Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Leah’s Tears

Rav said: Her eyes were actually tender, but that was not disparaging to her, but rather, it was praise to her. Leah, at the crossroads, would hear people saying, “Rivkah has two sons and Lavan has two daughters; the older daughter (Leah) should be married to the older son (Esav), and the younger daughter (Rochel) should be married to the younger son (Yaakov).” And Leah sat at the crossroads and inquired about the conduct of the older one. They told her, “He is a wicked man, who robs people.” And when she asked regarding the conduct of the younger one, they replied to her, “He is a decent man, dwelling in tents.” She wept (and prayed that she would not marry Esav) until her eyelashes fell out (so this attests to her righteousness).

Why did she begin to cry only after she heard that Yaakov was righteous? It was her understanding all along that she would be married to the older one, so as soon as she heard that the older one was evil, she should have cried then!?Why did she even enquire about the younger one’s behavior? And, on the contrary! After she was told that the younger one was decent and righteous, she should have been happy for her sister; why cry then?

Ben Yehoyada answers that a righteous woman has in her power to convince an evil man to repent. Leah, upon hearing that the older one was evil, did not cry, for she was confident that she would be able to convince Esav to mend his ways and become righteous. However, after she enquired about the younger one, and found out that he too was extremely righteous, and although the two brothers grew up in the same house, Yaakov could not have a positive influence on his brother Esav, Leah knew then that she would not be able to change someone so steeped in evil. That is why she cried.


The Gemora proceeds to record the incident of Rachel’s modesty. It is written [Breishis 29:12]: And Yaakov told Rachel that he was her father’s brother. Was he her father’s brother? Wasn’t he in fact the son of her father’s sister? This is the explanation: Yaakov said to Rachel, “Will you marry me?” She replied, “Yes, but my father is a trickster, and he will outwit you.” He replied, “I am his brother in trickery.” Rachel asked him, “Is it permitted for the righteous to indulge in trickery?” He replied, “Yes,” and the Gemora cites a verse in Shmuel proving that one is permitted to act crookedly with a crook. Yaakov asked her, “What is his trickery?” She replied, “I have a sister who is older than me and he will not let me get married before her.” Yaakov gave to Rachel certain identifying signs in order that Lavan would not be able to exchange Leah, the older sister, with Rachel. When the wedding night came, Rachel said to herself (upon realizing that her father intended to give Leah to Yaakov instead of her), “My sister will be embarrassed.” She handed over the secret signs to her.

Dr. Mark Berkowitz cited the Ben Yehoyadah who explains this Gemora. He states that the secret message and signs that Rachel and Yaakov exchanged on the first day that they spoke at the well were kept secret by both of them for the seven years that Yaakov labored for Rachel’s hand in marriage. He states that the only way that this secret could have worked and Leah could have possibly replaced Rachel was if Yaakov and Rachel did not meet or talk during those seven years. He points out that this is the great modesty that she displayed over these seven years.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Scheinbaum in Peninim on the Torah Parshas Korach provides a similar explanation. [This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network.]

The Medrash teaches us that On ben Peles was saved as a result of listening to his wife. She asked him, “What do you gain by being involved in this dispute? Regardless who triumphs, you still emerge as the loser. If Aharon is selected as Kohen Gadol - you are his student. If Korach becomes the Kohen Gadol - you are still nothing more than a student. Why involve yourself in a ‘no win’ situation?” On’s wife spoke with seichal, common sense. Is this a reason to praise her? Basically, she only did what any level-headed person would do.

Horav Nosson Vachtfogel, zt”l, offers a penetrating insight into the matter. He cites the Gemora in Megillah 13b where Rabbi Elozar claims that as reward for Rachel Imeinu’s tznius, modesty, she merited that Shaul Hamelech be descended from her. When did she demonstrate such exemplary tznius? Chazal explain that when she gave her sister, Leah, the simanim, special signs, that Yaakov Avinu had given her, she acted with exemplary modesty. Rashi explains that her tznius lay in the fact that she never publicized her selfless act of devotion to her sister. She never divulged to Yaakov what she had done. She was prepared to give up that for which she had strived for so much - the opportunity to be the progenitor of the Shivtei Kah, tribes of Klal Yisrael. She did not once call attention to her exemplary act of kindness. This is tznius at its zenith.

Rav Nosson posits that included in the middah of tznius is the ability to maintain a shev v’al taaseh, status quo, attitude in regard to a situation in which one is unsure of what to do. He does not take a chance and plunge forward regardless of the consequences. No - tznius demands that one sit back and not act, rather than act rashly. Likewise, one who is a tzanua will not divulge a secret. If one is asked for information about someone and he does not know the person, it takes tznius to say, “I do not know.” Regrettably, there are those who are quick to conjecture and state their own opinions about someone, even though they are baseless.

Rav Nosson remembers that, prior to being asked by Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, to become the first Mashgiach of the Beth Medrash Govohah, he was asked by a talmid, close student, of Rav Aharon regarding a controversial sefer that was on the table in one of the Yeshivah’s classrooms. The Mashgiach responded, “I do not know.” This response prompted the talmid to approach Rav Aharon and suggest that Rav Nosson be appointed as Mashgiach of the Yeshivah. It takes someone who possesses the strength of character to assert “I do not know” to be the Mashgiach of the Lakewood Yeshivah. This was the power of On ben Peles’ wife. She had the ability to see and stress the shev v’al taaseh attitude: “If either way you will not be the victor, why bother involving yourself in the fray of the controversy? Stay at home and stay out of trouble.” It takes tznius to act in such a manner. On was fortunate that his wife had the necessary character trait - and he had the wisdom to listen to her.