"ויקח מאבני המקום וישם מראשתיו"
“He took from the stones of the place and he placed them around (under) his head.” (28:11)

QUESTION: Rashi says that he wanted to protect himself from wild animals. Why did he protect only his head and not the rest of his body?

ANSWER: A very important lesson can be learned from Yaakov’s actions. Yaakov spent all his years studying Torah in the home of Yitzchak and in the Beit Midrash of Shem and Eiver. Now he had to give up some of his Torah study time and engage in worldly matters.

Yaakov knew that in the world at large there are many forces that are alien to Torah and mitzvot and hostile to the religious Jew. These forces influence the mind of the Jew and try to persuade him to leave the path of Torah. Therefore, Yaakov made a great effort to protect his “head,” to prevent negative influences from interfering with his yiddishkeit.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"א)

"ויקח מאבני המקום וישם מראשתיו וישכב במקום ההוא"
“He took of the stones of the place, and he placed them around (under) his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.” (28:11)

QUESTION: Why did Yaakov rest his head on a stone?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Bava Kamma 30a) says: “He who wants to be a chassid should observe the laws of nezikin — damages” (being careful not to hurt anyone or damage property). Rava says that he should follow the teachings of Avot (Book of Ethics), and others say that he should be observant in the laws of berachot (recognizing the supremacy of Hashem and thanking Him for everything). The word “even” (אבן) — “stone” — is an acronym for avot, berachot, nezikin” (אבות, ברכות, נזיקין).

As Yaakov was preparing to enter the “outside world,” his first resolution was to be a chassid. The placing of the placing of these three stones as the guidepost for his “head,” was, as though to say, that his thoughts would always be directed to exceling in these three matters.

The three stones united to emphasize that each approach is equally important and that through these three things one can make the world a beit Elokim — a “house of G‑d.”

(ארץ החיים על תהלים נ' - פרדס יוסף שמות ע' רט"ז)

* * *

It may also be said that “berachot” — recognizing the supremacy of Hashem and thanking Him for everything — is an allusion to the relationship between man and Hashem (בין אדם למקום). Being careful not to hurt or injure a fellow man, “nezikin,” represents inter-human relationships (בין אדם לחברו). To be exemplary, one must conduct himself within these two realms, in accordance with the guidelines and teachings conveyed by avot — our ancestors.

"ויקרא שם המקום ההוא בית א-ל"
“And he named that place Beth-el [G‑d’s home].” (28:19)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Pesachim 88a) says that the reason the prophet Isaiah refers to the Beit Hamikdash as “the House of Jacob” (2:3), is to emphasize that it is not like the description found in the context of Avraham, concerning whom it is written “mountain” (22:14), nor is it like the description found in the context of Yitzchak, concerning whom it is written “field” (24:63), rather it is like the description found in the context of Yaakov, who called it “house.”

Since in contemporary times a shul is a Beit Hamikdash in miniature (Megillah 29a), what is the significance of these three titles for a shul?

ANSWER: The majority of people are not mountain climbers. Even those who are, do it rarely. Going out to the fields (vacationing in the country) is done more frequently and by a larger number of people. Living in a home is something all people do and at all times. Yaakov emphasized that the shul should resemble a home — a place visited by all people and at all times.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)

* * *

The less one carries the easier it is to climb a mountain. When going out to the fields (on vacations) people take along baggage and dwell in cottages. However, the living conditions do not compare to the comforts of one’s personal home. Yaakov emphasized that the place of worship be treated like a home — elegantly furnished and beautified to the highest degree.

"ונתן לי לחם לאכל ובגד ללבש"
“He will give me bread to eat and garments to put on.” (28:20)

QUESTION: The words “le’echol” — “to eat” — and “lilbosh” — “to wear”— seem extra?

ANSWER: There are people who have food in abundance and a wardrobe full of clothing yet are unfortunately bed-ridden and unable to enjoy their delicacies or garments. Yaakov prayed for good health so that he could enjoy his food and wear his clothing. To him “gezunt” was a primary objective.

