Why Did Yaakov Get Angry at His Beloved Wife Rachel?


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Rabbi YY Jacobson

How the Cracks In Your Life Can Become the Gate of Heaven

For Source Sheets: https://www.theyeshiva.net/jewish/7248

The opening of the thirtieth chapter of Genesis relates a small but disturbing scene. The infertile Rachel tells her husband: "Give me children, and if not, I am dead." And Jacob became angry with Rachel, and he said, "Am I instead of God, Who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?"

Jacob’s response seems painfully insensitive and uncharacteristic of their affectionate bond. He is in love with Rachel. Any experienced and loving husband knows that even in a good day when your wife conveys an emotion about something eating up on her, the last think you do is get angry at her! What she wants from you is an attentive ear and a receptive heart. That itself makes her feel better. Certainly if she is expressing her pain over a real and deep wound. Jacob’s response is baffling and disturbing.

Today we will present four approaches—one from the Midrash, the second from a medieval Jewish philosopher, the third from the Munkatcher Rebbe, and the fourth from the Ramban and the world of Chassidus.

The Midrash opens up its commentary on the portion of Vayeitzei by attributing Psalm 121 to Jacob on his journey to Haran. Psalms 121 begins with a description of a distraught narrator, who wonders “from where will my salvation come?” Jacob despaired. The Midrash says: Jacob said to himself: “What?! I will give up hope from my Creator? I will never give up hope! My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!”

But what does this mean? Did Jacob really give up hope? Just because he was destitute and penniless, he fell into such despair? This is the man who would carry on the covenant of Abraham and Isaac—did he really forget about G-d? Also, his words seem repetitious: “What? I will give up hope from my Creator? I will never give up hope!” He should have just said: “I will never give up hope!” Why the question and the answer?

It was the great Chassidic master, the Chidushei Harim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, the first Gerer Rebbe, (1799 - 1866)), who gave a stunning explanation. I would venture to add that knowing the life story of this man makes the explanation far more poignant.

In English
vayetzeh, rachel
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