Monday, November 4, 2013


Bereishis, 30:10-11: “And it was, when Yaakov saw Rachel, daughter of Lavan his mother’s brother, and the flock of Lavan his mother’s brother, Yaakov came forward and rolled the stone from upon the mouth of the well and watered the sheep of Lavan his mother’s brother. Then Yaakov kissed Rachel; and he raised his voice and wept.” Rashi, 30:11: sv. And he wept:...Alternatively [he cried] because he came with empty hands…[because] Eiphaz, Esav’s son, pursued him, at the command of his father, to kill him. He overtook him but because he [Eliphaz] grew up in the close embrace of Yitzchak, he withdrew his hand. He [Eliphaz] said to him [Yaakov], ‘What should I do about my father’s command?’ Yaakov said to him, ‘take that which is in my hand and the poor man is considered like a dead person’. Rashi provides us with the background as to why Yaakov came empty-handed to Lavan. His nephew Eliphaz stole all his belongings. The Midrash elaborates on Eliphaz’ mindset in his encounter with his uncle telling us that he had a great quandary - he said to himself: “What shall I do so as not to kill him [Yaakov] and yet fulfill my father’s command?” His solution was to rob Yaakov of all his possessions (including his clothes). Since a poor man is considered dead he felt that in a certain way he had fulfilled his father’s command. One may have thought that Eliphaz’s motivation in stripping Yaakov of his possessions was purely out of fear of his father. Based on this Midrash it is clear that he had a moral dilemma. On the one hand he knew it was wrong to murder an innocent man, but on the other hand he felt he had an obligation to honor his father’s command. Had he totally followed HaShem’s will he would have realized that in this instance there was no reason to follow his father’s command since it was overridden by ratson HaShem. Superficially this contradiction may seem understandable but the actions of his great-grandfather, Avraham Avinu, demonstrate that Eliphaz’ reasoning was seriously flawed. Avraham was also faced with the dilemma that G-d’s will seriously clashed with that of his father, Terach. The well-known Midrash tells us how Avraham destroyed all but one of his father’s idols and then claimed that the biggest idol destroyed the others, thereby exposing the foolishness of his father’s belief system. We know that honoring one’s parents is a fundamental concept according to the Torah so how could Avraham act in such a seemingly disrespectful fashion? The answer is that honoring one’s parents does not mean that one is obligated to follow in their lifestyle if it is incongruent with following G-d’s will. Indeed Jewish law clearly states that whilst a child must listen to his parent’s requests, this is not the case if they command him to do something that contradicts the Torah. Accordingly, Avraham was correct in rejecting his father’s values and exposing their fallacies, because that was G-d’s will. Eliphaz, in contrast, did not realize that when his father commanded him to commit murder, there was no moral obligation whatsoever to listen to him. We learn from the contrast between Avraham and Eliphaz that the sole guide to morality is ratson HaShem (G-d’s will) which, after the Giving of the Torah, is manifest in the laws of the Torah. One may not listen to any other source of influence - whether it be one’s parents, society, or superiors - that contradicts this ultimate goal.

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