(שפתי כהן)

* * *

Alternatively, man works very hard and goes to great length to earn his ‘bread’ (parnasah). For example, people work during the night denying themselves sleep; others perform hazardous jobs, and still others travel far distances and are separated from their families for long periods of time.

In reality one may wonder, are they working “for bread to eat” or is “their bread eating them?”

Yaakov prayed to Hashem to give him a tranquil source of parnasah through which he would have “bread to eat” and not an occupation where, G‑d forbid, the bread would consume him.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)

"ונתן לי לחם לאכל"
“He will give me bread to eat.” (28:20)

QUESTION: According to Rabbi Yehoshua (Midrash Rabbah 70:5), Yaakov was asking for the Lechem Hapanim — the 12 loaves which were placed weekly on the table in the Mishkan and Beit Hamikdash. Why would Yaakov ask now for Lechem Hapanim when there was no Mishkan?

ANSWER: The reference to Lechem Hapanim is allegorical: The twelve loaves were baked on Friday and placed on the table Shabbat morning. They remained there until the following Shabbat morning. Normally, bread which is exposed for eight days becomes stale, but these loaves miraculously remained fresh. When they were removed, they were just as warm and fresh as when they were first put on the table (Chagigah 26b).

Yaakov spent his life studying Torah in the home of Yitzchak and also in the Beit Midrash of Shem and Eiver. Now he was preparing to go out into the world to encounter Lavan and his contemporaries. Unfortunately, people succumb to the temptations and challenges of the world. Yaakov feared that dealing with the world might influence him to modernize and change his approach to Torah and mitzvot.

Therefore, in his prayer to Hashem, he asked for the lasting power of Lechem Hapanim, hoping that in the future, his devotion to Torah and mitzvot would not change.

(הרב דוב ארי' ז"ל בערזאן)

"וכל אשר תתן לי עשר עשרנו לך"
“Of whatever you will give me, I will give a tenth to you.” (28:22)

QUESTION: Wouldn’t everybody make such a deal with Hashem?

ANSWER: The famous Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore lived in nineteenth-century England. Queen Victoria once asked him, “What is the extent of your wealth? How much do you own?” Sir Moses told her it would take him a few days to do a proper accounting.

When Sir Moses told her his wealth she became upset, saying, “You’re not telling the truth. Everyone knows that you have much more.” Sir Moses explained that he considered as his wealth whatever money he gave away to tzedakah. Anything else that he possessed was only temporary and could be confiscated or lost.

Yaakov was alluding to this thought and said to Hashem, "וכל אשר תתן" — “Whatever you will give” — “I realize, that 'לי' — ‘for me’ — I will only have the ten percent which I will give away to tzedakah.”

(מעינה של תורה - קומץ המנחה)

"וכל אשר תתן לי עשר אעשרנו לך"
“Of whatever you give me, I will give a tenth to you” (28:22)

QUESTION: According to the Midrash Rabbah (70:6), Yaakov gave his son Levi to Hashem as ma’aseir. Why was Levi, the third born son, given as ma’aseir, and not Zevulun who was born tenth?

ANSWER: Yaakov had twelve children born in the following order: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Dan, Naftali, Gad, Asher, Yissachar, Zevulun, Yosef, Binyamin. When he was ready to give a son as ma’aseir, he brought them all into a room according to the order in which they were born. Afterwards, he took them out following the order of the last one in, first one out.

Thus, he counted off ten, starting with Binyamin; Levi, being the tenth, was declared ma’aseir.

(פרדס יוסף בשם קובץ קול תורה חוברת י"א סי' כ"ו)

"ויאמר הן עוד היום גדול לא עת האסף המקנה"
“Lo, it is still the middle of the day, it is not yet time for the cattle to be gathered together.” (29:7)

QUESTION: The word “hein” (הן)— “lo” — seems superfluous. Would it not be sufficient to say, “it is still the middle of the day”?

