Vayetzei-Sticky Fingers

Children love touching things when they go to  a store; picking things up, playing with them. Parents tend to get agitated, and they might tell their children: “Don’t touch!” or “Keep your hands in your pockets!” The parents start threatening; they are embarrassed; a scene ensues.
Towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei, Rachel takes her father Lavan’s magic idols from his house when she, Yaakov, and their family flee from Lavan. Lavan catches up with Yaakov and his family and accuses him of ‘stealing his heart’ by fleeing without saying goodbye and stealing his idols. Yaakov, not knowing that it was Rachel who had taken the idols, and not thinking that it was anyone else in his family, said that whomever had the idols did not deserve to live. The Torah then relates: “Lavan came into Yaakov’s tent and into Leah’s tent, and into the tents of the co-wives and did not find [what he was looking for]; he went out from Leah’s tent and came into Rachel’s tent. And Rachel took the idols and placed them in a saddle bag of her camel and she sat on it. Lavan searched the whole entire tent and could not find them” (Breishis 31:33, 34).
The Medrish Rabba (parsha 74, paragraph 9) point out that “Yaakov’s tent” refers to Rachel’s tent. The Medrish goes on to ask why Lavan went to Rachel’s tent twice? The Medrish answers that Lavan recognized in her that she is a woman who touches everything [i.e. a rummager, and he therefore suspected her]. The Medrish goes on to relate in the name of Rebbe Yochanan that when Lavan was searching through Rachel’s tents and found Rachel sitting on a camel, he in fact checked the saddle bag but did not find the idols. Indeed, Hashem performed a miracle and turned them into small jugs in order to not cause embarrassment to Rachel if she were to be discovered. (Click hereto see Rashi who quote the Medrish)

The Medrish Tanchuma (parshas Vayetzei paragraph 12, also mentioned in our Medrish Rabba) tells us that when Yaakov told Lavan ‘the person your idols are with shall not live,’ at that moment Rachel’s death was decreed.  The Etz Yosef explains that this decree was like an accidental statement coming from the mouth of the ruler, which is then fulfilled without his knowledge. Even though Yaakov only intended his statement to be referring to someone who actually stole for the sake of worshiping them or selling them (as opposed to Rachel who took them purely for the sake of Heaven, either to rid her father of idolatry or so that the idols which were made of black magic and were able to talk would not tell Lavan of their escape), in any event the cursed was fulfilled against her.

It would not seem becoming of Rachel, our matriarch, our role model, who stands for quietness and modesty, to be a rummager, something associated with pilfering. Even more so it would seem she had a reputation for this character trait since Lavan was cognizant of this flaw. One could understand that even our forefathers were human; but to have a fundamental flaw which is known seems not to be becoming of our matriarchs or patriarch. One would think people on the level of prophesy, who had to perfect all the rungs of Mesilas Yesharim (The Path of the Just) to reach this lofty level, would not be known to have a chronic problem with keeping their hands off of other people’s stuff. If so, how can the Medrish even entertain the notion that Lavan went into Rachel’s tent twice to find his stuff because she was known to be a woman who touches everything?

We must conclude that even though she was known for this habit she still channeled it for the sake of Heaven, with the purest intentions. In fact, this must have been one of the things which made her so deserving of being one of our Matriarchs and a role model for every Jew.

Hashem performed miracles for Rachel to stave off Lavan’s embarrassing onslaught, and she was only handed a death sentence because of a technicality, and not because she truly stole something. We learn from Rachel that it is possible to get entangled into habits which seem to be bad and, for many people, are indeed bad – but that can be channeled for the good. This could very well be the greatest test Hashem gives us.

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