The sequence of events that resulted in the return of Yaakov and his
family members to Eretz Canaan after twenty years in the house of Lavan
requires careful analysis – and contains powerful lessons.
The Torah relates (Bereshis 31:1-2) how Yaakov developed a growing sense
of unease as Lavan and his family members began resenting Yaakov’s
increasing material success. First he overheard the sons of Lavan
complaining that Yaakov had accumulated all of his wealth by taking the
resources of their father. Then Yaakov carefully watched the facial
expressions of Lavan when in his presence – which only confirmed his fears
that Lavan was acting unusually hostile to him. In the following pasuk
(31:3), Hashem informed Yaakov that it was time for him to leave the house
of Lavan and return home to Eretz Cannan.
The Ohr Hachayim points out that the Torah relates these facts in three
successive pesukim to explain the sudden exit of Yaakov – who did not give
Lavan notification of his departure. Were Yaakov commanded by Hashem to
leave without having seen the signs of hostility, he would have informed
Lavan that he was about to leave. If he would only have noticed these
signs and not been notified by Hashem that it was time to go, he would
have reflected as to the array of his options. Both together, comments the
Ohr Hachayim, suggested that it was time for him to leave immediately.
Bringing His Wives Along … Slowly
I would like to suggest an additional explanation to the entire sequence
of events, one whose logical underpinnings are supported by the thought-
provoking discussions that took place between Yaakov and his wives
immediately following these pesukim.
Yaakov responded to the crisis of the distressing news regarding his
eroding relationship with Lavan by calling his wives out to the fields
where he worked. Once there, Yaakov informed them in great detail
(Bereshis 31:5-10) of their father’s duplicity and how Lavan had
continuously attempted to deprive Yaakov of his wages with a variety of
nefarious measures. (It is interesting to note that this seems to be the
first time that Yaakov discussed the character flaws of his father-in-law
with his wives.) Only after these pragmatic reasons for leaving were
discussed did Yaakov mention (31:11) that Hashem had commanded him to
This seems quite puzzling. Why didn’t Yaakov simply announce that he would
be following Hashem’s direct order to return home? The answer would appear
to be that Yaakov was looking to lower the level of difficulty for his
wives to follow Hashem’s command by shedding light on Lavan’s hostile
actions. But this raises an additional question: How did Yaakov come to
the conclusion that this was the right course of action? What led him to
take the longer, more patient route to his objective of getting the
support of his wives for the word of Hashem?
A Personal Example … and a Lesson for Life
I would like to suggest that Yaakov reflected upon how Hashem had acted
with him and then charted a similar course for his interactions with his
wives. Perhaps Yaakov noticed that Hashem did not speak to him about
leaving the house of Lavan until Yaakov became painfully aware of Lavan’s
darker side – giving Yaakov a pragmatic reason for leaving as well as the
need to follow the word of Hashem. (It is interesting to note that Hashem
took a similar approach when telling Avraham to move to Eretz Cannan at
the beginning of Parshas Lech Lecha, promising him material as well as
spiritual benefits as a reward for making the move.) Once Yaakov
understood Hashem’s lesson that the longer path is often the shorter and
more effective one, he used a similar strategy when speaking to his wives.
As we grow older and wiser, we tend to look to expand our sphere of
influence. In our excitement, we are often tempted to rush others (and
sometimes even ourselves) along inappropriately before they are ready for
the next step. But that approach is almost certainly doomed to failure.
Skipping many steps while climbing a ladder (which interestingly was the
theme of Yaakov’s dream in this week’s parsha) often results in a crash
that erases all progress that was already made.
Following the slow, sustained path to growth as prescribed by the Rambam
(Hilchos Teshuva 10:1 and 10:5) results in the realization of our goals –
for ourselves and for those we wish to influence.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.