ANSWER: In the alef-beit there are 22 letters, which are divided into three sections. "א" to “ט” are the singular numerals. "י" to "צ" are the tens, and "ק" to “ת” are the hundreds. In the singular section the first and last letters can be paired to equal ten, i.e., א + ט = 10. The second and second to the last letters, ב + ח = 10 etc. The only letter that remains alone without a pair is "ה". In the tens section, the first and last can be paired together to equal 100, i.e., י + צ = 100. The second and second to the last, כ + פ = 100 etc., The only letter which remains alone without a pair is the "נ".

The prophet says of the Jewish people, “seh pezurah Yisrael” — “Israel is a scattered sheep” (Jeremiah 50:17). Presently, we are in galut — exile — eagerly awaiting the coming of Mashiach who will gather us together and end the galut. The pasuk is hinting that as long as we are in the category of "הן" — separate entities,not united together — the galut will continue, G‑d forbid, and Mashiach will not come to gather Hashem’s sheep.

(ר' נפתלי מראפשיץ זצ"ל)

"ויאמר הן עוד היום גדול לא את האסף המקנה"
“Lo, it is yet high day, it is not yet time for the cattle to be gathered together.” (29:7)

QUESTION: Yaakov was a stranger; why did he meddle in the shepherd’s activities?

ANSWER: The day before, when Yaakov was on the way to Charan, the Torah relates that he slept there “ki va hashemesh” — “because the sun set.” Rashi explains that it set much earlier than usual in order for Yaakov to sleep.

Not knowing the reason for the shortened day, the shepherds assumed that on the next day as well there would be a recurrence. Therefore, they gathered around the well with their cattle much earlier. When Yaakov saw this, he informed them, “Do not draw any conclusions from what happened yesterday; it was a one-time event.”

(אבני שהם)

"ויספר ללבן את כל הדברים האלה"
“And he told Lavan all these things.” (29:13)

QUESTION: What did Yaakov tell Lavan?

ANSWER: Eisav was very angry at Yaakov. When he heard of Yaakov’s leaving, he sent his son Elifaz to catch up with Yaakov and kill him. When Elifaz met Yaakov, he told him his father’s orders. Yaakov told Elifaz, “A poor person is equivalent to a dead person (Nedarim 64b). Take all my valuables and it will be considered as though you killed me.”

When Lavan heard about Yaakov’s arrival, he ran and kissed him, and was very disappointed when he found Yaakov empty-handed. He asked Yaakov why Eliezer had carried so many valuables while he, Yaakov, had nothing? Yaakov told him, "את כל הדברים האלה" — “all these things” — which is an acronym for "אל תתמה כי לא הבאתי דבר, ברכוש רב יצאתי מביתי, השודד אליפז לקח הכל" — “Do not wonder why I did not bring anything. I left my house with great wealth. The bandit Elifaz took it all away.”

(בעל הטורים)

"ויאמר לו לבן אך עצמי ובשרי אתה"
“And Lavan said to him; ‘Surely you are my bones and flesh.’” (29:14)

QUESTION: They were two separate individuals. How could it be that Yaakov was Lavan’s bone and flesh?

ANSWER: There are three partners in the forming of man. Through the father he receives veins and bones; through the mother, flesh and blood; and through Hashem, the neshamah (Niddah 31a).

Yaakov was related to Lavan through both of his parents. Yaakov’s mother was Lavan’s sister, and his grandfather, Avraham, was a brother to Lavan’s grandfather Nachor. Thus, he was a nephew through his mother and a second cousin through his father, Yitzchak. Consequently, through the paternal relationship, they were of “one bone,” and from the maternal relationship, they were of “the same flesh.”

(קול אליהו)

"ויאמר לבן טוב תתי אתה לך מתתי אתה לאיש אחר"
“And Lavan Said: ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man.’” (29:19)

QUESTION: Why was Lavan so eager for Yaakov to marry Rachel?

ANSWER: Lavan knew that Yaakov was a great tzaddik. He also knew that his daughter Rachel was a great tzaddeikit.

