Near the conclusion of this week’s Parasha, Yitzchak instructs Yaakov, “Lo Tikach Ishah MiBenot Kenaan Kum Leich Padenah Aram Beitah Betuel Avi Imecha VeKach Lecha MiSham Ishah MiBenot Lavan Achi Imecha,” “You shall not take a wife from amongst the daughters of Canaan. Arise and go to Paddan Aram, to the house of Betuel, your mother’s father, and take a wife from there, from the daughters of Lavan, your mother’s brother” (Bereishit 28:1). Instead of going straight to Paddan Aram, Yaakov stopped by the Yeshiva of Sheim VeEiver to learn - for fourteen years. A simple question arises: Yaakov was already 63 years old. The Torah describes Yaakov as “Ish Tam Yosheiv Ohalim,” “a quiet man who sits in tents” (25:27). Chazal (Bereishit Rabbah 63:15, cited by Rashi 25:27 s.v. Yosheiv) explain that these tents were the tents, or Yeshivot, of Shiem VeEiver. Yaakov had learnt at this Yeshiva when he was younger, and now, both of his parents urge him to immediately go find a wife in the land of Charan. So why now, of all times, does Yaakov deem that going to learn at a Yeshiva is necessary? What urges him to do so? Additionally, according to Chazal, Yaakov learned nonstop for fourteen years without even a wink of sleep. Why did he decide to do so?
Rabbi Yechiel Michel Kossowsky, the former chief rabbi of Johannesburg, answers this query by referring to a previous episode in Yaakov’s journey to Paddan Aram. Eliphaz, the son of Eisav, was bid by his angry father to track down and kill Yaakov. Rashi (29:11 s.v. VaYeivch) explains that Yaakov suggested that Eliphaz take all of his money, a small fortune which he had brought along as a dowry for Lavan’s daughter. Eliphaz could fulfill his father’s command of killing Yaakov and still save Yaakov’s life, since a poor person is considered a dead person. Ideally, though, Yaakov should have arrived at Lavan’s house as a rich groom, with all the money that Rivkah and Yitzchak endowed to him when he left. He would “buy” his wife and then return home immediately without dwelling with Lavan for an extended period of time. But now, Yaakov is left with nothing, and knows that Lavan won’t give his daughter until Yaakov works for him for a number of years. Living in Lavan’s domain for an extended amount of time, which wasn’t part of the first plan, would require more Torah study than Yaakov had done in his earlier years. Consequently, he had to go to Yeshiva for a strong dose of learning, which would allow him to say that he had lived with Lavan for twenty years and still had kept all of the Mitzvot (Rashi 32:5 s.v. Garti).
Yaakov knew through Ruach HaKodesh that he had to stay for fourteen years at the Yeshiva to correspond to the fourteen years of work that he had to do in order to acquire Rachel and Leah. To substantiate this parallel, we need look no further than Yaakov’s meeting with Lavan on his way back to Eretz Yisrael. After Lavan searched all of Yaakov’s belongings, Yaakov unleashed his wrath. He said to Lavan, “Ani Imach…VaTidad Shenati MeiEinai,” “(These years that) I have been with you…my sleep has fled from my eyes” (31:38-40). These sleepless years correspond to the other sleepless years that Yaakov spent in the Yeshiva of Sheim VeEiver.
Yaakov, Rabbi Kossowsky continues, followed this pattern yet again when he went to Egypt. Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead of the rest of the family to establish Yeshivot, since he knew that surviving as a Jew in Galut is impossible without Yeshivot or Torah. Only after Yaakov learnt and kept the 613 Mitzvot in Lavan’s house could he leave from there complete. Even the blessings of Avraham and Yitzchak wouldn’t suffice to protect him from the woes or afflictions unless he learnt in the Yeshiva of Sheim VeEiver. Only after Yaakov left with the “Rechush” that he obtained in the Yeshiva did Hashem appear to him on Har HaMoriah and promise to safeguard and return him to Canaan, as Hashem says, “VeHashivoticha El HaAdamah HaZot Ki Lo E’Ezovcha Ad Asher Im Asiti Eit Asher Dibarti Lach,” “And I will bring you back into this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that which I have spoken to you” (28:15).