This week's Dvar Torah is in memory of Ezra Schwartz, HY"D. May it be a blessing for his memory.
This week’s parsha is Parshas Vayeitzei, where the birth of the Jewish People takes place. Yaakov worked for Lavan for fourteen years in order to marry Rachel and Leah, and through them, as well as Bilhah and Zilpa, the twelve shevatim are born. After an additional six years of working for Lavan, Yaakov gets a message from Hashem that it’s time to leave.
Yaakov was afraid that Lavan would try to stop him from leaving; so while Lavan was away, Yaakov packed up his family and his possessions, and left. When Lavan found out, he and his sons chased down Yaakov and confronted him. A heated argument ensued where we see Yaakov confront Lavan for all the times he tried to cheat him. At the end, Lavan decides to set up a treaty with Yaakov as a truce.
“וְעַתָּ֗ה לְכָ֛ה נִכְרְתָ֥ה בְרִ֖ית אֲנִ֣י וָאָ֑תָּה וְהָיָ֥ה לְעֵ֖ד בֵּינִ֥י וּבֵינֶֽךָ... אֱלֹהֵ֨י אַבְרָהָ֜ם וֵֽאלֹהֵ֤י נָחוֹר֙ יִשְׁפְּט֣וּ בֵינֵ֔ינוּ אֱלֹהֵ֖י אֲבִיהֶ֑ם וַיִּשָּׁבַ֣ע יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב בְּפַ֖חַד אָבִ֥יו יִצְחָֽק” “And now, come, let us form a covenant, you and I, and may He be a witness between you and me…May the God of Avraham and the god of Nachor judge between us, the god of their father. And Yaakov swore by the Fear of his father, Yitzchak.” (Bereishis 31:44, 53). Lavan offers Yaakov to affirm the treaty through either Avraham’s God (the True One), or through Nachor’s (a false god), whichever he is more comfortable with. But Yaakov takes the third route and swears in the name of “the Fear of Yitzchak.” Rashi explains that this refers to Hashem. What does this mean and why did Yaakov do this?
Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky, in his sefer, Emes L’Yaakov, offers an interesting explanation. During the Seder on Pesach, we read in the Haggada that Lavan was worse than Paroh since Paroh only tried to kill the Jewish boys while Lavan wanted to eradicate the entire Jewish Nation. The commentaries ask that we do not see Lavan ever trying to harm a single one of Yaakov’s children. In fact, he states multiple times that he loved his daughters and grandchildren very much! They explain that while Lavan did not try to physically eradicate Bnei Yisrael, rather, he attempted to spiritually dilute them until they merged with the general society. Where do we see this?
R’ Yaakov explained that we find it in this story. When Lavan offers to make a treaty, he actually offered Yaakov like this: “Let’s take the God you serve, the God of Avraham, and the god that I serve, the god of Nachor, and join them to truly bond us together!” He proposed a treaty where the two deities being worshipped, the True One and the false one, would be merged to create one new “religion” that would bond him and Yaakov together for generations; a very practical idea for a treaty. This is what the pasuk means when it refers to “the god of their fathers”. In this way, the service to Hashem would eventually be worn down until there was no actual real Judaism left. In this way, Lavan attempted to completely eradicate the Jewish People, even before they had really started.
As a counter response to this proposal, Yaakov gave a calculated answer. First, he swore not in the name of Avraham, whose connection to his brother Nachor, Lavan’s grandfather, provided a platform where the two systems of belief could potentially merge. Rather, he chose to swear in the name of Yitzchak, someone who, though he was still related, never had any connection with his idol-worshipping relatives. Secondly, he used the phrase, “the Fear of” to refer to Hashem instead of using the normal Hebrew word for god, “אלוהים”. Both Hashem and false gods are referred to with this name. Therefore, in order to completely detach himself from Lavan’s proposal, he used a “nickname” that referred only to Hashem, the True God, thereby showing that he would only commit to Him and not to an avoda zara.
In today’s day and age, we come across different situations in society where we feel a need to show our support and encouragement towards these circumstances. While it is always nice and important to show caring and compassion, in each of these instances we must make sure that we go in from a perspective based on Torah. Every instance may be supported, but it must be done with the proper outlook, one based on Hashem and His Torah.
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