Lavan was sure that if Yaakov would marry another woman, and Rachel would marry another man, Yaakov would make his wife a tzaddeikit and Rachel would make her husband a tzaddik. If this were to happen, Lavan would have to contend with four tzaddikim. Therefore, he would rather that Yaakov marry Rachel so that there would only be two tzaddikim.

(ר' בונים מפשיסחא זצ"ל)

* * *

In mispar katan (“single numerals” — see p. 4), the word "תתי" adds up to 9, and the word "מתתי" adds up to 13. The name of Lavan’s daughter Leah (לאה) adds up to 9, and Rachel (רחל) adds up to 13.

Lavan was shrewd and had a sharp tongue, while Yaakov was a naive yeshivah bachur. Desirous to get the most free labor out of his nephew, Lavan cleverly said to him: “Tov titi otah lach” — “In my opinion, Titi (Leah) is better for you than Mititi (Rachel) because Otah le’ish acheir — She I would prefer to give to another man.”

(עיטורי תורה)

"ויאסף לבן את כל אנשי המקום ויעש משתה"
“And Lavan gathered all the people of the place and made a feast.” (29:22)

QUESTION: When a person plans a wedding, he first prepares the meal and afterwards the guests arrive. Why did Lavan first invite the people and afterwards prepare the meal?

ANSWER: Yaakov worked for a period of seven years before Lavan permitted him to marry his daughter. Lavan enjoyed free labor and decided to switch Leah for Rachel, so that Yaakov would work another seven years for nothing. When the first seven-year period was coming to an end, Lavan began planning a wedding. He called together all the people of the city and told them the following: “You all remember very well the difficulty our city had with water before Yaakov came. There was only one well, and all the shepherds had to gather together to uncover it. Luckily, since Yaakov has arrived, our city has been blessed, and we now have a greater supply of water.

“Yaakov is planning to marry my daughter and leave the city, so we may all have to suffer again. If you agree to cooperate with me, I have a plan which will keep him here for another seven years. I will fool him and give him Leah instead of Rachel. I know he wants Rachel very much, so he will stay here for seven more years, and our town will be blessed through him.” Everyone approved the plan.

Lavan then told them that in order for him to be sure that nobody would reveal the secret, everyone would have to go home and bring their valuables as a guarantee. Lavan took these valuables to the storekeepers in exchange for all the food needed to make a lavish wedding. Consequently, after first gathering together all the people, he was able to make a beautiful meal without spending a penny of his own.

When the wedding was over, the people came to claim their valuables. Lavan sent them to the storekeepers. The storekeepers told them that they could get back their valuables if they would pay for the food which was given to Lavan in exchange. As they wanted their possessions, reluctantly they paid all of Lavan’s bills.

It is, therefore, very befitting that he became known as “Lavan Ha’Arami” — “Lavan the Aramean” (with a pun on “HaRamai” — “the Swindler”). Not only did he fool his son-in-law, Yaakov, but he also cheated the entire city where he lived.

(שער בת רבים)

"ויאסף לבן את כל אנשי המקום ויעש משתה"
“Lavan gathered all the people of the place and made a feast.” (29:22)

QUESTION: Why did Lavan only make a big reception for Leah and not for Rachel?

ANSWER: Lavan was a crooked person and was going to fool Yaakov into marrying Leah. In order to distract his attention and the attention of all the people of the city, he “wined and dined” them so that they would all be busy with the beautiful party and not have any time to discuss the chatan and kallah. When Yaakov married Rachel this was no longer necessary, so Lavan saved his money and did not make any party at all.

(מצמיח ישועה)

"ויאמר לבן לא יעשה כן במקומינו לתת הצעירה לפני הבכירה"
“Lavan said it is against the rules of our city to give in marriage the younger daughter before the older.” (29:26)

QUESTION: Why did Lavan have to stress “our city?”

