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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Yonah Burr

Vayetzei: Total Selflessness

ויהי בבקר והנה היא לאה

And it was in the morning, and behold it was Leah.

We are all familiar with the well-known Medrash; Yaakov actually anticipated all of Lavan’s shenanigans and tried to stay one step ahead of the game. “I will work for your youngest daughter Rachel”- every detail spelled out, to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding. ברחל בתך הקטנה has even become a Hebrew expression describing the need to preclude any loophole or trick.

On top of all of this, Yaakov gave Rachel a secret password to be used to identify herself to Yaakov, and again to safeguard against Lavan passing off another girl for Rachel. But in the end, when Lavan indeed switched Rachel and Leah, Rachel realized that Leah would be humiliated and gave her the password. At the time, Rachel had no way of knowing that she would eventually marry Yaakov also. As far as she was concerned, she was essentially giving her ‘bashert’ away to her older sister.

This was the epitome of selflessness, forfeiting her destiny so not to embarrass her sister!

Later on, something perplexing happens. Reuvain is picking flowers to give his mother Leah. A distraught Rachel asks Leah if she can have the flowers instead. What is Leah’s reaction? Instead of graciously giving her younger sister the Dudaim, she cries out, "Was your taking my husband insignificant? And now to take even my son’s Dudaim?”

There is obviously extreme emotion and pain being felt on both sides, but we can only wonder at Leah’s claim! How can she accuse Rachel of "taking her husband" when it was only thanks to Rachel’s sacrifice that Leah is married to Yaakov at all?

We must conclude that Rachel never even told Leah what she did for her! Not only did Rachel risk giving up everything for Leah, she didn’t even let Leah know how close she was to the edge, and how Rachel saved her and gave her everything.

This is sacrifice beyond comprehension, the purest form of chessed without any ulterior motive or recognition.

Our Sages teach that when the Jewish People were led into Galus, only Rachel was able to secure a promise from Hashem to eventually return them to their homeland. קול ברמה נשמע, רחל מבכה על בניה.

Why? Because of her selfless act of saving her sister. This one chessed released such a cosmic spiritual nuclear energy that its effects are felt eternally. It is this act that ensures the survival of the entire Jewish People and guarantees our return from galus. The next time we have an opportunity to help someone or to relieve someone’s suffering, let us remember how powerful such an act can be and how eternal the effects can last!

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

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