As I am sitting shiva for my mother, a’h, it will be impossible for me to offer an original contribution of my weekly Dvar Torah this Shabbos.
My mother was my biggest fan, dutifully reading each week an enlarged print version of my weekly offering over these past thirteen years. The loving pride she conveyed to me fueled my determination to maintain a streak of having not missed for 656 consecutive weeks.
Until this Shabbos.
Hashem in His infinite wisdom wants us at times to pause and reflect on how we got to our accomplishments in life.
My mother was a talented writer, who was able to articulate profound ideas in a most exquisite manner.
Her inspiration was never contrived but emanated from the purity of her emunah, and kind and sensitive soul.
In 1994 my daughter requested of her grandmother to share her history and lessons derived in that journey.
One paragraph, I believe, encapsulates the essence of who she was, and the legacy she bequeathed to us.
Be assured, that historical events occurring during people’s lifetime, always affect them one way or another. Hard times, if you manage to survive them, can make you stronger, more resourceful, and, hopefully, wiser!
You may not always have everything you want or think you need but you can learn to be happy with what you have.
To be alive and healthy and loved and capable of loving and giving to others is a great blessing.
Years ago, I wrote a piece that expounds on this very notion that if one can perceive and feel the love that Hashem extends toward us, one will then be capable of giving lovingly to others as well, and as my dear mother so eloquently stated, it will be a great blessing for us.
May it be a merit for her neshama!
Love and hate are immensely powerful words. The only place in the Torah we find its usage in actual circumstances is from Yitzchok Avinu and his descendants onward.
At the Akeidah, Yitzchok is described as the beloved son of his father Avraham, -בנך... אשר אהבת בראשית כב ב, your son that you love. The sentiment continues with the testament of Yitzchok’s love for his wife Rivkah, ויאהבה- שם כד סז, and he loved her.
The Torah then goes on to attest of love for their sons Esav and Yaakov, respectively. It segues to the seething hatred Esav harbors for Yaakov after his having stolen Esav’s blessing, the professed love of Yaakov for Rochel, the hatred Leah senses from her husband, an emotion she so desperately seeks to be free of through the bearing of sons unto him. Finally, the hatred that rears its ugly head between Yosef and his brothers.
When Reuvein is born he heralds a departure from “Uncle” Esav’s spiteful ways.
ראו מה בין בני לבן חמי (רש"י שם כט לב); ראו בן See the difference between my son and Esav, the son of my father-in-law. Esav despised the birthright and sold it contemptuously to Yaakov and then vowed to kill him, but Reuvein lost his cherished birthright to Yosef and not only did not hate him, he tried to save his life.
In the first half of the Torah’s recording of the births of the tribes, there appears to be much underlying tension.
Each of Leah’s first four children’s names reflect her struggle to capture the love of her husband. Rochel is described as envious of her sister and with much frustration blames Yaakov for her failure to bear children. Rochel in her barrenness and Leah having ceased from becoming pregnant again, both submit their maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah respectively, to Yaakov, producing four more sons.
Suddenly in the middle of all this raw emotion a strange episode takes place that subsequently leaves calm and blessing in its wake, with nary a trace of any remnant of all the previous high anxiety.
The Torah reports how Reuvein went out to the field in the days of the wheat harvest, וימצא דודאים בשדה -שם ל יד and discovers mandrakes in the field.
He presents them to his mother Leah. Rochel observing all this, requests of her sister to give her some of the mandrakes. Leah incredulously responds, “המעט קחתך, Isn’t it enough that you have taken away,את אישי , my husband? ...Now you even want to take my son’s mandrakes!” (שם שם טו)
Rochel retorts, “Therefore, he shall lie with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”
Yaakov returning from the field is greeted by Leah who informs him that she ‘hired’ him with the mandrakes, and he acquiesces without any protest.
From this union is born Yissacher followed by Zevulun and Dinah. Rochel is remembered and bears a son, Yosef. The flood gates of blessing spurt forth!
What happened here that suddenly transformed a world of tension into a home of tranquility?
At face value it would appear as if this interaction was laced with cynicism, anger and contempt.
How could Leah accuse the sister who saved her from the clutches of Esav as “having stolen her husband”?
In a departure from other commentaries, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch offers a remarkable and innovative understanding of these events.
Rather, the whole matter appears as an instance to show a state of the two sisters living together in the most confidential intimacy. While Yaakov is out in the fields the two wives sit together. His evenings he spends alternatively with each one of them. Reuvein, who was still a boy, brings some wildflowers home to his mother. “Give me some of them”, says Rochel. “What audacity to ask for my precious flowers, etc.” says Leah jokingly, but of course she gives her some. “Now”, says Rochel, “because you have been so kind, he shall come to you this evening”.
There is no indication Leah initiated a barter as she makes no evident request. She seems to have given from her flowers before the ‘deal’ is struck, indicating it was the loving sister Rochel who was gladly offering to give the night to her sister.
But what precipitated this new friendship? Wasn’t the undercurrent in the house of Yaakov stormier just a bit earlier?
The Zohar (תולדות דף קלד:) says the word דודאים is rooted in דודים, friends, perhaps a reference to the alliance between the body and the soul who are dear and loyal friends or to the quality of this fragrant flower that can induce love and camaraderie in others.
So often we get caught up in the struggle for our own definition. Our personal hopes and aspirations cloud our ability to see accurately the master plan of God. We allow ‘our’ expectations to drive our ambitions which so often lead to resentment.
We have to stand back a moment and ‘smell the roses’ reflecting on the larger picture that is being played out.
Reuvein possessed an ability to roll with the punches. Despite his errors and its consequences for his future, he remains unperturbed and unresentful, unlike his dear uncle Esav. He never let his failed expectations lead him to become morose and bitter.
Reuvein was deeply aware of his mother’s frustration and pain. He sought to inspire her with a bouquet of flowers, a touching expression of his thoughtfulness. Flowers give off an intangible scent which represents an awareness of a hidden beauty that is present in every facet of life.
With that new reality check, Leah and Rochel’s previous apprehensions quickly melted away in a moment of humorous honesty.
When they bridged that distance the gates of God’s benevolence rushed forth to fulfill their greatest hopes.
The word דודאים is the numerical equivalent to the name of God, אדנ-י, reflecting the loving presence of hashgacha behind all our encounters in life.
May we remove the artificial barriers we create that block us from healthy relationships and may we discover our common greatness and be deserving of God’s magnificent bounty in turn.
צבי יהודה טייכמאן