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    Ulterior to higher motive – Vayyetzei

    Rachel, Leah and Jacob by Raffaello Jacob, 1518-19

    Rachel, Leah and Jacob by Raffaello Jacob, 1518-19

    A strange discussion happens in this week’s reading between Jacob and his wives, Leah and Rachel.

    They go away from the house to talk, so as not to be overheard or interrupted. Jacob tells them of God’s command to return to the land of Canaan. They agree, but not for the reasons we might have imagined.

    Our expectation is that they would say, “God has sent you a command and that’s all we need to know. If God says to do something, it has to be done!”

    What they actually say is that there is no point in staying where they were because their father Laban was deceitful and there was no extra benefit in remaining there. Moving to Canaan would be no worse than staying put and could even be better.

    What was their criterion?

    Material wellbeing and physical comfort. No mention of God, spirituality, or obedience.

    What was going on in their minds? The answer might be that they were still at an early stage in their spiritual development. At this point they weighed their observance of Divine commands not on Divine considerations but on physical conditions.

    Their experience was a prelude to the attitude of human beings throughout history. Obeying a command was and is for less than fully idealistic motives, but at least they were fulfilling the command, and once again we see the rabbinic words come true, “Start by doing a good deed for an ulterior motive and you will come to do it for a higher motive” – mittoch shello lishmah ba lishmah (Pes. 50b).

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