Saturday, November 28, 2009

Yaakov's sister marriage

If Yaakov Avinu kept the entire Torah, how could he have married two sisters, which the Torah forbids?

There are at least three explanations:

1) Hizkuni: When each sister married Yaakov they converted to "Judaism", and a convert is no longer considered to be part of his/her immediate family for these purposes.

2) Ramban: There are two reasons why to keep mitzvot. In general, we do so because God commanded us (the "rationalist" explanation). In the land of Israel (but only there, says the Ramban) we keep mitzvot because they have a special impact on the world (the "mystical" explanation). Before Sinai, God had not commanded anything. So only the second reason applied - and only in Israel. Therefore, Yaakov was free to break the Torah outside Israel, for example, by marrying Rachel. But once he returned to Israel this excuse ceased to apply - and Rachel died soon afterwards, in childbirth.

3) Since Yaakov was not commanded, but saw value in the mitzvot, he chose to keep them as a "chumra". But in Rachel's case, this chumra conflicted with a greater obligation. Rachel had waited seven years with the expectation of marrying Yaakov. To not marry her now would be a betrayal of her trust. Yaakov's "chumra" of not marrying two sisters was overridden by his preexisting obligation to Rachel. From this we learn that one may not take on chumras when they are at someone else's expense.

Some difficulties with this last explanation: 1) The halacha of marrying two sisters was likely instituted for the benefit of the sisters, so they not fight each other. So marrying Rachel now would actually not be in her interest. 2) In that society Rachel's marriage may have been Lavan's concern, not Rachel's, and perhaps Yaakov did not have the standing to insert himself into the other family's considerations.

...Still, the message is good.


bachrach44 said...

Warning: kerifrah alert

It also could be that the entire concept of the avot having kept the entire torah (despite it not having been given till much later) is a little bit silly. Trying to bend over backwards to show how they did keep it is actually doing a disservice by trying to rewrite the torah to suit our contemporary concerns. IIRC the source of this idea is midrashic, so maybe we would be better off interpreting that comment metaphorically.

On a related note, I've just been banned from every right wing yeshiva on the planet.

Beisrunner said...

If I had only two words in which to respond to you, my response would be "I agree".

But since I have unlimited words, I can feel free to try to explore the other side, in whatever sense we can understand it.