ANSWER: Wanting to poke fun at Yaakov, Lavan told him, “In our city the people are very honest. We do not do anything unethical. In your city, you were really the younger and your brother Eisav was your senior. You made a crooked deal, and suddenly you became the older one and your brother the younger one. However, in our city such things are frowned upon. Rachel is the younger and will remain the younger, and she cannot marry before her older sister.”

(בית הלוי)

"ויבא גם אל רחל ויאהב גם את רחל מלאה"
“And he also married Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah.” (29:30)

QUESTION: Would it not have been sufficient to say “vaye’ehav et Rachel” — “And he loved Rachel”?

ANSWER: Originally, Yaakov wanted to marry Rachel, but Lavan fooled him and gave him Leah instead. Yaakov suspected a trick and therefore arranged secret signs between them. When Rachel saw that her father was going to substitute her sister Leah for her, she became concerned lest her sister be embarrassed. Therefore, she conveyed the secret signs to Leah.

When Yaakov became aware of this, his love for Rachel intensified because the way she conducted herself with Leah convinced him even more of her righteousness and good nature. The Torah confirms this by saying: “Vaye’ehav gam et Rachel” — “And he loved (also) Rachel more” — “MiLeah” —through (because of what she did for) Leah.”

(אמרי שפר)

"ותהר לאה ותלד בן ותקרא שמו ראובן כי אמרה כי ראה ה' בעניי"
“Leah conceived and bore a son. She called his name Reuven, saying, ‘G‑d saw my affliction.’” (29:32)

QUESTION: According to the Gemara (Berachot 7b), the word Reuven is composed of two words — “re’u bein” — “see my son.” Leah called him Reuven because she said, “See the difference between my son and the son of my father-in-law. Eisav, the son of my father-in-law, sold his bechorah (birthright) to Yaakov and afterwards hated him and complained that he was fooled. Though my son will not sell the bechorah, Yosef will be considered the bechor (firstborn) of Yaakov and will get an extra share. Nevertheless, my son will not express any resentment” (Rashi).

Why does the Gemara give this reason, when in fact Leah herself gave a different reason for the name?

ANSWER: Yaakov was very angry when he realized that Lavan had fooled him and had given him Leah instead of Rachel. After he finally married Rachel, he wanted to divorce Leah. Hashem stopped him by making Rachel barren while Leah bore children (29:30).

When Leah gave birth to her first child, she named him Reuven because of the reason the Gemara mentions. However, she did not want to reveal this reason to Yaakov because then he would know that Rachel would eventually have a child, and divorce her. Therefore, when she was asked why she called the boy Reuven, she answered, “Because G‑d saw my affliction.”

It is interesting to note that in the case of all the other children the reason for the name is given first and then the name is mentioned. Only with Reuven is it written, “She gave birth and called him Reuven because she said... ,” which indicates that this was not the real reason for the name — it was only what she told people.

(פני יהושע-קול אליהו)

"ותקרא את שמו יוסף לאמר יוסף ה' לי בן אחר"
“She called him Yosef saying, ‘May G‑d give me another son.’” (30:24)

QUESTION: Since the word “acheir” can also mean “different” it would have been better to say “od bein” — “an additional son”?

ANSWER: Yaakov was destined to have 12 sons. When Leah became pregnant for the seventh time, she was concerned that if she should have another son, her sister Rachel would be inferior to Bilhah and Zilpah, because she would have only one son while they each had two. Leah therefore prayed for Rachel and, through a miracle, the female in Rachel’s womb was transferred to Leah and the male in her womb was transferred to Rachel. Thus, she gave birth to Dinah, and Rachel gave birth to Yosef (see Niddah 31b, Maharsha).

Hence, when Yosef was born, Rachel prayed to Hashem that He give her “bein acheir” a different type of son, one who would be conceived and carried in her womb from beginning to end.

(מצמיח ישועה)

"אעבר בכל צאנך היום הסר משם כל שה נקד וטלוא"
“I will pass through all your flock today; remove from there every speckled and spotted one.” (30:32)

QUESTION: When Yaakov told Lavan “remove all the speckled flock,” instead of saying: “E’evor bechol tzoncha” — “I will pass through all your flock” — should he not have said “Ta’avor bechol tzoncha” — “You should pass through all your flock?”

