Why Did Jacob Cry When He Kissed Rachel?
Why Did Jacob Cry When He Kissed Rachel?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
In Parshat Vayeitzei, Jacob runs away to his Uncle Lavan’s house after having deceived his father Isaac and stolen his brother’s blessing. He marries Rachel and Leah, has twelve kids, and becomes a prosperous shepherd. Things seem to be going very well for Jacob. But that leaves us to wonder: was it okay what Jacob did — impersonating Esau, tricking Isaac? It doesn’t seem that Jacob has to face any consequences for his deceit of Isaac and Esau. Or does he?
In tiny hints, all over Parshat Vayeitzei, the biblical text continuously points us back to the story of the deception of Isaac – seeming to imply that Jacob can't escape the effects of his actions. Join Rabbi Fohrman as he discovers these hints, and find out what it all means.
This is Rabbi David Fohrman, welcome to Parshat Vayeitzei.
It seems to me that one of the great challenges that face us is how we come to grips with the story told in last week's Parsha involving Yaakov's deception with Yitzhak his father and his brother Esav. How are we meant to look at that story?
Was Jacob's Deception to Isaac and Esau Justified?
There are statements of our sages that seem to suggest that Yaakov was in the right, that either he had no choice but to deceive and was therefore in some way justified, or that the deception at some level was not really a deception. There are, however, other strains of interpretation which suggest a picture that in some sense is more gray and leaves open the possibility that the reader of Chumash is meant to struggle with whether Yaakov's resolution of the situation is something we should applaud or view with some level of concern.
I want to share with you a Midrash that seems to lead us at that direction and explore with you, some of the implications. So the background of this is Midrash is something that takes place in this week's Parsha, Parshat Vayeitzei. And that background event is Yaakov's first encounter with Rachel, the woman destined to become his beloved wife.
The moment he sees her, he seemed to see that she is destined for him but the verse chronicles something strange that happens. וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת-קֹלוֹ, וַיֵּבְךְּ "He raises his voice and he cries." The obvious question, of course is, why is he crying and here Chazal, our sages, tell us a thing that is both fascinating and completely bewildering. Let me read Rashi with you. He gives two interpretations as to why Yaakov cried. Here's the first: לפי שצפה ברוח הקודש שאינה נכנס עמו לקבורה שאינה נכנסת עמו. Because he saw through some sort of divine inspiration that in the end she would not be buried with him.
דבר אחר: Here's a second interpretation: לפי שבא בידים ריקניות. The reason why he cried is because he came empty-handed, he didn't have any money with him. אמר: Yaakov said to himself, according to the Midrash, אליעזר עבד אבי אבא Eliezer, my grandfather's servant, היו בידיו נזמים וצמידים ומגדנות had all sorts of wealth, jewels, gold to give the bride's family. ואני אין בידי כלום. I have nothing.
Why did he have nothing? The Midrash continues because Eliphaz, the child of Esav, was running after him to kill him. The Midrash is referring to the aftermath of Yaakov's deception of his brother Esav. After that Esav dispatches his son, Eliphaz, to go hunt Yaakov down and Eliphaz catches up to Yaakov but because Eliphaz grew up in the household of Yitzhak, murder didn't come easy to him. The last moment he couldn't bring himself to do it. He dropped the dagger. Eliphaz says to Yaakov, what am I going to do, my father commanded me to kill you?
Yaakov says to him, "Take my money, being poor is as good as dead. Go tell your father I am not alive anymore." What a strange story this Midrash tells. What are the sages trying to tell us? The sages are coming from somewhere in the text and once you realize you see not only what the evidence is for what they are saying, but why it matters so much as well.
