This week’s parsha Vayetsay introduces us to our final two matriarchs, Rachel and Leah. We would expect this final synthesis of legendary greats to be a chapter of sweet harmony and a dearth of shalom bayis.
Lo and behold- upon strolling into the parsha we find ourselves bombarded by an apparently fiendish competition between two sisters, who seem to be in a rat race for supremacy in the house of Jacob. The children are also pulled into the family feud, starting with their names. Many names of the tribes seem to be a plea or a stab by each mother attempting to win Jacob over to her side. For example, Levi’s name means that Leah hopes with this third son her husband will accompany “Levaya” her. And upon having a sixth child (Zebulin), now equal to all the other wives combined, Leah beseeches that Yakov should now dwell (Zebel) with her.
Rachel is no less feisty, for after having been barren and forlorn for so many years, she gives over her maidservant to bear her children. Later on Rachel takes further action to have children of her own, and contends with Leah for her fertility herbs. And finally with Divine grace, her womb is finally opened with Yosef- and yet her reaction is not of simple gratitude and indebtedness, rather she immediately asks for more (yasaf).
“Jealousy/competitiveness, lusts, and honor-seeking drive a person out of his world” -Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) In addition to the ethical reprimands regarding the bad trait of envy/jealousy, there are halachic ramifications as well. For instance, one may not open a business too close to a competitor of the same trade, and if he does, he has a status of one who is threatening the livelihood of another. Seemingly the same would apply if a scholar tried to open a yeshiva right next to another one. However the halacha is he is permitted and even commended, based on another axiom in Judaism that “the jealousy of scholars increases wisdom”, while any who attempt to oppose him are breaking the law. Why? What is the difference?
We can distinguish between two forms of jealousy and two methods of competition. That which is decidedly disgraceful is when one person is trying to outdo another; when the goal is to be on top and your adversary on the bottom. When there are only so many pieces of the pie to go around, the more he gets, the less there is for me; the more players contending, the scarcer the market and the tougher and more selfish one is forced to act.
On the other hand, when the goal is spiritual, there is always plenty to go around. One person’s understanding of the Torah in now way limits your potential, and if I have an insight before my chevrusa, I lose nothing by sharing it with him – in fact I gain, for we can sharpen each other. What’s more, is the ultimate gain that one has by sharing and by being communal versus selfish, is that one matures into being a giver, which, by the way, would seem to be the best way for any of us to resemble (and hence come closer,) to our Creator.
Having this appreciation of how we interact with our goals, and how they in turn interact with us is a tremendous key to happiness and peace of mind, for if one increases his interest in spiritual goals, he increases the spheres of his life where competition gives way to bounty. A company or family emphasizing chesed and sensitivity invites a harmonious environment of mutual growth, as opposed to your anxiety at the new shark in the firm, to whom you would never dream of divulging your secrets of success to.
In light of this we can have a new perspective on our parsha. Yakov stood at the helm of a fledgling new holy nation, destined for greatness, and these two great women (nieces of Rebecca, and relatives of Avraham) appreciated that. They were not satisfied to sit idly and accept whatever lot fell into their lap, for there is no virtue in passivity when it comes to self perfection and serving the Creator, for that is life itself. One litmus test to ascertain whether or not one’s envy of another’s greatness is commendable, or negative, is checking how one feels at the other’s success and failure. If one is purely envious towards the other as a role model, then respect and love should flow naturally.
And so we see when Laban switched Rachel for Leah, she gave Leah the signs that Yakov had given her on the apprehension that Laban would try just such a shtick. But Rachel was so concerned that her sister not be shamed that she overlooked her own desires to marry Yakov. Leah as well, was about to have a seventh child, and knowing that there were to be no more tribes, had mercy on her sister who, with only one child, was not yet even on par with the maidservants, and so Leah prayed for a switch, whereby she conceived Dinah while Rachel bore Benjamin.
We should all merit to learn from the virtues of our forefathers to strive for greatness and look to our tzadikim (righteous ones) in our past and present to inspire us all to achieve our potential as individuals and as a nation.
Wishing you a lovely shabbos,
-Beth Shifra Crew