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Parashat Vayeitzei: Aliyah by Aliyah

First Reading: Unifying Subject and Object

“He became afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the House of God and this is the gateway to heaven.’”

When we pray to God three times a day with the Amidah we begin with the benediction that God is “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Immediately after that, we say that God is “great, mighty, and awesome.” These three adjectives correspond to Abraham (great), Isaac (mighty), and Jacob (awesome). Awesome (נוֹרָא) is very similar to the word for awe or fear (יִרְאָה). Normally we would associate fear or awe with Isaac. How does Jacob parallel “awesome”? The source for this is in the first reading of Vayeitzei, “Jacob became afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place. This must be the house of God and the gateway to heaven.’”[1] (וַיִּירָא וַיֹּאמַר מַה נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה אֵין זֶה כִּי אִם בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וְזֶה שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם). Clearly, Jacob is very sensitive to the awesome nature of God.

The Ba’al Shem Tov refers to the dynamic displayed in this verse as “the unification of fear and awesomeness” (יִחוּד יִרְאָה נוֹרָא). There is a unification, or yichud in Hebrew, occurring between Jacob’s experience of fear and his father Isaac’s perception of God’s attribute of being awe-inspiring.

This is a very profound teaching from the Ba’al Shem Tov and is usually noted among his most important. To state it simply, the Ba’al Shem Tov means that by focusing on God’s awe-inspiring omni-Presence, one can come to feel “fear of God.” More philosophically, the unification of the subjective experience of fear with the objectivity of God’s omni-Presence serves to bridge the modern divide created in our experience between ourselves and our objective surroundings. In more general terms, this is the unification of the subject with the object. The Ba’al Shem Tov states that by bridging or unifying the two, we elevate the fallen sparks of Godliness in reality.

One might think that unification of the subject with the object should happen through an experience and sensitivity to love, but from this verse, we discover that the essential unification happens through the middle axis—represented by Jacob and his identification of the location in which he came to this subjective feeling as “the house of God and the gateway to heaven.” Thus, Jacob inherits the left axis’ sensitivity to fear—represented by Isaac—and unifies it with his own experience of the infinite, which lies along the middle axis.

In next week’s parashah, we will learn that “Jacob dwelt in the land of his father’s dwellings”[2] (וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו). Although this verse seems easy to understand, a deeper level of understanding can be gathered from “dwelt,” which also means “fear” (מָגוֹר). Thus, it is revealing that Jacob was able to experience fear subjectively and yet not let it throw him off balance. This is the unification of the subject with the object.


(Wisdom, Issue 46)


Second Reading: Two Types of Wisdom

“Laban had two daughters: the name of the older one was Leah and the name of the younger one was Rachel.”


Fleeing or Ascending?

We normally think that Jacob fled to Haran despite it being a very low place, morally. However, there is a midrash[3] that states that when Yakov left Be’er Sheva, he was not only fleeing from Esau and fulfilling his parents' command to get married in Haran. He was also fleeing from the possibility that if he remained in the Land of Canaan, he too would have to make a vow to Avimelech, just as his father had done after Abraham. Because of this vow, the return of his descendants to the land by 7 extra generations. This already presents us with a slightly more positive view of Haran—a place where Jacob would not be forced into damaging treaties.

From another perspective,[4] Jacob undertook to descend to Haran (whenever someone leaves the Land of Israel, considered the most elevated place in the world, they are descending) expressly for the purpose of transforming its darkness into light by engaging in the toil of clarification (עֲבוֹדַת הַבֵּרוּרִים), by elevating that which is low and bringing it to a higher spiritual state.

