Nehama Leibowitz on Lavan’s Substitution by Aryeh Krischer


In this week’s Parashah, Ya’akov shepherds Lavan’s sheep for seven years in an attempt to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage. Lavan tricks Ya’akov and gives him Leah at the wedding instead of Rachel. The Midrash Tanchuma relates the following conversation the next morning when Ya’akov discovers he has mistakenly married Leah: Ya’akov confronts Leah, asking, “Why did you trick me?” Leah responds, “You tricked your father by lying and pretending to be Eisav, and now you are angry at me for tricking you?” From this conversation it is clear that divine retribution for Ya’akov’s trickery is coming via Lavan’s trickery. Hashem is paying Ya’akov back in a manner of Midah Keneged Midah. Just like he tricked his father into thinking he was Eisav, God punished Ya’akov by tricking him into marrying the wrong girl.

This idea is supported in BeReishit 29:26, “VaYomer Lavan ‘Lo YeiAseh Chein BiMkomeinu Lateit HaTzieirah Lifnei HaBechirah,’” “Lavan said ‘Such is not done in our place, to give the younger [in marriage] before the firstborn.’” Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi notes an interesting thing about this Pasuk: The Pasuk talks of the “younger” and “firstborn” instead of Ketanah and Gedolah, “smaller” and “bigger,” as used earlier in the Parashah. We can learn that when the Torah uses the word “firstborn,” it is evoking the relationship between Ya’akov and Eisav. Thus Lavan’s full response is: “Where you come from, they may let the younger take precedence over the elder, but not here.” It doesn’t matter how justified it is, deception is ultimately repaid with deception. As punishment for his deception regarding Yitzchak and his Brachot, Ya’akov was tricked into marrying Leah before Rachel, which led to enormous familial strife later on—about which wife was more prevalent, and which children were more “preferred.” Deception never goes unpunished—a powerful lesson for all time.

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