do away with him), he still spoke softly to him... and soon made up with him."

Ya'akov's good will is almost unbounded. He meets shepherds who are complete strangers at the well, and he says, "My brothers, where do you come from?" (Gen.29:4). Our sages base themselves on this passage when they say, "One should always act in a friendly manner, and call his fellows 'brothers' and 'friends', and greet every man with 'Shalom', so that angels of peace and mercy greet him in the same way. Abaye was wont to say, 'One should always use wisdom to acquire fear of G-d; a soft answer quiets anger, and [one should] speak peace with brothers and relatives and with all mankind.'" (Midrash HaGadol, op. cit.)

Ya'akov saw that these shepherds were not behaving properly. He did not shirk from rebuking them. However his rebuke did not come from alienation, but rather from the pain he felt on account of their faults (see Seforno, op. cit.). How refined was his rebuke! "It is still midday, not the time to gather in the sheep, give them to drink, and go send them to graze." (Genesis 29:7) He did this because "it is proper to try to turn people onto the right path by explaining to them fittingly." (Shla HaKadosh)

Not only is Ya'akov good-natured when addressing people in general, he is even nice to Lavan's men. How did he treat them after they tried to do him harm and caused him such suffering - switched his wife, switched hissalary, and tried to kill him? "And he called to his brothers to partake of bread." (Genesis 31:54) Who are "his brothers"? "His friends and Lavan." (Rashi op. cit.) His friends!

His attitude to those who were younger than he was similar: "And Ya'akov said to his brothers, 'gather stones'" (Genesis 31:46) Who are these 'brothers'? "These are his sons, who had grown up and became his'brothers.'" (Rashi, op. cit.) "Were these really his brothers? ....Weren't they his sons? When they reached his shoulders, he treated them as adults, and called them 'brothers.'" (Kohelet Rabba 7) When one's sons grow up and are almost as tall as he is, he should treat them like adults and call them 'brothers' as if they are his equals, and not little children (Rabbi E. Bar-Shaul, Reiach Mayim, pp. 68-69).

He treated his wives with the same consideration. One day, G-d told Ya'akov, "Return to the land of your fathers, to your homeland, and I shall be with you." (Genesis 31:3) We might have expected Ya'akov to say to his wives, "G-d has told me to go. We're leaving tomorrow." Instead, he called them in and explained to them in detail, "I have noticed that your father is not so friendly. You know how much I toiled on his behalf and what he did to me, and so on. Now, finally, G-d has told me to go." Consequently, they answered, "Certainly. All that G-d has told you, you must do." But Ya'akov did not force them; he explained the Divine command gently and considerately.

"It is not fitting to force the members of your family to do something, but rather to persuade them until they themselves are motivated as much as possible, so that they act of their own initiative. This is much better than forcing people [to do a mitzvah]. For example, Ya'akov explained the situation at length to Rachel and Leah, so that they themselves would want to leave, despite the fact that he was returning home because he had received a Divine command to do so." (Shla HaKadosh)

[From Tal Chermon. Translated by Bracha Slae.]