Eliphaz’s Problem by Sam Reinstein

(2004/5765) The Parsha begins with Yaakov leaving Be’er Sheva to
travel to Charan in accordance with his parents’ instructions. One of
the reasons was Yitzchak’s objection to the Canaanite women. Not
wanting Yaakov to marry one of these women, as Esav had done,
Yitzchak sent Yaakov to find a wife from Charan. When he reached
Charan, Yaakov met Rivka’s niece Rachel, whom he immediately
kissed. Yet when they met, the Torah tells us, “Yaakov kissed
Rachel, and he raised his voice and wept” (29:11). If Yaakov was
so overjoyed to meet Rachel, why did he cry?
A number of reasons are given. Seforno explains that
Yaakov was seventy-seven years old when he met Rachel, having
left home at the age of sixty-three and spent fourteen years studying
at the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever. Had he met his wife earlier, he
would have had grown children by now. He realized that it is better
for children to have a young, energetic father. This saddened him,
and he cried.
Rashi provides two alternative reasons for Yaakov’s
distress. First, Yaakov saw, through Divine inspiration, that Rachel
would not be buried with him in Mearat Hamachpelah. Unlike
Seforno who maintains that Yaakov cried because of his past
failure, Rashi indicates that he cried because of what would happen
in the future.
Rashi’s second explanation relates Yaakov’s crying to what
he was experiencing at that moment. Yaakov came to Rachel
empty-handed, i.e., with no gifts for her, unlike when Eliezer had
come to Rivka on behalf of Yitzchak with jewelry and precious
stones that for her. Quoting the Midrash , Rashi explains why
Yaakov did not follow his father’s and grandfather’s lead in bringing
gifts for his bride. When Yaakov ran from his parents’ home, he
narrowly escaped Esav’s anger. Esav sent his eldest son Eliphaz to
pursue Yaakov and murder him. He told Eliphaz that by killing
Yaakov, Eliphaz would be able to regain the first born right that Esav
had sold to Yaakov. Eliphaz, who had learned from his father the
critical importance of Kibud Av (honoring one’s father), did not dare
ignore Esav’s command. Therefore, he pursued Yaakov and
overtook him. However, he was unable to carry out his mission
because of a moral dilemma. Since he had been raised in
Yitzchak’s household, an environment of Mitzvot and morals, he
was not capable of committing murder. Because his father’s
directive was a direct violation of the Mitzvot he had learned, he
asked Yaakov to advise him how to obey his father while still
avoiding a grave sin. Yaakov taught him the principle of “Ani
Chashuv Kimeit”, a destitute man is considered to be like a dead
man (Nedarim 64b). Accordingly, Eliphaz took all of Yaakov’s
belongings, causing Yaakov to be like a dead person. Thus, he was
able to fulfill his father’s wishes, since Yaakov could now be
considered “dead.” For this reason, Yaakov had no gifts for Rachel. As Esav’s son, Eliphaz had the evil characteristic of
murder in his genes. However, because of his time in an
environment with fine teachers such as Yitzchak, Rivka, and
Yaakov to show him the correct path in life, he overcame his
negative tendencies and did not murder Yaakov Avinu.
Clearly, the importance of having good teachers in one’s
youth cannot be overstated.

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