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Rachel's Doing

By: Rav Yonatan Horovitz

It is the custom of many parents to bless their children on Shabbat, usually at the evening meal. Whilst the "nusach", syntax, of the bracha for sons is found in the Torah itself, the bracha used for daughters emerged later in our tradition. We bless our daughters by hoping that Hashem will endow them with the qualities of our four matriarchs.

This week's parsha introduces two of the imahot, Rachel and Leah. Much of the narrative is devoted to the rivalry that develops between them as they vie for the attention of their husband, Ya'akov. This seems to dominate both their relationship and the impetus for the names of many of the children whose birth is described in the parsha.

On reading these events, we may wonder what it is that we are supposed to learn from these two characters. What aspect of their personalities do we wish to imbue in our children? This is a far-reaching question which requires an in-depth study of both the text and surrounding sources. We will focus on one episode in the parsha, the stealing of the teraphim by Rachel.

Once Ya'akov has both been told by Hashem and realized on his own that it is time to leave Lavan's household and return home, he sets off without informing Lavan of his departure. At this point we are told: "Rachel stole her father's teraphim" (Bereishit 31:19)

Two questions immediately arise: What are the teraphim and why did Rachel steal them? The Torah specifically uses the word "vatignov" which means that Rachel stole rather than just having taken the teraphim.

There are several reasons offered by the commentators as to the nature of the teraphim and why Rachel decided to steal them. Rashi explains that they were idols and Rachel wanted to prevent her father from worshipping them. Ibn Ezra takes issue with this suggestion. He states that if this was indeed the case, Rachel would have no reason to keep the teraphim with her but would rather have simply buried them. Ibn Ezra quotes several other opinions finally settling on the idea that the teraphim were some form of fortune teller. Rachel was concerned that her father, Lavan, would use the magical qualities of the teraphim to track down Ya'akov and she therefore took them to prevent him from doing so.

[My esteemed colleague, Rav Uri Cohen, has written about this subject and preferred an alternate explanation for both what the teraphim were and why Rachel took them. His shiur can be found by clicking here. I partially agree with his suggestion. Rav Amnon Bazak has also proposed something similar in his shiurim on Sefer Sh'muel. In this shiur we will adopt an approach which focuses more on the context in which the story of the stealing of the teraphim is found.]

Returning to our opening statement we may be confused as to why one of our Imahot is described as having stolen someone else's possessions, an action normally proscribed by the Torah and which goes against our basic sense of morality. However, based on the explanations offered above, Rachel's behavior is more easily understood. If we adopt the approach advanced by Rashi, then Rachel is surely justified in taking away from her father what is a source of idol worship, an affront to God Himself. The idea proposed by the Ibn Ezra also enables us to justify Rachel's actions – she was acting in order to save her husband and family from the wrath of her father. This could very well be perceived as case of "pikuach nefesh". It was legitimate for Rachel to steal in order to protect those whose life may have been endangered.

It is worth noting that the term "ganav" appears in this story not only in relation to Rachel's stealing of the teraphim. In the very next passuk, the Torah states: "ויגנוב יעקב את לב לבן הארמי על בלי הגיד לו כי בורח הוא  - Ya'akov stole Lavan the Aramean's heart by not telling him that he was fleeing" (Bereishit 31:20).

The use of the same term would appear to force us to compare the two events. Based on the Ibn Ezra quoted above, Rachel stole the teraphim because Ya'akov had fled and in order to enable him and his entourage to safely reach their destination.

A novel suggestion as to why Rachel stole the teraphim, also focused on the double use of the term "ganav", is proposed by Ariel Stolmann in an article entitled גניבה תחת גניבה   published originally in the Mussaf Shabbat of Mekor Rishon (Kislev 5775).

Stollman claims that Rachel was not enamored by the way that Ya'akov ran away from her father, Lavan.  She felt that Ya'akov should have confronted Lavan and demanded his rightful salary and payment. Rachel therefore stole something which was precious to her father thus forcing the two, Ya'akov and Lavan into a confrontation. This explains why, when Lavan comes searching for the teraphim, she kept them hidden, telling what seems to be a lie to her father so that he won't look too carefully in her tent. Once Lavan has searched Ya'akov's entire camp but has not found the teraphim, Ya'akov suddenly makes a speech the likes of which we have not heard from him until now:

Now Ya'akov became incensed and took up his grievance with Lavan. Ya'akov spoke up and said to Lavan, “What is my crime, what is my guilt that you should pursue me? You rummaged through all my things; what have you found of all your household objects? Set it here, before my kinsmen and yours, and let them decide between us two. These twenty years I have spent in your service, your ewes and she-goats never miscarried, nor did I feast on rams from your flock. That which was torn by beasts I never brought to you; I myself made good the loss; you exacted it of me, whether snatched by day or snatched by night. Often, scorching heat ravaged me by day and frost by night; and sleep fled from my eyes. Of the twenty years that I spent in your household, I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flocks; and you changed my wages time and again. Had not the God of my father, the God of Avraham and the Fear of Yitzchak, been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed. But God took notice of my plight and the toil of my hands, and He gave judgment last night.

Is this the Ya'akov described in last week's parsha as an "ish tam yoshev ohalim"? Is this the Ya'akov whose mother, Rivka, had to cajole into taking the brachot from his brother Esav? Is this the Ya'akov who first married Leah, rather than his beloved Rachel, because his sly father-in-law had cheated him? No, this seems to be the new Ya'akov. Maybe we got a glimpse of this new Ya'akov when he secured the birthright from his brother Esav, but we have never heard Ya'akov speak with such passion and authority as here.

It is possible that this was all Rachel's doing. It was she who orchestrated this meeting so that Ya'akov would stand up for what was rightfully his. What transpires is an agreement made between Lavan and Ya'akov which is basically a separation. From that point on there will be no interaction between the families of Ya'akov and Lavan. The process of finding a wife for members of the Abrahamic family from Avraham's original homeland, Padan Aram, ends here. The advantage of the Arameans has been outweighed by their corruption and warped values. The fact that Lavan accepts the terms of this covenant, terms, by which he will never again see his daughters or his grandchildren, may have stemmed from the harsh but passionate words of Ya'akov in the above quoted verses.

Rachel is the one who forced Ya'akov to emerge from his shell, to state what was right and ultimately to reach an agreement which protected the future of his family and so Am Yisrael. This event may also have instilled within Ya'akov the confidence to confront Esav in next week's parsha. 

When we bless our daughters on Shabbat evening, we can hope and pray that they will have the vision to do what Rachel did for her husband, her family and subsequently her entire nation.

Shabbat shalom

Rav Yonatan


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