Sharing Torah Insights

Taking the high road

Posted on ט׳ בכסלו ה׳תש״ע (November 26, 2009) | in VaYetzei | by

This week’s parsha tells the story of Yaakov Avinu and his time spent working for Lavan, his evil father-in-law. As I explained in a previous Dvar Torah, the actions of our forefathers were very often a sign for what would happen to future generations. Chazal note that Yaakov, throughout his time with Lavan, was giving us a model for how we are supposed to successfully navigate Galut (exile) as Jews living among the non-Jewish nations.

The Shulchan Aruch learns an interesting halacha from the story of Yaakov. It states in the laws of hiring workers (חושן משפט הלכות שכירות פועלים סימן שלז):

מוזהר הפועל שלא יבטל מעט כאן ומעט כאן, אלא חייב לדקדק על עצמו בזמן… וכן חייב לעבוד בכל כחו, שהרי יעקב הצדיק אמר: כי בכל כחי עבדתי את אביכן (בראשית לא, ו); לפיכך נטל שכרו אף בעולם הזה, שנאמר: ויפרוץ האיש מאד מאד (בראשית ל, מג)

The worker should be careful to not waste a little [time] here and a little there. Rather, he is obligated to be very meticulous with his time…additionally, he has to work with his full strength, since it says about Yaakov our father, “Because with my full strength I served your father [Lavan](Genesis 31:6).”  Therefore, he received reward even in this [physical] world as it states: “And the man [Yaakov] became very very wealthy (Genesis 30:43).”

(This law is later qualified to state that an employer cannot force his workers to work harder or more efficiently than customary in a particular place.)

With this in mind, why is the major lesson for us from Yaakov’s time in exile his meticulous and unparalleled work ethic?

In the story of Yaakov and Lavan, Yaakov continually holds himself to a much higher standard that was expected by society. Yaakov gives Lavan a list of examples at the end of the Parsha about how scrupulously honest he was while working for Lavan.  Yaakov didn’t eat the weak rams that weren’t needed for fathering more sheep when he was shepherding far away from civilization, even though that was common practice. Even more amazingly, Yaakov paid Lavan out of his own flock even for the sheep that were stolen at night — a problem he certainly could not have been faulted for.

While Yaakov was rewarded by Hashem monetarily for his high morals and became prosperous while working for Lavan, his other “reward” was extreme animosity from Lavan’s sons, who claimed absurdly that Yaakov had made himself rich at the expense of Lavan, despite direct evidence that employing Yaakov benefited the finances of the entire family.

Throughout history we have seen this story play out over and over again, with Jews being accused falsely for unscrupulous business practices followed by the worst pogroms we can imagine. If this is the “reward” for being honest in business, is it really worth it?

While Yaakov did have to deal with the animosity of Lavan and his sons, when things got rough he was also given a promise from Hashem. The pasuk says (31:3 בְּרֵאשִׁית):

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-יַעֲקֹב, שׁוּב אֶל-אֶרֶץ אֲבוֹתֶיךָ וּלְמוֹלַדְתֶּךָ; וְאֶהְיֶה, עִמָּךְ.

And the LORD said to Jacob: ‘Return to the land of your fathers, and to your kindred; and I will be with you.’

The Abarbanel says that this means that Hashem will protect Yaakov from Lavan and prevent the resentful and angry Lavan from harming Yaakov at all. We see this happen right after Yaakov takes his family and leaves Lavan’s house to return to Israel.  While Lavan is angrily pursuing Yaakov, Hashem comes to him in a dream and warns him not to say or do anything bad to Yaakov.

From this story we see that even if we act completely morally, antisemitism will still exist and we will still need extra protection from Hashem. Yaakov had to be able to say to Lavan that he had been flawless in their business relationship in order to ensure that Lavan had absolutely no claim to exact from him before they finally parted ways to ensure that Hashem’s extra protection was warranted.

In this way, Yaakov set the model for contemporary Jewish society. By living our lives as morally as we can and remaining scrupulously honest in all of our business practices, we ensure that Hashem’s promise to Yaakov will be with us as well and that we will continue to thrive and build the Jewish people despite our living in exile.

Have a wonderful Shabbat.

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2 Responses to “Taking the high road”

  1. Todd Wilkof says:

    to be shared tonight at the wilkof shabbat table


    Liron Kopinsky Reply:

    Glad you liked it.


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