For the first time since the inaugural Parashat Shelach devar torah, I’m writing the “Parasha Perspectives” section of Mt. Sinai’s announcements this week. The delay is most likely due to the changing of the people in charge, and the fact that Mt. Sinai has such a deep pool of talent.
Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Anyway, here’s this week’s for Parashat Vayetzei. Once again, the degree of difficulty is the one-page limit.
Despite the gentility associated with being an “ish tam,” Ya’akov is the
first in Tanach to become enraged to the point of “vayihar af.” When his
distressed wife Rachel implores “give me children or give me death,”
Ya’akov angrily chastises Rachel retorting that he is not an agent of God
who is responsible for Rachel’s infertility (Bereishit 30:1-2).
This anger of “yihar” and “yihar af” is frequently appears in the context
of insubordination or violating the parameters of an established
relationship. For interpersonal relationships, this would manifest
between older and younger siblings (Bereishit 4:5, 45:5), parents and
children (31:35), and kings and subjects (44:18) where the expected
superiority is somehow challenged. The anger of “vayihar” similarly
applies to religious insubordination, where Hashem’s authority is
challenged by those who ought to know better such as the instances of
Moshe’s reluctance to accept Hashem’s mission (Shemot 4:14) and the Jews’
sin by the Golden Calf (32:10).
From the content of Ya’akov’s response, we can infer that Rachel’s mistake
was spiritual. Her demand to Ya’akov assumed that it was entirely in
Ya’akov’s power to determine if she would have children. Even according
to the interpretations that Rachel was merely asking Ya’akov to pray for
her, her request assumed that all prayers from the righteous are
automatically answered. Since Rachel’s request implicitly questioned
Hashem’s power, Ya’akov responded with righteous indignation.
However, while Ya’akov’s anger may have been valid from a theological
perspective, the Midrash criticizes this display of hostility. In
Bereishit Rabba 71 Hashem asks “Is this how you answer a woman distressed
by her barenness? By your life, your children will one day stand before
hers!” Any perceived lack of faith on the part of Rachel was not the
result of rebellion, but rather an emotional outburst motivated by
anguish. Although Ya’akov was defending the spiritual authority, he
demonstrated a complete lack of sensitivity to someone who was internally
struggling. As a result for his failure in defending Hashem’s authority,
he would find his other children subordinate to Rachel’s.
Everyone experiences adversity in life, but not everyone responds the same
way. Sometimes people will suffer a crisis of faith or perhaps even adopt
mistaken or misguided beliefs in order to better cope with the situation.
While it is significantly easier to debate or rebuke, we must not ignore a
person’s emotional needs and motivations and remember to approach with
sympathy and compassion.