Tuesday, December 08, 2009

missing the subtle message

Hashem appeared to Ya'akov after the conclusion of the battle with Shechem and ordered him to return to Beit El. Why did G-d need to order Ya'akov to return to Beit El, his home? The opening of Parshas VaYeitzei tells us that Ya'akov intended and promised (with G-d's help) to return home -- his stay in Lavan's home was just a temporary escape from Eisav. Ya'akov had also already been told while in Lavan's home that it was time to leave, and he was already on the road, ostensibly headed back home. Rashi cites a snippit of Midrash Tanchuma to answer this question, but it's worth seeing the text of the Midrash in its entirety:

בא וראה כשהלך יעקב לארם נהרים מה כתיב שם וידר יעקב נדר לאמר וגו' (בראשית כח), השיבו על כל דבר ודבר, הלך ונתעשר ובא וישב לו ולא שלם את נדרו הביא עליו עשו ובקש להרגו נטל ממנו כל אותו דורון עזים מאתים לא הרגיש, הביא עליו המלאך ורפש עמו ולא הרגו שנאמר ויותר יעקב לבדו ויאבק איש עמו זה סמאל שרו של עשו שבקש להרגו שנאמר וירא כי לא יכול לו ונעשה צולע, כיון שלא הרגיש באת עליו צרת דינה שנאמר ותצא דינה, כיון שלא הרגיש באת עליו צרת רחל שנאמר ותמת רחל ותקבר, מסייע ליה לרב שמואל בר נחמן דאמר כל הנודר ואינו משלם גורם לאשתו שתמות שנאמר אם אין לך לשלם וגו' אמר הקב"ה עד מתי יהא הצדיק הזה לוקה ואינו מרגיש באיזה חטא לוקה הריני מודיעו

The Tanchuma answers that G-d reiterates his command to Ya'akov to return home because Ya'akov had delayed in fulfilling his promise to do so. Through its answer, the Midrash also manages to tie together the many disparate episodes of the parsha -- Eisav, the angel, Shechem, Rachel's death -- quite nicely. All are a punishment for Ya'akov's delay.

A few points:

1. Textual -- the Midrash sees the death of Rachel as part of the punishment for Ya'akov's delay, yet, the death of Rachel is written in the parsha only after G-d appears again to order Ya'akov home. It seems a stretch to suggest based on this Midrash alone that events are written out of order. I have no good answer.

2. Moral -- The subtle hint of repeated punishment is apparently lost on Ya'akov, who trudges along through difficulty after difficulty not realizing that his behavior is his own worst enemy. If Ya'akov, the bechir ha'avos, could not grasp that G-d was trying to tell him something even after receiving patch after patch, we who have no nevuah and are groping in the dark for direction surely stand a good chance of remaining confounded and confused even as G-d sends signal after signal our way (see R' Shternbruch's Ta'am v'Da'as).

3. Halachic -- The Midrash assumes (as does the Zohar) that a person's wife may even die as a result of his delaying fulfillment of a neder. (My wife jokingly commented that this may suggest a strategy to those who wish to get rid of their spouse-- hopefully not!) Yet, the gemara (Rosh haShana 6a) states clearly that this is not the case, darshening, "V'haya becha cheit" -- v'lo b'ishtecha cheit. A simple answer is that Rachel was not punished directly for Ya'akov's delay, but she simply suffered the natural effects of danger during childbirth, which more often led to death in ancient times. Had Ya'akov been more careful, Rachel might have been afforded the supernatual protection that comes of extra zechus. See the Kli Chemdah for a more complex pilpul on the topic.

11 comments:

  1. Your wife was mechavein to 'the Rebbe.'

    The story goes like this, much compressed:

    A famous miser came to the Rebbe and said, Rebbe, I hate my wife. She makes my life miserable. I want you to give me a bracha that she should die. The Rebbe said, well, this is an unusual request, and it's really not what Rebbes do, but here's an idea: promise to rebuild the town mikvah, and don't do it. The Gemara says 'ba'avon nedarim ishto shel adam meisa.' A week later, the man comes back and says, Rebbe, it's not working. She's healthier than two horses, and she's ruining my life. The Rebbe said, well, it's possible that your relationship is so poisonous and filled with hate that for her, life is worse than dying, and that's why she's still alive. The only thing I can suggest is that you start making her life more pleasant, so she'll enjoy living, and then she'll die. A month later, the man comes into the Rebbe on his knees and says, Rebbe, please, my wife is sick, I need a bracha that she should have a refuah shleimah! The Rebbe said, I don't get it. What happened in the last month? The man answered, well, I tried to make her life more pleasant; it used to be we would come to eat breakfast and she would sneer at me and I would spit at her, and that's how the day went. So I changed; I came down one day and said Good Morning to her. She looked at me like I was crazy, like I was making fun of her, but I kept doing it, and one day, she answered good morning. Every day after that, we would talk more, we learned to be more civil, and we eventually remembered how we felt when we got married. We fell in love again. And she's sick! Please, help me! So the Rebbe said, well, unfortunately, the only thing you can do is go ahead and build that mikvah.

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  2. I have seen that story before. So do you think the rebbe cared about the man's marriage or only getting the mikvah built?

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  3. If the rebbe was anything like me, he would have been more interested in manipulating the man into checkmate.

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  4. Tamir7:27 PM

    1. Textual -- the Midrash sees the death of Rachel as part of the punishment for Ya'akov's delay, yet, the death of Rachel is written in the parsha only after G-d appears again to order Ya'akov home. It seems a stretch to suggest based on this Midrash alone that events are written out of order. I have no good answer.

    Maybe it could be argued that although Rachel's death happened after haShem ordering Ya'aqov home, her pregnancy problems(צרת רחל) actually began before that.

    2. Moral -- The subtle hint of repeated punishment is apparently lost on Ya'akov, who trudges along through difficulty after difficulty not realizing that his behavior is his own worst enemy.

    I think 'calamities'(צרות) would be a better word than 'punishment'. If it was punishment, then the judgment would have been made by the time of the first act of it, and there would be little value in what he did( which might, on the other hand, nullify the question about Rachel's death being after Ya'aqov's return - it could be seen as the continuation of the punishment, not connected to whether he returned). For it to be a hint, it must mean that judgment is still pending, and punishment is, if at all, yet to come.

    Also, from the midrash it seems that Ya'aqov was aware that it was a transgression of his that caused him his troubles, he just wasn't aware of the correct one( לוקה ואינו מרגיש באיזה חטא לוקה).

    If Ya'akov, the bechir ha'avos, could not grasp that G-d was trying to tell him something even after receiving patch after patch, we who have no nevuah and are groping in the dark for direction surely stand a good chance of remaining confounded and confused even as G-d sends signal after signal our way (see R' Shternbruch's Ta'am v'Da'as).

    But we, at least, have he benefit of his experience, something he might not have enjoyed himself. Also, who knows: if any of us ever reaches his level of righteousness, that person might receive Nevu'a as well.
    Still, the rest of us will just have to make do with hunting down and correcting one transgression after another till we stop getting "punished".

    ReplyDelete
  5. I like the last point (the benefit of experience).

    ReplyDelete
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