סדר וישלח

עם לבן גרתי ואחר עד עתה

I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now

Genesis 32:5

Rashi comments on this passage: “I have fulfilled the 613 (תרי”ג) commandments.”

Many have questioned this comment, because Jacob did not fulfill the commandment of honoring his father and mother, and, in fact, was punished for not doing so. If so, how could Jacob have claimed to reach the total of 613?

Our master explained that, by saying “ואחר עד עתה” (and I stayed until now) Jacob meant to exclude the commandment of honoring his father and mother from the total of 613, for what he meant to say was “I fulfilled the 613 commandments except for my having stayed until now” thereby acknowledging that he had negated the commandment to honor his father and mother. But his further mention of having oxen (ויהי לי שור וחמור), a reference to the incident with Joseph who is called an ox, and to having asses, a reference to Shehem, the son of Hamor, who tormented Dinah, indicates that Jacob understood that he was destined to be punished for not fulfilling that commandment. Understanding that he would be punished in another way for not fulfilling the commandment of honoring father and mother, Jacob could say that he had no reason to fear Esau.

ותגשן השפחות הנה וילדיהן ותשתחוין ותגש גם לאה וילדיה וישתחוו ואחר נגש יוסף ורחל וישתחוו

Then the maidservants came near, they and their children, and they bowed down. And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves; and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed down.

Genesis 33:6-7

Our master explained that the feminine verb form of “ותשתחוין” (bowed down) is used with the maidservants, because there were two of them (Bilhah and Zilpah), so the corresponding verb had to be plural. The Scripture therefore treated them, not the children, as the principal subjects of the verb, conjugating the verb accordingly. But it was not possible to use a plural form of the verb with Leah as the subject, so a plural form of the verb required her six children to be included in the subject. The Scripture therefore treated the children as the principal subjects of the verb and used a corresponding masculine verb form. However, since Joseph and Rachel were separate, the Scripture could have again used the feminine verb form, the Matriarchs properly taking precedence over the children. Nevertheless, the Scripture chose the masculine form “נגש”, because Joseph approached Esau ahead of his mother, because, as Rashi explains, he said “my mother is a beautiful woman; so I will stand in front of her and prevent him from gazing at her, so that the wicked man may not set his fancy on her.” That is why the Scripture uses the masculine form to make Joseph the principal subject.

ויבא יעקב שלם עיר שׁכם וכו’ ויחן את-פני העיר

And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, . . . and he camped before the city.

Genesis 33:18

The Sages comment in the Talmud (Shabbat 33) that the word “שלם” (complete) indicates that Jacob established bathhouses, marketplaces, and coinage for them. And the Shalah ha-qadosh wrote that in mentioning these three ways in which Jacob brought about perfection, the Gemara was indicating the three ways in which a person must perfect himself: perfection of the body, i.e, his actions; perfection of his thinking, i.e., his study; and perfection of his property. Jacob our father came to Shehem, having perfected his actions in these three ways, and he taught the people how to conduct themselves to achieve such perfection.

It appears to our master that this may be explained based on the writings of the Sages of truth (the Kabbalists) who say that if a righteous person derives benefit from any object, that object is perfected achieving its desired purpose. Similarly if one makes something or repairs something to fulfill his own desires, and the object is subsequently used by a righteous person for his own benefit, the person who made or repaired that object is perfected so that his was not in vain. We may say, therefore, that the people of Shehem had already made bathhouses, marketplaces, and a coinage for themselves. But by deriving benefit from those things, Jacob did them a kindness, because whatever they had made was perfected on his account through his having benefitted from those objects.

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