There is a third perspective espoused in Chasidic thought.[5] Jacob was not descending but ascending to Haran. There is something in Haran that makes it higher than Be’er Sheva. The way the word “to Haran” (חָרָנָה) is written in Hebrew indicates that there is hidden hei which would then render it as “song” (רִנָּה). In other words, Jacob was ascending to a place of song. The meaning of this linguistic allusion can be understood in the context of the verse, “wisdoms will sing outside”[6] (חָכְמוֹת בַּחוּץ תָּרֹנָּה), a verse that is the focus of many Chasidic essays and discourses.[7]

Two Types of Wisdom

The two forms of wisdom referred to in the verse are the higher wisdom and the lower wisdom corresponding to Divine wisdom and mundane wisdom. The two wisdoms need to be sung together in a sense as King Solomon who had 3000 parables[8] did. These were not 3000 separate parables, but rather Solomon “sang” or elucidated every point of Divine wisdom with 3000 parables aimed at 3000 different individuals and their different levels of comprehension and worldviews. He was able to use these 3000 parables to bring supernal wisdom to everyone’s understanding. Thus, the early Kabbalists denoted natural wisdom, as Solomon’s wisdom.

Examples of using Solomon’s wisdom—the wisdom of nature—to explain Divine wisdom can be found in Maimonides’ who writes[9] that by meditating on nature, one can come to love and fear God. The Rebbe Rashab (the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) writes that for every idea in Torah, i.e., in Divine wisdom, we should have two parables to explain it: one parable from psychology and one parable from the natural sciences.

Divine Wisdom as Justice

We have defined Solomon’s wisdom as the ability to use nature to appreciate Godliness. What was the Divine wisdom that was revealed in Solomon’s time? It was the wisdom required to judge wisely.[10] Solomon had been granted the gift of Divine wisdom, allowing him to judge wisely; with this gift, he won over the hearts of the people. An example can be found in Solomon’s trial of the two women who came with a single baby whom they both claimed was their exclusively. Instead of trying to trace the child back to one or the other with witnesses or the like, he forced one of the women to reveal that she did not have the child’s best interest in mind as its true mother would. Solomon’s method and conduct in this case did not follow the accepted norms of a court of law. Yet, it was a demonstration of the Divine judicial wisdom Solomon had been gifted. There is no easy way to teach this type of wisdom, but anyone who wants to become a dayan, a Jewish judge, must find this wisdom somehow; perhaps it can be read between the lines of Choshen Mishpat.

These two types of wisdom are both needed. They need to join together to make one melody. It is this combined melody that can reach out and reach even Haran (the lowest of places). Someone who is only sitting in the world of holiness, in Be’er Sheva, maybe he can make do with just the Divine wisdom. But when he goes out like Jacob to Haran, to spread holiness, to spread Judaism and Torah, he needs the wisdom of nature. When combined, the wisdom of nature together as a vessel for the wisdom of Torah are a method with which to transform darkness into light. This transformation is indicated by another verse with the same word, “song”: “When the wicked perish, there is song”[11] (וּבַאֲבֹד רְשָׁעִים רִנָּה).

All this ties into the purpose of Jacob’s journey to Haran—to find himself a match. Jacob ends up marrying both of Laban’s daughters: Leah and Rachel. The two daughters of Laban—who symbolically signifies the supernal unity Above—represent these two types of wisdom that together are like one. The supernal, Divine wisdom corresponds to Leah and the natural wisdom of Solomon to Rachel. They further correspond to the two letters hei in God’s essential Name, Havayah. Leah corresponds to the first hei, symbolizing the supernal, Divine wisdom, and Rachel the second hei, symbolizing the mundane, natural wisdom.

(from a shiur given on 9 Kislev 5773)


Third Reading: Iron Women

“Laban had given his maidservant Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her maid….

Laban had given his maidservant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid.”


Mistresses and Maidservants

In the third reading of Vayeitzei, we learn that Jacob not only married Laban’s two daughters, Leah and Rachel. He also married their maidservants. There is a well-known acronym used to remember Jacob’s four wives and who was whose maidservant. The acronym is the Hebrew word for “iron” (בַּרְזֶל), and it stands for Bilhah-Rachel and Zilpah-Leah (בִּלְהָה רָחֵל זִלְפָּה לֵאָה). There is a well-known statement from Maimonides that natural wisdom, which we know today as science, should serve as a maid or cook for its mistress, the Torah. Thus, Leah and Rachel, the two noble daughters of Laban, represent the Torah while Zilpah and Bilhah, their two maidservants, represent mundane wisdom. To understand this correspondence let us begin by exploring why there are two aspects of Torah.

