This Dvar Torah is dedicated by the Aryeh family in loving memory of:
אשה כשרה וחשובה חנה פייגא בת ר׳ נחום
Mrs. Feigie Aryeh
שחינכה וזירזה בניה על דרך התורה ,חסד,והיראה כל ימי חייה.
פיה פתחה בחכמה ותורת חסד על לשונה.
צופיה הליכות ביתה ולחם עצלות לא תאכל.
Towards the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei, after 14 years of learning in the Yeshiva of Shem V’Ever, Yaakov arrived in the outskirts of Haran, to find his uncle Lavan in hope of marrying one of his daughters. He arrived at the well where shepherds drew water for their flock and he inquired from the shepherds if they knew of Lavan. They answered affirmatively . “And he said to them, ‘[Are things going] well with him?’ And they said, ‘[Things are going] well, and behold, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep’” (Breishis 29:6).
The Sforno learns a lesson from Yaakov’s inquiry of how Lavan was doing. “For behold he put effort into finding out how Lavan is doing before he went to see him because it is improper for a guest to be demanding of his host if he is in the middle of a simcha, joyous occasion, or the opposite for some reason, [i.e. he’s dealing with a sad situation].” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Why did Yaakov feel he had to inquire from these shepherds, who the Sforno relates in the very next pasuk were not the most upstanding individuals, wouldn’t he potentially be setting them up to speak lashon hara, slander, about Lavan? Especially since he probably knew from his mother Rivka, and possibly his grandfather’s servant, Eliezer, that Lavan was a shady character. How can he set a stumbling block for them to potentially slander Lavan?
Furthermore, Yaakov was a very smart and intuitive person, he probably could have figured out on his own by walking into town and snooping around to find out how Lavan is doing and what he is up to. He is known for being subtle but sly for he was known as an Ish Tam, a quiet person who sat there and learned most of the time but was very acute, for he was able to pull off getting the blessings from his father Yitzchak, albeit with the help of Rivka, unbeknownst to him and Esav, as well as taking away the birthright from Esav. If so, he definitely had the brains and ability to figure out a situation and to improvise on how to handle any subtleties on the spot. If so, why then did he inquire of the Shepherds how Lavan is doing?
We see from here that when it comes to derech eretz, proper manners, one should not beat around the bush, and try to use back handed manners, even if they are potentially doable to figure out the proper mode of action. It is better to be straight forward and to the point, in order to be sure you are doing the proper thing. Of course, if something negative was said you cannot accept it as truth, rather just be cautious.
Yaakov was also a prominent nephew of Lavan who one would think Lavan would be overjoyed to welcome as a guest into his house no matter what the situation was at the time, on the contrary Yaakov could have enhanced or helped the situation whether it was presently good or bad. Yaakov was probably aware of that too but he still put in all the effort he can to first inquire about how Lavan is doing because it’s important to not take any chances rather just be straightforward, you don’t even need to many details, to be sure you are doing the right thing.