Helping Others, Saving Oneself

img_5403-copyIn this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayeitzei Yaakov, we meet Yaakov Avinu as he is fleeing the wrath of his brother, Eisav, who has vowed to kill him over their father’s blessings.  After an exalted dream, wherein Hashem assures Yaakov that his children will inherit the Holy Land, they will burst forth like the dust of the earth, and Hashem will be with him, Yaakov, encouraged by G-d’s promises, lifts his feet and travels to the east, to the home of his uncle, Lavan – where he will spend the next twenty years of his life.  During this time, he will work fourteen years for his wives, and six years for his flocks.

The famous story of the “switched wives” is well-known.

Yaakov has worked for seven years for the hand of his beloved, Rachel, in marriage.  To celebrate the marriage, Lavan throws a wedding party… וַיְהִי בָעֶרֶב–וַיִּקַּח אֶת-לֵאָה בִתּוֹ, וַיָּבֵא אֹתָהּ אֵלָיו; וַיָּבֹא, אֵלֶיהָ – And it was in the evening, under the cover of darkness, and Lavan took Leah – his eldest daughter! – and brought her to Yaakov – unbeknownst to him – and he came to her… וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר, וְהִנֵּה-הִוא לֵאָה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-לָבָן, מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לִּי–הֲלֹא בְרָחֵל עָבַדְתִּי עִמָּךְ, וְלָמָּה רִמִּיתָנִי – And it was in the morning, and behold, it was Leah!  And Yaakov said to Lavan, what is this that you have done to me!?  Is it not for Rachel that I worked for you? And why have you deceived me? (Bereishis 29:20-25)

Yaakov first met Rachel, the shepherdess, at the well of water as he entered the town.  Yaakov loved Rachel, his cousin, so much that his years of work for her hand in marriage were but a few days in his eyes.  Yaakov foresaw, at the moment that he met her, that he was destined to marry her, and cried that he did not have jewelry to bestow upon her.

And yet, after the wedding he wakes up, and finds he has married… Leah!

How is it possible that this has happened?

Rashi comments: אַבָל בַּלַּילָה לֹא הָיְתָה לֵאָה; לְפִי שֶׁמָּסַר יַעֲקֹב סִימָנִים לְרָחֵל; וּכְשֶׁרָאֲתָה רָחֵל שֶׁמַּכְנִיסִין לוֹ לֵאָה אָמְרָה: עַכְשָׁיו תִּכָּלֵם אֲחוֹתִי, עָמְדָה וּמָסְרָה לָהּ אוֹתָן סִימָנִים – In the morning, Yaakov realized it was Leah, but not at night.  For Yaakov had given signs to Rachel, by which she would identify herself to him.  However, when she saw that they were taking Leah to him, she said to herself, ‘Now my sister will be humiliated.’  She therefore arose and gave her sister those secret signs.

Yaakov was tricked into marrying Leah, but Rachel, his beloved, enabled this to occur, by saving her sister from terrible shame, and passing on the secret signs. 

And in this selfless act of chessed, loving-kindness, wherein she negated her will for the honor of her sister, Rachel becomes the embodiment of vatranus (giving up something of oneself for someone else) and a ba’alas chessed par excellence. 

Clearly, Rachel did Leah a great favor!  Rachel provided Leah with the signs to save herself, her dignity, her self-hood, her honor.  Rachel did something for Leah…

However, R’ Pam zt’l teaches that the opposite is true.  In Rachel’s act of selflessness and chessed for her sister, Rachel actually saved – not Leah – but her very own self.  For by nature, Rachel was not able to bear children.  It was only her act of kindness for Leah that gave her the merits which made her worthy of becoming a mother of the Shivtei Kah (Twelve Tribes). 

As the verse tells us: ויזכר אלקים את רחל וישמע אליה אלקים ויפתח את רחמה – And Hashem remembered Rachel, and He listened to her tefillos, and He opened her womb (Bereishis 30:22 w/ Onekelos).  What did Hashem remember, so to speak, that gave her the merits which enabled her to have children?  Rashi comments: זָכַר לָהּ שֶׁמָּסְרָה סִימָנֶיהָ לַאֲחוֹתָהּ – He remembered that she gave her signs over to her sister

All too often, when we do a kind act for someone else, and we think, “Wow, look how great this is!  I have helped that person in their time of need.”  It can be a small act of chessed, such as giving someone a quarter for their meter, or a great big act of chessed – such as giving of my time, money, or other resources to help a fellow in need.  And yet, in reality, while we may have given them resources in olam ha’zeh – this world – they have given us boundless credit, merit and resources in the next world, the Eternal World of Truth. 

Rebbetzin Henny Machlis a’h, the legendary ba’alas chessed par excellence of our day and time, taught as follows: “Let’s say you have $100 and suddenly there’s a knock on your door and it’s a poor person.  You take $10 out of your wallet and you give it to this poor person.  How much money do you have left?

“It sounds like a joke, right?  What’s your answer?  Probably you’ll say, ‘$90.’  No, you have $10 left.  Why?  Because the other $90 you’re going to spend on your groceries, you’re going to pay your bills, you’re going to waste it on whatever.  But those $10 that you gave to the poor person, they stay with you forever and ever and ever.”

So the next time an opportunity for chessed comes our way, the next time our fellow needs a helping hand – whether the favor is big or small – we would do well to remember the selflessness of Rachel Imainu, who “gave her signs to her sister.”  For in helping her sister, Leah, Rachel changed her very own destiny. 

In helping others, we are saving not only our fellow, but even more so, ourselves. 

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,

Michal 

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