The Concealed and the Revealed

In Kabbalah and Chasidic thought, Rachel and Leah represent the revealed and concealed dimensions: Rachel is the revealed dimension, and Leah is the concealed. According to the Zohar, this provides a reason for why Rachel's beauty was noticeable to all outwardly, “And Rachel was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance,” while Leah’s beauty is more internal and hidden, and noticeable, especially in her eyes—“And Leah’s eyes were tender”[12]—where the eyes themselves symbolize inner intellectual contemplation.

Two Aspects of Torah

This division between the revealed and the concealed can also be found in Torah. There is the revealed dimension of Torah, primarily embodied in the study of halachah, also called “the Torah’s external dimension” (חִיצוֹנִיּוּת הַתּוֹרָה) or “the body of the Torah” (גּוּפֵי תּוֹרָה); and there is also the concealed dimension of Torah, elucidated and discussed in the teaching of Kabbalah and Chasidut, and also known as “the Torah’s inner dimension” (פְּנִימִיּוּת הַתּוֹרָה) or “the Torah’s soul” (נִשְׁמְתָא דְּאוֹרָיְתָא). Each aspect of Torah seeks to reveal the Divine Presence in its corresponding layer of reality. To use Chasidic nomenclature, the purpose of the revealed Torah is to reveal Godliness the way it is integrated into reality; it is known as, the indwelling or integrated light (אוֹר הַמְּמַלֵּא), illustrating how Godliness is present in every detail of our earthly lives. The purpose of the Torah’s concealed dimension is to reveal Godliness that transcends or encompasses (אוֹר הַסּוֹבֵב) reality in what we call the concealed dimension, including secrets and mysteries that ascend higher and higher, ad infinitum.

Thus, when we refer to Rachel and Leah as the “mistresses” who represent Torah, we mean to say that Rachel represents the Torah’s revealed or external dimension (halachah), while Leah represents the Torah’s hidden or inner dimension (kabbalah).

Science and Art

Based on this Kabbalistic perspective, we can also find a similar division among the maidservants. If each of the mistresses represents a dimension of Divine wisdom, then her maidservant should represent the corresponding type of mundane wisdom.

Though we tend to associate mundane wisdom mostly with natural wisdom—the natural sciences—it is actually wider in scope and refers to the totality of human wisdom, i.e., wisdom that grows from below, in contrast to the wisdom of God that is revealed from above. When holding this broader definition, science is revealed as only half of the picture. The other half is occupied by the second great pillar of modern culture: art.

Science and art are like two complementary halves of the human psyche, shaping our relationships with the world. Science seeks to encompass the laws of the world within human consciousness, and art seeks to project human will onto the world. Science expresses our more intellectual, which observes and analyzes, while art expresses our more inspirational side, which serves to express our emotions. The two worlds or languages of science and art can be likened to the two hemispheres of the human brain. The comparison is not merely metaphorical: The brain’s right hemisphere is the source of our intuitive, synthetic, and creative outlook, namely the artistic side of our personality, while the brain’s left hemisphere is the source of rational, analytical, and distinguishing thinking, namely the scientific side.

Now we can complete our model of Jacob’s four wives. Since Rachel represents the more external teachings of Torah, her maidservant Bilhah should embody the part of human wisdom that deals with the revealed and earthly plane of reality. This part is science, dedicated to the study of apparent phenomena. Similarly, since Leah represents the inner teachings of Torah, her maidservant Zilpah should embody the part that deals with the more hidden and spiritual plane. This part is art, dedicated to expressing the whispers of the human soul.

