by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – November 26, 2009
In Bereshit 27:10, we are informed, “Jacob left Beersheba.” Eventually, Jacob reaches the town of Lavan, the brother of his mother Rebecca. In this town, he meets Lavan’s daughter Rachel. Upon later coming to Lavan’s house, we are told, “Jacob loved Rachel and he said [to Lavan], ‘I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter’ (Bereshit 29:18)”.
After making this agreement with Lavan, and after serving the full seven years agreed upon, Lavan deceives his nephew Jacob and substitutes his older daughter Leah for Rachel. “And [Jacob] said to Lavan, ‘What is this that you did to me? Did I not serve you for Rachel? Why then have you beguiled me?'” (Bereshit 29:25). Subsequently, Lavan forces Jacob to slave for him another seven years before he allows Jacob to marry Rachel.
After marrying Rachel, Jacob worked for Lavan “another seven years” (Bereshit 29:30). Finally, “Jacob said to Lavan, ‘Send me away that I may go to my place and to my country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you and I will go'” (Bereshit 30:25-26).
Before Jacob’s departure, Lavan ostensibly agrees to Jacob’s proposal for compensation for his many years of servitude. Jacob suggests to Lavan, “I will pass through all your flock today removing from there all the speckled and spotted sheep and any brown lamb among the sheep and the spotted and speckled among the goats and it shall be my hire” (Bereshit 30:32). Lavan, however, has one trick left up his sleeve. He, himself, removes all the sheep and goats that he promised to Jacob and takes them far away from Jacob. In a final attempt to get his due compensation from Lavan, Jacob arranges specially formed rods that would resemble speckling and spotting, which, we are told, induced the sheep and goats to conceive speckled and spotted offspring. Biblical critics, upon considering this episode, tend to discount it as a manifestation of a belief in “sympathetic magic”. However, such a simplistic analysis of the matter misses a major point. When Jacob discusses the episode with his wives, Leah and Rachel, he declares, “Your father deceived me…but G-d did not allow him to harm me. If [Lavan] said thus: the speckled shall be your wages, then all the sheep would bear speckled; and if he had said thus: the striped shall be your wages, then all the sheep would bare striped. Thus, G-d has taken away your father’s cattle and given [them] to me (Bereshit 31:7-9).” In explaining the peculiar phenomenon of the birth of speckled and spotted sheep and goats after their mothers’ gazing upon multi-colored rods, Jacob emphasizes G-d’s role in the matter. It was G-d who was truly and ultimately responsible for this phenomenon. Jacob, after being deceived once again by Lavan, was faced with a grim situation. He had a large family and no money, and Lavan was trying to trick him into becoming his lifetime slave. Jacob had to try what he could to save himself. Whether he was confident that it would work or not, Jacob made use of the science prevalent in his day. However, ultimately, Jacob did not rely on this. Jacob insists, “The G-d of my father was with me” (Bereshit 31:5). Jacob ultimately relied on G-d, and G-d, in His omnipotence, performed a miracle for Jacob. And even if Jacob were not confident in his plan, he would not simply sit back and just wait for G-d to perform miracles. Jacob realized that “we are not to rely upon a miracle” (Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 64b). When faced with a difficult situation, one should make every effort to solve it – even if that effort has little possibility of producing the necessary results. Only when one recognizes the gravity of the problem to the extent that he finds it worthy to go out of his way to make every slim effort to solve it, can he expect G-d to find it worthy for Him to intercede in the course of nature and produce the desired result.
Like Jacob, we all, at times, face situations of an unfavorable nature. If, when faced with such situations, we just sit back and hope for a miracle, we should not be surprised when such a miracle does not arise. Only if we show that the consequences of the situation are important enough for us to make whatever effort to produce a favorable outcome, can we hope for G-d to assist us. And if we are deserving of it, G-d will help us.