HaRav Moshe Meir Weiss

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Title: The Specialized Academy of Sheim and Eiver

by Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
Nov 28, 2012

When Rochel Imeinu worriedly told Yaakov that she feared Lavan would try to trick him, Yaakov reassured her with the statement, “Achi hu – I am his brother.”  In effect, Yaakov replied, ‘Don’t worry, he’s met his match -- for I am like his brother in rama’us/craftiness and trickery.’  This statement of Yaakov’s is very perplexing for the Torah earlier describes Yaakov as the “Ish Tam,” which Rashi explains to mean that Yaakov was without guile and the ability to deceive.  Nevertheless, here we find Yaakov describing himself to the contrary.

To add the puzzle, we know that Yaakov took a detour of fourteen years to sit and study with amazing diligence in the academy of Sheim v’Eiver.  One automatically wonders why Yaakov didn’t promptly heed the directive of his parents to get married.  Instead, he delayed his nuptials for almost a decade and a half.  Furthermore, since Yaakov studied by his father, the Gadol HaDor, why did he need to supplement his knowledge with the teachings of Sheim v’Eiver?

A further puzzling question concerning Yaakov’s tutelage in Sheim v’Eiver was how he passed on this particular knowledge which he gained there.  The Torah tells us that Yaakov had a special love for Yoseif -- for he was his ‘ben zakunim.’  In one of Rashi’s interpretations on this verse, he explains this phrase to mean that all which Yaakov learned in Sheim v’Eiver, he gave exclusively to Yoseif.  This is mystifying!  Why would Yaakov reserve a branch of Torah only for one of his sons?  Since when is Torah reserved for only one type of person?  Furthermore, we would think that a specialized branch of Torah would have surely been taught to Issachar who was likened to a donkey in his dedication to accept the yoke of Torah.  So too, Yehudah, who we know set up the first Yeshiva in Mitzrayim and went ahead of his family to ensure that there would be a house of learning for Klal Yisroel, should have been privy to this body of knowledge.  Levi, the sheivet that dedicated itself to spirituality, should have also been a candidate for this knowledge.  How amazing that Yaakov should choose to share it only with Yoseif!

I had the great privilege to hear the Gaon, Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky, Zt’l may he be a meilitz yosher for all of us, address these issues at a shiur at a gathering in Yeshivas Torah V’Daas over twenty years ago.  He answered all of these questions with the following beautiful explanation.  When Yitzchok told Yaakov to go to Lavan’s house to find a wife, Yaakov was worried about coping properly with the spiritually hostile environment of Lavan’s home.  Knowing full well the powers of deceit and craftiness which abounded in Lavan’s den, Yaakov was aware that his environment of the Torah tent of Yitzchok and Rivka did not prepare him to match wits with the cunning of Lavan.  He therefore went to the specialists, to study under Sheim who had lived righteously through the wicked generation of the Mabul.  He also imbibed the unique Torah of Eiver who lived during the wickedness and spiritual rebellion of the Dor Haflaga, the generation of the Tower of Bavel.  Indeed, Reb Yaakov explains, it was this specialized knowledge which transformed Yaakov from the Ish Tam to the match for his ‘brother,’ Lavan.

It was to acquire these weapons that Yaakov took the detour to the Academy of Sheim v’Eiver before going to Lavan and it was with this newly gained knowledge that he was able to succeed in not tarnishing his sterling spirituality -- even in Lavan’s den.  As the Torah attests, Yaakov said, “Im Lavan Garti--v’taryag mitzvahs shamarti  --  Although I lived with Lavan, I succeeded in keeping all 613 mitzvahs.”

To come full circle, Reb Yaakov explained that this is why Yaakov Avinu gave this specialized knowledge exclusively to Yoseif - for Yaakov saw with prophecy that Yoseif too would need to live in a hostile environment, and would need to be fortified with a specialized Torah of how to survive while living amongst the wicked.  Indeed Yoseif would succeed in remaining as pious as the rest of the shevatim - as the Torah testifies in the beginning of Sefer Shmos, though he lived alone in the midst of the promiscuity and idolatry of the Egyptian land.  This is why Yaakov gave the Torah of Sheim v’Eiver only to Yoseif and not to Issachar, Yehudah, or Levi.

As always, in the merit of our toiling to understand Toras Hashem, may we be zoche to be blessed with the rewards of Torah, with long and healthy life in this world and great future in the afterlife.

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(Sheldon Zeitlin transcribes Rabbi Weiss’ articles.  If you wish to receive Rabbi Weiss’ articles by email, please send a note to ZeitlinShelley@aol.com.)