ANSWER: The Midrash (Pesikta Rabbati, 14) tells a story of a chassid who sold one of his animals to a non-Jew. When Shabbat came, the animal refused to work until the Jew himself whispered into her ear: “You no longer belong to me, and you may work for your new owner as he requests.”

Having Yaakov as their shepherd for twenty years, the sheep became attached to him. According to the new agreement, some would remain the property of Lavan, and some would belong to Yaakov. All the sheep preferred being in the holy possession of Yaakov to being in the profane possession of Lavan. Yaakov and Lavan were both aware of this fact and, therefore, Yaakov offered: “I will pass through your flock, and I will tell them of the new arrangement that we made, and then you will be able to remove for yourself all the speckled ones.”

(שר שלום מבעלז זצ"ל)

"וישלח יעקב ויקרא לרחל וללאה השדה אל צאנו"
“And Yaakov sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field to his flock.” (31:4)

QUESTION: Yaakov wanted to speak to his wives in privacy and told them to meet him in the fields. Why are the words “el tzono” — “to his flock” — necessary?

ANSWER: Lavan and his men knew very well that Yaakov was upset with Lavan’s corruptness in dealing with him. If Yaakov would have called his wives to a secret meeting in the fields, Lavan’s men would have become suspicious that he was planning to flee, and they would have spied on him. Therefore, he let the word out that he was burdened with taking care of the large flock of sheep and that he was calling upon his wives to help him.

(שפתי צדיק)

"ויגנב יעקב את לב לבן הארמי על בלי הגיד לו כי ברח הוא"
“And Yaakov stole the heart of Lavan the Aramean in that he told him not that he fled.” (31:20)

QUESTION: Why was Lavan upset? It would have been foolish of Yaakov to tell him that he was running away.

ANSWER: One who moves away and takes up residence in a new community tries to establish roots and detach himself from his place of origin. However, one who is forced to flee his city yearns to return at the first opportunity.

Before Yaakov left his parent’s home, his father told him, “Go to Paddan-Aram and get married there” (28:2). His mother told him, “Your brother is planning to kill you; therefore, flee to my brother Lavan to Charan”(27:42-43).

When Yaakov met Lavan he told him only that his father had advised him to come there and that he would like to marry his daughter Rachel, but he did not reveal that his mother had urged him to flee from Eisav.

When Yaakov eventually fled, Lavan was angry at him for not informing him originally, “ki borei’ach hu” — that he came to his home as a fugitive. Lavan said to Yaakov, “Had I known that you came to me because you were forced to run away, I would have suspected that you intended returning to your family. Under such circumstances I would never have agreed that you marry my daughters and later separate them from their family.”

(פרדס יוסף)

"ויקרא לו לבן יגר שהדותא ויעקב קרא לו גלעד: ויאמר לבן הגל הזה עד ביני ובינך היום על כן קרא שמו גלעד"
“And Lavan called it ‘Yegar-sahaduta,’ but Yaakov called it ‘Gal’eid.’ And Lavan said, ‘This heap of stones is a witness between me and you this day.’ Therefore he called it ‘Gal’eid.’” (31:47-48)

QUESTION: Originally, Lavan called it “Yegar-sahaduta”; why did he change his mind and call it “Gal’eid”?

ANSWER: While Lavan was eager to reach a peace treaty with Yaakov, he wanted it to be done in his language. Yaakov refused and told Lavan, “If you want a treaty with me, it must be in my language and on my terms.” Seeing Yaakov’s persistence, Lavan yielded and agreed that everything be done in accordance with Yaakov’s conditions.

An important lesson can be learned from this: Unfortunately, there are Jews who think that they must compromise in order to find favor in the eyes of society. Torah teaches us never to be ashamed of our customs and ideals. Seeing our sincerity and devotion to Torah, the world will yield and respect the Jew for his beliefs.

(מיוסד על ספורנו)