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Be Rational

By: Mrs. Dena Terebelo

This week’s parsha, Parshat Vayeitze, contains a puzzling passage, which begs a striking question and ultimately sheds a fascinating light on our Avot. The passage that causes any thinking person to pause, to question, and finally, to learn, is contained in Perek 31, pasukim 3-13, and states as follows:

 "And Hashem said to Yaakov: 'Return to the land of your fathers and of your birthplace, and I will be with you'. Yaakov sent for and called Rachel and Leah to the field, to his flock, and he said to them 'I have noticed that your father's disposition is not towards me like it was in earlier days... and an angel of Hashem said to me in a dream... Now, arise, leave this land and return to your birthplace"

We see clearly that after Yaakov was commanded by Hashem to leave Lavan’s house, he approached his wives, Rachel and Leah, with a descriptive explanation for why they must leave, an addition that Yaakov himself placed in his discussion with them. What is also important to note is that he first listed Lavan’s displeasure, and only after was it followed by explaining that it was Hashem’s command.

This seems strange. We are discussing one of our Avot, Yaakov Avinu, who was ‘ish tam, yoshev ohalim’—he was immersed in Torah, he was a G-d-fearing, righteous person. Wouldn’t we expect that no explanation would be necessary, aside from just stating: “G-d said so”? Is a commandment received from G-d not reason enough? What is the necessity of exploring other rationales in depth? We also know that only important conversations are delineated in the Torah; “excess” or “unnecessary” discussion is omitted, and if it is documented, it is because there is a lesson to learn for generations. If so, what is the message we are meant to take out of this strange discussion?

From here, Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv Broida, commonly known as the Alter of Kelm (1824–1898), learns an important point. Yaakov Avinu, in listing for his wives the reasons behind what they were going to do, was teaching us that when following Hashem’s commandments, we can help ourselves by providing ourselves with reasons, which will make it smoother and easier to perform His will. Of course we must follow what Hashem says because He says so. But we must also understand the rationale behind it, in order to combat our natural human tendency to protest and fight against doing ratzon Hashem.

We all struggle with temptations, struggles and difficulties. For each person, any given nisayon will be different, depending on the person's character, personality, life circumstances, etc. With this understanding, it is important to help ourselves minimize the struggle that we face through various tools we can utilize at our disposal. This is the reason behind learning ta’amei hamitzvot (reasons for commandments) in sefarim such as Sefer Hachinuch. These explanations for the mitzvot can never be the full reason why we do the mitzvot; if they were, we would no longer keep a mitzvah if it no longer resonated with us. But it does give us a taste, a “ta’am”, and we can use it to help us do the right thing when it may not be easy for us.

Yaakov taught us this important lesson, of using different "justifications" and thoughts to help bolster our yetzer tov and desire to follow G-d’s commandments. Ultimately, by using these resources, we will accomplish that which He wants us to achieve in this world. 

Shabbat Shalom





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