In this week's Parsha, the Torah outlines in great detail Yaakov Avinu's
sojourn with his wicked uncle, Lavan Ha'arami. Yaakov toiled day and night
for seven years to win the hand of Lavan's daughter, Rochel, in marriage.
After the wedding feast, however, Lavan the charlatan tricked Yaakov by
substituting his younger daughter, Leah, for Rochel.
Yaakov discovered the subterfuge only in the morning, and was forced to work
for another seven years to earn the right to marry Rochel. The Talmud in
Megillah (daf 13) tells us that Yaakov recognized Lavan's fraudulent nature;
he anticipated that his crafty uncle might switch daughters on him and had
therefore provided Rochel with a secret code that she would whisper to him
in the dark, assuring him of her true identity.
When Rochel saw her sister being led to Yaakov, she realized the shame Leah
would suffer at being rejected when she failed to exchange the agreed upon
code with Yaakov. Her compassion for her sister overrode her own aspirations
to marry Yaakov, and she divulged to Leah the secret signs.
The merit of Rochel's selfless deed, the Talmud says, elicited Divine mercy
for her and all future Jewish generations. The Talmud relates that it was in
that merit of her extraordinary selflessness that she was designated as the
forbearer of King Shaul. In addition, it will be Rochel's entreaties to
Hashem in the merit of her noble actions that will trigger the ultimate
The obvious question is that while Rochel did indeed demonstrate great
nobility of character in sharing the secret code with Leah, how could she
bring herself to deceive and disappoint Yaakov? He would now be forced to
assume a lifetime marital responsibility for Leah against his will. Was it
fair to impose this sacrifice on him?
The famed maggid of Jerusalem, Rav Sholom Schwadron, answers the question
with a beautiful story.
Shortly after the war of independence, right before the festival of
Passover, a young fellow was tragically killed in Jerusalem in an artillery
barrage launched by Jordanians on the city of Jerusalem. His distraught
widow was left to look after her three young children alone.
Rav Yehoshua Brim, a venerable scholar in Jerusalem, assumed responsibility
for the family's welfare. He drafted a yeshiva student to come to the
bereaved home on the night of Passover to conduct the seder for the widow
and her young charges. After the evening service, Rabbi Brim went from the
synagogue to the home of the family to ensure that the young fellow had
arrived and that their needs were well taken care of.
To his dismay, he saw that the yeshiva student had failed to show up. After
waiting a short while, he stood up and made Kiddush for the family and
proceeded to conduct a beautiful seder for them. To the widow's joy, he
shared with the children the story of the Exodus and delighted them with a
reenactment of the ten plagues.
It was late at night when the children finally fell asleep around the seder
table, at which point he left the widow's home to take care of his own family.
He entered his home, greeted his family and began once again conducting the
seder service and recounting the story of the exodus. His wife and children,
however, were agitated over his long absence and the anxious and frustrating
wait they had endured. After the meal, when emotions were calmer, he
explained to them the reason for his extended delay.
His wife, still troubled, remarked, "It was very nice that you performed
such a mitzvah, but what about the family waiting at home? Doesn't charity
begin at home?
Rabbi Brim responded by relating a story about a time, two years earlier,
when he had visited the great sage, the Chazon Ish, who exhorted him to find
a suitable mate for a friend of his, an older bochur who had still not found
his bashert. Rabbi Brim introduced his friend to a wonderful young girl from
Tel Aviv and the two scheduled their engagement party. To the delight of the
young man, the Chazon Ish promised to attend the party.
When Rabbi Brim arrived at the Chazon Ish's home to bring him to the party,
the Chazon Ish was sitting with a young couple engaged in earnest
conversation. The sage continued to talk with this couple for over an hour
while Rabbi Brim fidgeted and agitated outside the room.
Finally, the Chazon Ish concluded his discussion with the young couple and
escorted them to the door. He explained to Rabbi Brim as they left for the
engagement party that the young couple with whom he had spent so much time
were Holocaust survivors who had married in a DP camp and just recently
arrived in the Holy Land. They had very little money and needed advice on
how to establish themselves in business. They were about to open a
haberdashery store and detailed to the Chazon Ish each and every purchase
that they were about to make to stock their new store.
The Chazon Ish told Rabbi Brim that he understood that he was keeping many
people waiting by spending so much time with the couple. By the many
individuals at the party were equally responsible for this young couple's
welfare, he said. By waiting patiently, they too were sharing in the mitzvah
of ensuring the financial security of these two battered survivors who were
alone in the world.
Rabbi Brim explained to his family that upon entering the widow's house and
grasping the situation, he knew that he had to take care of their needs by
conducting their seder. It wasn't his responsibility alone, he said, but
rather the shared responsibility of his family. By keeping their own seder
on hold until the bereaved woman and her orphans were taken care of, the
entire family played an important role in bringing the joy of yom tov to the
In this vein, Rabbi Schwadron explains, Rochel realized that Yaakov too, was
responsible to ensure that Leah did not suffer mortal shame by being exposed
as part of Lavan's bait-and-switch. He too, carried an obligation to enable
her to share in weaving the destiny of the Jewish people by helping to build
the twelve tribes.
This concept of shared responsibility is the central theme that established
our nation as one. There are many tribes, streams of expression and shades
of observance within the Jewish people, but ultimately the recognition that
we are all responsible for one another is the source of our greatness, and
with it we will ultimately merit the Divine redemption.