April 16, 2024
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Parshat Toldot: A Yiddishe Mama

So now, my son, heed my voice and arise; flee to my brother Lavan, to Charan (Bereishit 27:43).

Unlike Pharaoh, who declared death upon Jewish boys, Lavan attempted to destroy the entire house of Yaakov (Haggadah Shel Pesach). And yet Rivka, who loved her son Yaakov, sent him to Lavan! What convinced Rivka that Yaakov would be safe from both Lavan and Eisav?

Bereishit Rabbah (63:4) explains that news traveled fast to Lavan that Yaakov had received the blessing of V’iyitein Lecha (Bereishit 27:28). Lavan and his townspeople owned vast amounts of land but collectively suffered from poverty due to insufficient to no rainfall. Interestingly, the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (see Bereishit 27:43) explains the above verse, “flee to my brother Lavan,” because Lavan will defend Yaakov from Eisav. What did Rivka know about her brother’s motivation? Lavan was the first “Wolf of Wall Street,” eager for capital gain and preservation of wealth.“Greed…is good.” Or, to quote a famous screenwriter, “It’s just business, nothing personal.”

“So Lavan gathered all the people of the place and made a feast” (Bereishit 29:22). Here the Bereishit Rabbah (70:19) explains that Lavan presented his deceitful plot to the townspeople and successfully convinced them to deceive Yaakov…for as long as possible. The townspeople were undeniably convinced, and rightly so, that their newfound wealth was inherently tied to Yaakov’s presence and his blessing of V’yitain Lecha. Therefore, Lavan and the townspeople would not cease their deceitful practices, even if it required switching sisters under the wedding canopy. Rivka, better than anyone else, knew with certainty that her brother Lavan would (a) be appeased by material gain due to the close proximity of Yaakov, and (b) Eisav’s anger and sizable force would prove futile in comparison to Lavan and his town’s insatiable thirst for wealth. Indeed, Lavan was prepared to protect Yaakov at all costs, including battling Eisav, if deemed necessary. Rivka then approached Yitzchak and stressed the need to send Yaakov with alacrity to Lavan since a local girl from Cheit would be entirely unsuitable (Bereishit 27:46). Rashbam comments that Rivka spoke “with wisdom” by keeping Eisav distant from Yaakov. Where is the wisdom in Rivka’s statement?

Perhaps the wisdom rests in Rivka’s ability to understand the difference between a smart and wise person: A smart person knows what to say, a wise person knows whether to say it. Rivka withheld from Yitzchak sensitive information concerning the pending danger that Yaakov faced from Eisav. Listening to his wife, the verse continues, Yitzchak sent Yaakov to Padan Aram, to Lavan the son of Besuel the Aramean, the brother of Rivka, the mother of Yaakov and Eisav.”
“And Yaakov listened to his father and mother and went to Padan Aram” (Bereishit 28:5 and 7). Yitzchak favorably responded to his wife’s wishes and sent Yaakov to Lavan in order to find a spouse. Perhaps this is what the Rashbam saw in Rivka’s wisdom and quick thinking: Not only did she use her strength of prophecy to save Yaakov from immediate mortal danger, she also protected Yitzchak from unnecessary pain and stress.

In addition, the seeming superfluous language of Yaakov listening “to his father and to his mother” can perhaps be explained as referring to Yaakov listening to each respective parent despite the fact that Rivka and Yitzchak expressed divergent opinions for his well-being and need for immediate departure to Padan Aram, the house of Lavan. Perhaps Yaakov’s willingness to listen and fully comply—without question—to his mother’s instruction teaches us many lessons, chief among them “…forsake not the teaching of thy mother” (Mishlei 1:8).

When Rivka stated, “So now, my son, heed my voice and arise; flee to my brother Lavan, to Charan,” she set into motion the formation of klal Yisrael, since the children of Yaakov were all born under the roof of Lavan in Parshat Vayeitzei, the following parsha. (Indeed, when Yaakov unilaterally distances his family from the camp of Lavan, he is left to confront Eisav alone in Parshat Vayishlach.) Accordingly, Rivka’s instruction and subsequent actions speak volumes for they underscore her prominence of (a) receiving prophecy and immediately acting upon it (see Rashi, Bereishit 27:42); (b) her ability to sustain (albeit temporarily) the fragile felicity by separating her children from fighting one another, as the verse states, “Why should I be bereaved of both children on the same day” (Bereishit 27:45); (c) her innate understanding of her brother Lavan’s “positive” attribute of capital gain and his resulting determination to protect Yaakov at all costs; and (d) her prowess in removing tension from her aging husband Yitzchak. Rivka’s qualitative attributes continue to serve as testament to her timeless hallmark of subtle yet equally profound greatness of spirit and action.

A woman of valor.

A Yiddishe mama.

By Mordechai Plotsker


Mordechai Plotsker runs a popular 10-minute nightly shiur on the parsha with a keen interest on the invigorating teachings of the Berditchever Rav, the Kedushas Levi. To learn more about the nightly shiur including dial-in information, visit www.shiurenjoyment.com. Plotsker resides in Hillside, New Jersey, with his wife and children and can be reached by email at [email protected].

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