Biblical Connections to Jacob's Deceit of Isaac and Esau
What are the words that the Torah uses to characterize Yaakov's tears when he first sees Rachel? It turns out that those words are וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת-קֹלוֹ, וַיֵּבְךְּ and he lifted up his voice and he cried. That expression doesn't happen all that often. When it does occur, it seems to suggest, something precious slipping through your fingers, being lost irrevocably. For example, another time we have that is when Hagar cries, after she casts down her child and sits from afar. There's no more water left in the canteen. She thinks Ishmael is dying of thirst and she lifts up her voice and cries. It's the sense of anguish, of utter loss of hope. Something is lost and it's not coming back again. Ironically in Hagar's case, it wasn't true. She didn't see the well that was there to allow Ishmael to live. But when Yaakov cries, Chazal are saying he too sees something precious slipping through his fingers, only in this case, that which is precious is Rachel.
She is slipping through his fingers in one of two ways. He sees prophetically that he won't be buried with her, that somehow that ultimate union symbolized by being buried next to your soul-mate, he wouldn't have that. Rachel would elude him. And she would elude him not just in death but in life too because, remember, Yaakov, as desperately as he wants to marry Rachel, is tricked by his father-in-law Lavan. He ends up marrying Leah in place of Rachel, then has to spend seven more years working for Rachel. It's as if he spends his life, trying to have Rachel, only to somehow have Rachel constantly elude his grasp.
And when he first met her, that sense of foreboding that he wouldn't really have her, that something would always get in the way, was something he sensed even then, that very first moment he met her. But Chazal are saying something more too. They know something about these words וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת-קֹלוֹ, וַיֵּבְךְּ about the last time they were used. It turns out that the last time someone raised his voice and cried, it was Esav when he realized he had been deceived by Yaakov about the blessings. What our sages seem to be doing is connecting these two events. If you want to understand the וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת-קֹלוֹ, וַיֵּבְךְּ with Yaakov, you need to understand the last וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת-קֹלוֹ, וַיֵּבְךְּ in the Torah with Esav, because one led to the other. When Esav lifted up his voice and cried, after realizing that he was deceived, then, they say, he dispatched his son Eliphaz to kill Yaakov, only to have Eliphaz in turn foiled by Yaakov.
Yaakov suggests that he deceive his father Esav much as Yaakov himself had deceived his own father Yitzhak. "Take my money. Tell him I am dead." And then what happens? Well at face-value Yaakov escapes harm; he survives the threat of Eliphaz, but it comes at a cost. He has no money left and indeed, perhaps, a poor man is as good as dead. At least when it comes to dealing with Lavan. Lavan takes advantage of disadvantaged people. Yaakov would like to marry Rachel but he has no money to give the bride's family. Lavan presses Yaakov into service for seven years and then takes advantage of the penniless Yaakov, switching Rachel for Leah under the Chuppah.
The Consequences of Jacob's Trick to Isaac
When Yaakov challenges Lavan and says, "Why did you deceive me this way?" Lavan answers and says, "We don't do that in our place, where we come from, to give the younger before the older." What's the implication? Maybe where you come from Yaakov, you give the younger before the older. Lavan's words too hark back to Yaakov's deception of Esav. Chazal seem to be connecting the dots for us. One וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת-קֹלוֹ, וַיֵּבְךְּ leads to another.
Whatever it is that we think about Yaakov's deception of Esav, Chazal seem to be saying, what goes around comes around and Yaakov can't escape the effects of that action. The tears he caused his brother to shed when Yaakov replaced the older son with the younger son, would be repaid with the tears that Yaakov himself sheds when his father-in-law, Lavan, replaces his younger daughter with his older one. Rachel will always just barely elude Yaakov's grasp, both in death and in life and upon first seeing her, he gets a premonition of that. He raises his voice and cries, as his own brother did before him.
Jacob – a Man of Deceit or Truth?
Now just to pull back the zoom-lens, one of the great challenges that now faces us when we look at this strain of Midrash that seems, at least implicitly, to be critical of Yaakov's actions in last week's Parsha, one of the questions that faces us is, Yaakov is one of our forefathers; we look up to him as a role model. So how are we to deal with this? Yaakov is associated with the idea "emet," of truth. And yet he seems to have been involved in this deception, so how do we square all this?
The answer to how this strain of Midrash would view those questions, I think they may become clear in next week's Parsha. I am going to pick up with you next week and talk with you about that.