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Sunday, December 8, 2019

Words Can Be Dangerous, A Lesson From Torah Portions "Vayeitzei," and "Vayishlach"

Torah Portion "Vayeitzei" which begins in Bereishit Chapter 28:10 tells the saga of Jacob after he left his parents' home. It includes his "nap" in Beit El, marrying his two wives and the birth of most of his children.

Two dangerous things are said, one by Jacob and one by Rachel, which foretell or cause a tragedy.

First Rachel blames Jacob for her barrenness, rather than praying to Gd. Very dramatically she states:
וַתֵּ֣רֶא רָחֵ֗ל כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יָֽלְדָה֙ לְיַעֲקֹ֔ב וַתְּקַנֵּ֥א רָחֵ֖ל בַּאֲחֹתָ֑הּ וַתֹּ֤אמֶר אֶֽל־יַעֲקֹב֙ הָֽבָה־לִּ֣י בָנִ֔ים וְאִם־אַ֖יִן מֵתָ֥ה אָנֹֽכִי׃
When Rachel saw that she had borne Jacob no children, she became envious of her sister; and Rachel said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die.”
And later in the Torah Portion, when Jacob and his family are fleeing Lavan, Lavan chases after them angry about two things. One is that Jacob left, and the other is that his personal idols had apparently been stolen by someone in Jacob's entourage.
וַיַּ֥עַן יַעֲקֹ֖ב וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לְלָבָ֑ן כִּ֣י יָרֵ֔אתִי כִּ֣י אָמַ֔רְתִּי פֶּן־תִּגְזֹ֥ל אֶת־בְּנוֹתֶ֖יךָ מֵעִמִּֽי׃
Jacob answered Laban, saying, “I was afraid because I thought you would take your daughters from me by force.
עִ֠ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר תִּמְצָ֣א אֶת־אֱלֹהֶיךָ֮ לֹ֣א יִֽחְיֶה֒ נֶ֣גֶד אַחֵ֧ינוּ הַֽכֶּר־לְךָ֛ מָ֥ה עִמָּדִ֖י וְקַֽח־לָ֑ךְ וְלֹֽא־יָדַ֣ע יַעֲקֹ֔ב כִּ֥י רָחֵ֖ל גְּנָבָֽתַם׃
But anyone with whom you find your gods shall not remain alive! In the presence of our kinsmen, point out what I have of yours and take it.” Jacob, of course, did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

I'm sure that you all know the result. In "Vayishlach" Rachel dies after giving birth to Binyamin. Gd turned her threat around. Rachel died from giving birth, not as a result of being barren. Jacob predicted her death in his very "Yiftach* moment" by declaring that someone must die without realizing the power of his words.

Every word has power, and I also see shadows of Rachel's threat in the failures of her descendant King Saul. Contrast Rachel and the names she gave her children with her sister Leah, who recognized Gd's power in the names she gave her children. King David is clearly her descendant and the leader most fitting to lead the Jewish People and produce the Moshiach.
*Judges 11וַיִּדַּ֨ר יִפְתָּ֥ח נֶ֛דֶר לַיהוָ֖ה וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אִם־נָת֥וֹן תִּתֵּ֛ן אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י עַמּ֖וֹן בְּיָדִֽי׃
And Jephthah made the following vow to the LORD: “If you deliver the Ammonites into my hands,
וְהָיָ֣ה הַיּוֹצֵ֗א אֲשֶׁ֨ר יֵצֵ֜א מִדַּלְתֵ֤י בֵיתִי֙ לִקְרָאתִ֔י בְּשׁוּבִ֥י בְשָׁל֖וֹם מִבְּנֵ֣י עַמּ֑וֹן וְהָיָה֙ לַֽיהוָ֔ה וְהַעֲלִיתִ֖הוּ עוֹלָֽה׃ (פ)
then whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me on my safe return from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s and shall be offered by me as a burnt offering.”


Mr. Cohen said...

Midrash Tehillim commentary on Psalm 7:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi taught in the name of Rabbi Yosi:

“In the times of [King] Saul and [the prophet] Shmuel,
young children were so proficient in Torah that they
knew 49 interpretations of the laws of ritual purity,
and David prayed that they should remember their learning.

Yet, when they went to battle, they lost
because there was slander among them.

But when the generation of Ahab went to war,
they won, and none of them died in battle,
even though they all worshiped idols,
because there were no slanderers among them.”

Batya said...

Honestly, the story doesn't jive with the pshat.