Parashas Vayeitzei

This week’s parashah describes Yaakov’s stay with Lavan. The Torah relates (Bereishis 29:16-17): “Now Lavan had two daughters – the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah’s eyes were tender, while Rachel was of beautiful form and beautiful appearance.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 70:17):
Leah’s eyes were tender – tender from crying. For people were saying: “Thus is the arrangement – the older one [Eisav] will marry the older one [Leah] and the younger one [Yaakov] will marry the younger one [Rachel].” She wept and said: “May it be Hashem’s will that I not fall to the lot of that wicked one [Eisav].” Said R. Huna: “See how potent prayer is, that it has the power to nullify a decree. Not only that, but Leah married before her sister.”
The Maggid asks: If a final arrangement had already been made for the older one to marry the older one, how could Leah have thought to pray that she should not become Eisav’s wife? The Mishnah (Berachos 9:3) teaches that it is forbidden to pray regarding an event that has already taken place (e.g., “Let the house that burned down not be mine”), calling such a plea a futile prayer. Seemingly, a prayer by Leah that she not marry Eisav would fall in this category. What led Leah to pray nevertheless?
The Maggid explains what Leah had in mind by recalling the episode where Yaakov took the blessings that Yitzchak meant to give Eisav. Yaakov approaches Yitzchak and says: “Father.” Yitzchak responds: “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Yaakov replies: “I am Eisav, your firstborn.” The commentators struggle to explain this statement. On the surface it seems, far be it, that Yaakov was telling a lie. A closer look, however, reveals that Yaakov was speaking truthfully and took pains to avoid falsehood. If Yaakov wanted to represent himself as Eisav, it would have been enough to reply to his father’s query with a simple one-word answer: “Eisav.” Instead, he replied more verbosely, saying, “I am Eisav, your firstborn.” To illustrate what Yaakov meant, the Maggid presents an analogy. Reuven sells Shimon a promissory note that Levi had written him. Shimon approaches Levi and says: “I’ve come to collect the money you owe.” Levi responds: “Who are you?” Shimon answers: “I am Reuven, to whom you owe money.” Levi says: “Your name is Shimon, and I did not borrow from you.” Shimon replies: “My name is indeed Shimon, but, nonetheless, in regard to this loan I am Reuven, your creditor, for I bought the promissory note from him, and it is in this capacity that I am coming to you.” Yaakov, in his reply to Yitzchak, had the same intent. Yaakov had bought the birthright from Eisav, and thus he assumed Eisav’s position as the firstborn son, with all the rights and privileges appertaining to this position. It was with this fact in mind that Yaakov replied to Yitzchak’s query by saying: “I am Eisav, your firstborn.” He took Eisav’s place as the one entitled to receive the special blessing that Yitzchak set aside for his firstborn son.
We can now see what led Leah to pray that she not marry Eisav. She was designated to be the wife of Yitzchak’s firstborn son. Had Yaakov not bought the birthright from Eisav, Eisav would have received Yitzchak’s blessing and Leah would surely have married him. But after Yaakov bought the birthright and received Yitzchak’s blessing, Leah’s fate became uncertain. Would she marry Eisav, on account of his being the son who was actually born first? Or would she marry Yaakov, on account of his having assumed the position of firstborn? Reflecting this uncertainty, the Midrash speaks of people saying that “the older one will marry the older one and the younger one will marry the younger one,” without mentioning any names. The uncertainty gave Leah an opening to pray, so she wept and prayed that she would not marry Eisav, and her prayer was successful: In relation to Leah, Hashem regarded Yaakov as Yitzchak’s elder son, and arranged that he marry Lavan’s elder daughter Leah, the daughter who was first in line. And accordingly the Midrash makes a point of adding that Leah not only merited marrying Yaakov, but she married him before her sister Rachel did.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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