Eliphaz’s Problem by Sam Reinstein


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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