Special Feature: A Sister’s Secret Sacrifice – In honor of Rachel Imeinu’s Yartzeit
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein
A Sister’s Secret Sacrifice – In Honor of Rachel Imeinu’s Yartzeit
There is a fascinating episode that takes place in Parshas Vayeitzei that for years I had difficulty understanding. To set the stage, Yaakov Avinu together with his wives and children are all living in the household of Lavan. More than half of the Shevatim have already been born – Reuvain, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher are growing up. Three of Yakakov’s four wives have given birth to all or most of the sons that they are going to. Yet Rochel Imeinu, whose yahrtzeit is this week (Tuesday 11 Cheshvan), remains barren. Reuvain, Leah’s oldest son, is out in the fields and finds some flowers for his mother. Rochel, upon seeing Leah’s new flowers, asks nicely, “Please may I have some of the flowers that your son brought?” Chazal tell us that these particular flowers, the Dudaim were used to help with infertility. Given Rochel’s childlessness, this would seem to be a perfectly appropriate request – Rochel was not even asking for all of the flowers. The passuk [Bereishis 30:14] says the word “MiDudai banecha,” “from the flowers of your son” – not all of them. Leah responds in what would seem to be somewhat of a harsh manner. She replies[in passuk 15], “Is it not enough that you have practically taken my husband?! Now you want my son’s flowers as well?!” [Leah is referring to the fact that the Torah tells us that Rochel was “more beloved” to Yaakov than Leah, so in that respect, Leah felt as if Rochel had “taken” Leah’s husband from her.]
Among the many difficulties in understanding this series of events, there is one element that, to me, has always stood out. Let’s go back a few years and remind ourselves of the story of how this family came to be in the first place. We all know that Yaakov met Rochel first and was immediately enamored by her. Rochel, too, was anxiously waiting for the day that she and Yaakov could be married. Seven years have to pass before Yaakov and Rochel’s aspiration to marry could be realized. The Medrash tells us that during these seven years, their “relationship” was not even fully on hold. Yaakov would send gifts to Rochel throughout this time to continue to express his affection towards, and connection to, her. Yet, when the wedding day came, as we know, Lavan demanded that Leah marry Yaakov instead of Rochel. As we all know, Yaakov and Rochel had set up signs (the halachos of Niddah, Challah and Hadlokas HaNer) to ensure that no such switch would take place. And as we also all know, when Rochel was faced with the possibility of her sister suffering a terrible shame and disgrace at being discovered, Rochel Imeinu, in an act of kindness that has reverberated through the generations and stood as a zechus for all of us for thousands of years, gives up her chance (or so she thought) of marrying Yaakov and selflessly gives her sister the signs. When the time came, Leah and Yaakov were married and Rochel, one can only imagine, felt as if she had literally given up the entire world – physical and spiritual – in order to spare her sister this shame.
In this context, it would seem that Leah’s response to Rochel’s request for the flowers is quite baffling. How could Leah say to Rochel – the person if not for whom not only would Leah not be married to Yaakov, but she would have been the laughing stock of the community – “Is it not enough that you have practically taken my husband?” What exactly does Leah mean by this? Wouldn’t this statement appear to be a complete and total lack of appreciation for Rochel’s monumental sacrifice on Leah’s behalf? For years this issue troubled me. But it was worth the wait, because the answer that the Baalei Mussar give shows us an insight into Rochel Imeinu that is at the same time astounding and inspiring.
The answer they give… Leah never knew what happened! We always pictured Rochel prepping Leah with the signs and coaching her on how to answer Yaakov’s questions. But in fact, the Baalei Mussar explain, this is not what happened at all. For years Lavan had been telling Leah that she was going to be the one to marry Yaakov. And what about those gifts that the Medrash mentioned? The Medrash tells us that all along Lavan was intercepting them and giving them to Leah! Leah was under the impression that Yaakov had been courting her! Rochel, realizing where this was headed, gave the signs over to Leah in an inconspicuous way. One day they would be talking and Rochel would tell her about some interesting halachos she had heard regarding Niddah. And then, maybe as she was helping Leah with her gown fitting, she told Leah about this fascinating set of laws about Challah. And maybe while she was helping Leah do her hair, she discussed the halachos of Hadlokas Ner Shabbos. So when it came time for Leah to give the signs to Yaakov – she had no idea that she was actually giving “signs” at all! She was simply answering Yaakov’s questions with information that she had learned. This is astonishing! What has gone down in history as literally one of the most selfless acts of all time, was actually done completely bitzin’ah – without Leah ever knowing or being ashamed, even in front of her own sister. Can you imagine such a thing? Rochel Imeinu did not take or receive any recognition or credit for this incredible act. So much so that Leah, years later still and unaware of what took place, can actually accuse Rochel of trying to “take away” Leah’s husband! This was a complete act of chessed, done with no expectation of credit and done in such a way that the recipient would not even know that she had received it. Incredible. [Source: the sefer Lev Shalom on Sefer Bereishis, on page 269 (in his drashos on Parshas Vayeitzei). The sefer is a collection of drashos and divrei Torah from Rav Shalom Shwadron zt”l.]
May we be inspired by this act of selflessness, now that we more fully appreciate its depth and extent. May we merit to follow in our Mama Rochel’s footsteps and selflessly do whatever we can to prevent shame or embarrassment to our friends and family, and certainly not do anything that would actively cause pain of this nature to another person. And, BE”H, in the merit of our living up to Rochel Imeinu’s example, may we be zocheh to have her tefillos heard in Shamayim – vishavu banim ligvulam.