Our complete model is thus:

Leah Torah’s inner dimension
Zilpah art
Rachel Torah’s revealed dimension
Bilhah science

Four Women, Two Worlds

There is a beautiful numerical analysis that accompanies our observations. We have been speaking about two types of wisdom, Divine and mundane. The value of “wisdom” (חָכְמָה) is 73, so the value of two “wisdoms” is 146, which is also the value of “world” (עוֹלָם)—there are two forms of wisdom—Divine and mundane—in each world.

But just as there are two types of wisdom, there are also two worlds, or realities: there is the concealed world and there is the revealed world. Altogether then, we need four types of wisdom. Indeed, Leah and Zilpah represent the Divine and mundane dimensions of wisdom in the concealed world while Rachel and Bilhah represent the Divine and mundane dimensions of wisdom in the revealed world.



(from Ichud HaTorah VeHaMada, pp. 223-225)



Fourth Reading: Alef and Ayin

“When Jacob came home from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You are to sleep with me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” And he lay with her that night.”


The Senses of the Months

In the Torah, each of the 12 months has what is usually translated as a “sense” (חוש) associated with it. These senses are the spiritual faculties of our soul, and like the five well-known senses we are familiar with—sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch—they also have a particular organ in the body corresponding to them. In addition, the months correspond to myriad other models that also include 12 elements (the tribes, the constellations, the 12 simple letters of the Aleph-Bet). We have written a great deal about these senses in other contexts. For our purposes let us simply write out the months with a few of their corresponding models in chart form:[13]


Month sense tribe letter
Nisan speech Judah ה
Iyar thought Yissachar ו
Sivan progress Zebulun ז
Tamuz sight Reuben ח
Av hearing Shimon ט
Elul action Gad י
Tishrei touch Ephraim ל
Cheshvan smell Menasheh נ
Kislev sleep Benjamin ס
Tevet indignation Dan ע
Shevat consumption Asher צ
Adar humor Naftali ק


Freedom of Choice and the Calendar

One of the most famous statements of Rabbi Akiva dealing with free will or free choice is “Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted; The world is judged with goodness, and everything is in accordance with the preponderance of actions” (הַכֹּל צָפוּי וְהָרְשׁוּת נְתוּנָה וּבְטוֹב הָעוֹלָם נִדּוֹן וְהַכֹּל לְפִי רֹב הַמַּעֲשֶׂה). There are four parts to this statement, and they correspond to the four letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah. According to this correspondence, the second part, “yet freedom of choice is granted” corresponds to the first hei of Havayah, or to the sefirah of understanding. To draw a correspondence between this statement and the 12 psychological senses that correspond to the months, we need to find the equivalent of “understanding.” Indeed, it is the sense of thought associated with the month of Iyar.

Iyar: The Month of Free Will

How can we understand the parallel between “freedom of choice is granted” and the month of Iyar and its associated tribe, Yissachar. Yissachar is noted in the Bible as the tribe possessing a special ability to understand measures of time, which is why they had special expertise in organizing the calendar, a role that they played on the high court. The verse describing this is, “And from the sons of Yissachar, those who understand time.”[14] In Hebrew, the relationship between thought and the calendar is much clearer than in English because both “computation” or “mathematics” (חֶשְׁבּוֹן) and “thought” (מַחְשָׁבָה) stem from the same verb (חשב). The idiom used to denote preparing a calendar is “computation of time” (חֶשְׁבּוֹן תְקוּפוֹת). There are many types of thought. The type of thought needed to compute the calendar (which depends on observing nature with a mathematical eye) is the analytical type of thought associated with the sefirah of understanding.

We can now identify the month of Iyar as the month of free will. As such, Iyar is the month of awakening from below, because as we see in a moment, freedom of choice represents an awakening of the mundane to change its course. We can capture the essence of this point as: Initiative begins with the sense of free thinking.

