Yaakov's study at the yeshiva of Shem And Eber

Dr. Joseph Frager explains why our forefather Yaakov's years learning from Shem and Eber helped him survive the years with Lavan.

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Dr. Joseph Frager,

Dr. Joseph Frager
Dr. Joseph Frager
Courtesy of Dr. Frager

"Yaakov departed from Be'er Sheva and went toward Charan."(Genesis 28:10) "So Yaakov lifted his feet and went toward the Land of the Children of the East." (Genesis 29:1)

Rabbi Yaacov Kamenetsky of blessed memory gives an extraordinary understanding of Yaakov's travels after he left the relatively sheltered environment of his parents, Yitzchak and Rivka in Be'er Sheva. Rashi quoting the Talmud, says that Yaakov studied at the Yeshivah of Shem and Eber for fourteen years before he came to the house of Lavan (Megilla 17a).

Genesis Rabbah (36:8) interprets the verse (And he (Noah) said, "Blessed be Hashem, the G-d of Shem" (Genesis 9:26) that the Shechina (G-d's presence) will only dwell in the tents of Shem. Rivka went to the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber to interpret her pregnancy (25:22-23) according to the Midrash. There are a number of questions that arise.

After learning Torah in the Yeshiva of Yitzchak till age 63 why was it necessary for Yaakov to study in the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber for another 14 years? How did the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber protect Yaakov from Esau? What about the issue of kibud av v'aim (honoring one's father and mother) for Yaakov towards his parents? Rabbi Kamenetsky says in his book "Emet L'Yaacov" that Yaakov needed to spend 14 years in the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber because the yeshiva was established before the Flood (Shem) when the world was riddled with depravity, thievery, and immorality, and during (Eber) the Dor Haflagah (Generation of Separation) when the Tower of Babel was built.

The yeshiva knew how to deal with a world that the Yeshiva of Yitzchak never had to deal with. The Yeshiva of Shem and Eber was used to an evil environment. The Yeshiva of Yitzchak was more sheltered. Studying in the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber enabled Yaakov to then proceed to the house of Lavan which was steeped in moral turpitude and thievery. Yaakov needed the teachings of Shem and Eber to deal with Lavan who the Torah states (Deut.26:5-10) and the Haggadah for Pesach quotes, "Arami oved avi" (an Aramean (Lavan) would have destroyed my father (Yaakov)). The lessons for today are enormous.

The world at large can be a minefield if one is not prepared for it. Studying in a yeshiva is protective but one has to learn to deal with an increasingly dangerous world. Yeshivot have to prepare students for the world the same way Yaakov Avinu was prepared by the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber for Lavan's world. Of course, Yaakov had Esau to contend with as well. This gets us to the second question. Clearly Esau could have attacked Yaakov at the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber. He did not. Why? Shem and Eber were not just intermediaries between man and Hashem.

The Midrash explains they were figures of justice as well. According to the Midrash, Esau feared killing Yaakov at the Yeshiva because he knew that Shem and Eber would judge him extremely harshly for this sin (Gen. Rabbah 67:8). The follow-up question which is harder to answer is why Esau did not attack Yaakov during his 20 year stay with Lavan? Although I have not seen this answer given, my understanding would be that Esau was afraid of Lavan his uncle and Aramean warrior who was to be feared ("Arami oved avi").

The last question is that of honoring one's parents. Yaakov had an obligation to to take care of his parents. Chazal (our Sages) say that there was a slight degree of diminution of kibud av v'aim by Yaakov. Esau's one maaleh (attribute) was that he excelled in kibud av v'aim. This was Yaakov's great fear when they met many years later (next week's Torah portion of "VaYishlach"). A partial answer lies in the statement by Yaakov when he meets Esau and says, "Im Lavan garti" (I have sojourned with Lavan).

The Gematria of the word "garti" is 613, implying to Esau that Yaakov kept all 613 Mitzvot despite being with Lavan. This indicates that Yaakov did fulfill the mitzva (commandment) of honoring one's parents even though he did not visit them for 34 years. One could simply say that Yaakov fulfilled the mitzva by learning Torah and then getting married and raising a family. The greatest honor Yaakov could give his parents was survival.

This was their goal when he left their house. By studying in the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber for 14 years and living with Lavan for 20 years, Yaakov enabled his survival. This was the greatest honor Yaakov could give his parents after Esau declared his evil intentions of killing him. Yaakov is a paradigm for the future of his own children (namely Yosef, who did not see his father for 22 years) and the Jewish People. There are many valuable lessons learned from Yaakov's wanderings. Shabbat Shalom








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