Occasionally we hear people say that the observant community uses Judaism as an instrument to advance its interests. The Rebbe has a very surprising insight into this issue from this week's Torah portion:

It is an accepted fact, brought in our oral tradition, that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs kept the entire Torah even before it was given. (Kiddushin 82a) Jacob said of himself: "I lived with Laban and I observed all 613 commandments." (Gen. 32:5 and Rashi there) Yet, in this week's Torah portion, Jacob marries two sisters, something forbidden by Torah law! (Lev. 18:18) Many of the commentaries provide answers, yet, Rashi - whose principle is answering anything a beginning student would find difficult -makes no mention of this quandary. We therefore have to assume that there is a simple answer that is so clear, we do not need Rashi to point it out.

The only commandments that our forefathers were obligated to keep were the seven commandments of the descendents of Noah….

Because our forefathers were never directly commanded to observe the Torah commandments, their fulfillment of them was an added optional observance, akin to extra stringencies and "beautifications" one might make in fulfilling our commandments today. For instance, today, when we wear a tallit, we want it to be a nice tallit. The only commandments that our forefathers were obligated to keep were the seven commandments of the descendents of Noah and the extensions of those laws that the nations had taken on themselves. Therefore, if it so happened that fulfilling a Torah commandment contradicted the fulfilling of one of the Noahide laws, they were required to keep the Noahide law, as opposed to the Torah one.

One rule that was universally accepted on the level of the seven Noahide laws by all of the nations was to be careful not to trick their neighbors. It was a punishable offense. We see this in Jacob's claim to his father-in-law, Laban: "Why did you trick me?" So serious was such an offense that Laban was forced to respond and apologize. (Gen. 29:25)

By not marrying her, Jacob would be guilty of misleading Rachel….

It was this prohibition of trickery that forced Jacob to marry two sisters. Jacob had promised Rachel that he would marry her. Fearing trickery, he even gave her secret signs to guarantee it would be her that he married (since she would be hidden by a veil). After all these precautions, Jacob was fooled and married Leah instead. This placed him in a dilemma. By not marrying her, Jacob would be guilty of misleading Rachel, besides all the pain it would cause her by retracting. By marrying her, he would transgress on a mitzvah of the Torah not to marry two sisters, to which he was not actually obligated. The Torah command could not overrule the Noahide commandment not to trick. This is why Jacob was forced to pass on the Torah command and marry Rachel, even if he was already married to Leah.

This is such a simple explanation Rashi did not need to mention it!

Jacob's behavior contains within it a potent lesson for us. It is forbidden to engage in the beautification of a mitzvah at someone else's expense. Fulfilling a commandment in the most beautiful way is very important, but only if it will not do damage to another. In simple words, sometimes it is better to give up on some personal achievement if by doing so we can protect another person. It is not acceptable to say, my total fulfillment comes first. If he is really into what Judaism is all about, he has to ask himself, what makes me any better than my neighbor, that I am working on the small details while the fellow next to me is lacking in the basics. We have to remind ourselves that it is sometimes more important to give up on 100% perfection in order to do a kindness for someone else. (Based on Shulchan Shabbos)

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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