Leah’s Free Will and Initiative

Of all of Jacob's children, Yissachar was the one whose conception involved the most initiative. His mother, Leah, out of her tremendous desire to increase the number of Jacob's offspring (and the number of tribes), gave her maidservant, Zilpah, to her husband as his fourth wife. For a woman, to consciously introduce another woman into her house is a very difficult thing, even more so when until then, Zilpah had been Leah’s maidservant. Now, Zilpah had become equal to her former mistress.

Leah, who now had trouble of her own conceiving was given mandrakes by her son Reuben. Mandrakes are known to increase fertility, and Leah gave them to her sister Rachel, her husband's most beloved wife, who until then had had no children, in order that that night she send Jacob to her. Shortly thereafter, Yissachar was born, and Leah called him by this name which means, “there is a reward,” expressing her thanksgiving to God for having rewarded her for her initiative.

Leah herself is considered the archetypal soul related to the sefirah of understanding.


Free Will and Yissachar

This sentiment is found later in relation to the tribe of Yissachar, the tribe associated with the month of Iyar. When the Jewish people went out of Egypt, the leader or prince of the tribe was Netanel ben Tzu’ar. Netanel, means “God gave,” or “Godsend.” His father's name Tzu’ar comes from the word meaning pain or hardship. Thus, the full name, Netanel ben Tzu’ar, relates to the sages' saying that “the reward is according to the pains taken….” (לְפוּם צַעַרָא אַגְרָא). In other words, God gives (Netanel) reward (Yissachar) based on the pain (Tzu’ar) that was endured in achieving that goal.

Finally, let us add that every month also has a permutation of God’s essential four-letter Name, Havayah, associated with it. Since Havayah has four letters, they can be permuted 24 ways. But because one of the letters, the hei, repeats, only 12 permutations are unique. These 12 permutations of Havayah correspond to the 12 months.[15] The permutation of Havayah corresponding to Iyar is יההו.

Our tefillin contain the text of the four paragraphs in the Pentateuch that mention the commandment of tefillin. There are two methods for ordering these paragraphs, one according to the opinion of Rashi, the other according to the opinion of his grandson, Rabbeinu Tam. For this reason, many Jewish men own and don two pairs of tefillin—one of each kind. Without getting into the details, יההו, the permutation of Havayah associated with the month of Iyar, corresponds to the order of the paragraphs in the Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. Rabbeinu Tam tefillin are described as “the tefillin of the World to Come,” which as we noted earlier, is a synonym for the sefirah of understanding.


(from a lecture given on the 8th of Cheshvan, 5758)


Fifth Reading: The Month of Dreams

“I cast my eyes and saw in a dream…”

Jacob's Dreams

Vayeitzei is the Torah’s seventh parashah and “all sevenths are endeared.” It begins with a description of Jacob's dream, the dream of the ladder: “He dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven….” Later in the parashah, Jacob has another dream, the dream of the sheep: “I saw in a dream, and behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringed, speckled, and with streaks. And the angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying….”

The Torah’s Ten Dreams

After Jacob’s two dreams, at the end of the portion, God reveals Himself to Laban in a dream at night and warns him: “Take heed not to speak to Jacob either good or evil.” In the next parashah, Vayeishev, we read of Joseph’s two dreams and the two dreams of Pharoah’s chief butler and chief baker. In the parashah after that, Mikeitz (whose name also means to awaken—from a dream), the Torah relates two dreams dreamt by Pharaoh.

Altogether then, we have in the span of these three Torah portions 9 of the 10 dreams described in the Pentateuch. There is only one more dream in the Torah and it appears in parashat Vayeira.[16] That first dream described in the Torah is dreamt by Avimelech and in it God warns him not to touch Sarah). This is a good example of the principle, “disorder precedes order” (תֹּהוּ קֹדֶם לְתִקּוּן), which states that quite often, when a new concept or phenomenon is introduced in the Torah, it first appears in the context of something that is disordered or impure and only later appears in a positive and holy context. Although Avimelech’s dream was a true one, it is still a dream of someone who does not belong to holiness; he is, after all, Avimelech, king of the Philistines.

