The Empty Tent by Rabbi Ezra Weiner


This week’s Parsha is not the first time we encounter the unique spelling of אהלה (“his tent”) as is found in the Pasuk: ויסע ישראל ויט אהלה מאהלה למגדל עדר.  The replacing of a “ו” with a “ה” in the word אהלה appears originally in Parshat Noach (9:21) and twice in Parshat Lech Lecha (12:8 and 13:3). Rav Hirsch explains that אהלה (ending with a “ה,” denoting feminine nature) designates the tent that is occupied by both husband and wife in which the wife is the ruler of the household.  This was represented in the tents of Noach, Avraham, and as our Parsha relates, Yaakov as well.

However, as Yaakov’s love for Rachel was paramount, only the tent that he shared with Rachel merited the title of אהלה.  It is possible, therefore, that immediately following the burial of Rachel the Pasuk above attempts to convey that Yaakov pitched the tent that he could unfortunately no longer share with Rachel far away from the rest of his family and encamped there alone.  As long as Rachel was alive, he lived with the other wives as well, but now that she was gone he separated himself from the others.  The next Pasuk relates, ויהי בשכן ישראל בארץ ההיא וילך ראובן וישכב את פילגש אביו וישמע ישראל, “And it was when Yisrael (Yaakov) settled in the land and Reuven went and slept with [Bilha], his father’s concubine, and Yisrael heard.”

Reuven, the Bechor of the family, deemed it a necessity, if not an obligation, to demonstrate that Yaakov’s abandonment of the tents of his other wives was inappropriate.  Reuven therefore slept in Bilha’s tent so that his father should realize that although Rachel died, the tents of his other wives are noticeably incomplete and that his absence is having an effect on the entire family.  וישמע ישראל, Yaakov listened, but emotionally and quite possibly physically remained somewhat apart from his wives.  As the Pasuk concludes, Yaakov had twelve sons — once Rachel died, he had no more children.

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