After this initial dream, dreams appear in a holy context with Jacob and Joseph’s dreams—Joseph representing the highest level of dreams. But after Joseph, the dreams deteriorate again and are given to Pharaoh’s ministers and then even to Pharaoh himself. Still, all four of these dreams were all for the purpose of helping Joseph and making him into the viceroy of Egypt. In that sense these final 4 dreams are like a stage of sweetening.

Altogether then, there are 10 dreams in the Torah, all in the Book of Genesis, dreamt by seven dreamers, three of whom have two dreams each. The correspondence to the ten sefirot is as follows:

Crown and kingdom: Pharaoh’s 2 dreams. Pharaoh’s name, according to the Zohar, means “the place from which all lights are distributed” and thus corresponds to both the sefirah of crown and the sefirah of kingdom, which is usually called, “the crown of kingdom” (כֶּתֶר מַלְכוּת). Wisdom and Beauty: Jacob’s 2 dreams. Jacob is the archetype of beauty (tiferet). But he is also related to wisdom through the idiom, “What is his name and what is his son’s name,” where “his son’s name” corresponds to beauty and “his name” corresponds to wisdom. Understanding and Foundation: Joseph’s 2 dreams. This relationship between Understanding and Foundation is captured in the Primordial King whose name was Saul (alluding to foundation), from the expanses of the river (alluding to understanding). Loving-kindness is Laban’s dream since Laban is “white” in Hebrew, which refers to loving-kindness. Victory and Acknowledgment correspond to Pharaoh’s two ministers. The chief butler corresponds with victory as he was ultimately restored to his position and was victorious, while the chief baker met with failure, which is alluded to by acknowledgment. Might corresponds to Avimelech’s dream, since “sovereignty is built out of might.”

Dreaming in Kislev

The majority of the Torah’s dreams appear in portions that are read during the month of Kislev, Even the first reading of of Mikeitz, which includes Pharaoh’s dreams, is read in the Shabbat Vayeishev’s Minchah service. Moreover, according to the Book of Formation, the soul-sense associated with the month of Kislev is sleep, which alludes to the sense of dreaming. Kislev is the month of dreams. The literal meaning of Kislev (כִּסְלֵו) is “trust” (כֶּסֶל). Dreams strengthen trust which is likened to the force of life as in the verse, “All life has trust,”[17] and this life force is exactly what dreams can give as alluded to in the verse, “You have restored me to health and revived me,”[18] where the word for “restored me to health” (וְתַחֲלִימֵנִי) stems from the same root as “dream” (חֲלוֹם).


(From a lecture given on the 6th of Kislev, 5781)




Sixth Reading: Rectifying the Imagination

“And Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s idols.”


Stealing Laban’s Idols—Saving Laban from his Imagination

Leah and Rachel were the daughters of Laban, who was a swindler. One of the most obvious symbols in the Torah for the power of imagination (and the worship that surrounds it) are Laban’s idols. The Hebrew word for idols in this case is terafim (תְּרָפִים), which is related to the word for “chemical medicine” (תְּרוּפָה)—suggesting that the rectification of the imagination is necessary in order to properly deal with false systems and false doctrines in psychology and beyond. Just as Jacob had to “steal” Laban’s heart—essentially, Laban’s trust in Jacob—in order to escape from his grip without his knowing about Jacob’s plans, so too Rachel stole Laban’s idols in order to release her father from the iron-grip idolatry had on his mind and heart; and yet, there are opinions that she was punished for this act, since in the end it disrespected her father.

When Laban caught up with Jacob and his family he searched everywhere for his idols. Finally, he came to Rachel who had indeed stolen the terafim. Why would Rachel be the one involved in rectifying her father’s power of imagination? The background story is that on her planned wedding night, when Laban cheated Jacob and switched her with Leah, Rachel in an act of emotional self-sacrifice passed the secret bodily gestures that Jacob had revealed to her to Leah so that Leah would not be ashamed if Jacob would suspect it was her and not Rachel whom he was wed to. On that very first night, Leah conceived Reuben. Now, legally, if Jacob was expecting Rachel, but ended up with Leah, having relations with a woman other than the one he meant to would put the conceived child, Reuben, in the category of a ben temurah—meaning, the son of another. There are 9 different types of blemishes that can relate to a child who was born from an irregular conception, a topic we have discussed elsewhere.[19] So how is it that Reuben is not considered to be blemished in this manner?

According to Kabbalah, by handing the bodily gestures over to Leah, Rachel is considered to have “impregnated” herself in Leah. It is as if Jacob was with Rachel that first night—following his pure intent. In return for her sacrifice, Leah gave Rachel the power to rectify their father’s imagination by stealing his idols. It is easy to surmise that just as Rachel gave Leah the gestures Jacob taught her—gestures that are considered to purify the mind of husband and wife during marital relations—so Leah gave Rachel the “gestures” taught to her by their father Laban—gestures, or techniques that would have prevented Jacob from realizing that he was having relations not with Rachel, but with someone else. These “gestures” are based on tricking the mind using Laban’s impure mastery of the powers of imagination and suggestion. So, though it was Leah who was meant to rectify Laban’s imagination, Rachel received the power to rectify Laban from Leah when she divulged the gestures Jacob had taught her. There is a beautiful allusion to this in the Torah, as the initials of the words, “She [Rachel] took the idols” (לָקְחָה אֶת הַתְּרָפִים) spell Leah (לֵאָה)!

That Laban’s consciousness is drowning in his imagination we see when he confronts Jacob and says, “the daughters [your wives] are my daughters, your children are my children, the cattle is my cattle, and all that you see belongs to me.”[20] As far as Laban is concerned, Jacob does not exist. He is nothing more than an imaginary placeholder connecting Laban with his extended holdings and property. Rachel wants to sever the hold that Laban’s imagination has on his mind, but in the process, she herself is affected by the impurity and reality-bending effect of her father’s idols. This is somewhat like what we have seen in our school here, that sometimes students come with knowledge of various methods they have learned elsewhere and believe that they have already succeeded in “converting” these methods making them kosher. But in reality, it is only their imagination that convinces them of this. How do we know that Rachel was made impure by the idols she stole from her father in her attempt to break their hold on him? Because she excuses herself for not standing up in his presence by saying, “I cannot stand before you, because I have the way of women.”[21] In other words, she herself is likening her state to one of the impurity of Niddah, whose essence is also related to the power of imagination, which leads to defilement.


(from a lecture given on the 13th of Av 5769)

[1]. Genesis 28:17.

[2]. Ibid. 37:1.

[3]. Bereishit Rabbah 68:7.

[4]. See Likutei Sichot vol. 10, pp. 88ff.

[5]. Torat Menachem vol. 45, pp. 188ff.

[6]. Proverbs 1:20.

[7]. Including the first essay in the Mittler Rebbe’s Torat Chaim. Both the Mittler Rebbe’s day of birth and day of passing are usually in the week of parashat Vayeitzei..

[8]. 1 Kings 5:12.

[9]. Yesodei HaTorah 2:2.

[10]. 1 Kings 3:9 and 3:12.

[11]. Proverbs 11:10.

[12]. Genesis 29:17.

[13]. See our website for parallels to other models.

[14]. I Chronicles 12:33.

[15]. It is customary to have this permutation in mind when saying the blessing of the new month in the musaf service of Rosh Chodesh.

[16]. Genesis 20:3 and ff.

[17]. Ecclesiastes 9:4.

[18]. Isaiah 38:16.

[19]. See Nedarim 20b. These nine blemishes correspond to the sefirot. The ben temurah, in this case Reuben, corresponds to the sefirah of beauty (tiferet), the sefirah corresponding to Jacob himself.

[20]. Genesis 31:43.

[21]. Ibid. 31:35.

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