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Hashkafic question on the Avot


Rabbi Moshe Kaplan

21 Tevet 5763
I am an advisor in a kiruv youth group. We always stress to the kids that they have to be shomer nigeya. One of my chanichot asked me how come Yaakov Avenu was able to kiss Rachel before they were married. What should I tell her?
The Midrash (Breishit Raba 70:12) states that when Yaakov Avinu kissed Rachel, the other shepherds indeed suspected Yaakov of doing an improper act, when actually it was only a kiss one gives to a relative, since she was his cousin. That is why - the Midrash continues - Yaakov cried afterwards, since people suspected him of intentions that were so foreign to him. We have to remember a few things before we can properly understand what Yaakov did, and explaining them to your chanichot will provide an excellent opportunity to get across a very important foundation of Judaism, i.e., the relation and approach to the Tanach in general and to the personalities portrayed in it. This is a point which has been weakened lately and threatens the fortitude of Jewish faith among the youth. We have to remember who we are talking about. The Rabbis tells us that the Avot (Patriarchs) were the Merkava to the Shechina, bore the chariot of G-d, as if. The Rambam (Guide for the Perplexed III:51) describes the level of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Avot, that even while speaking with other people and attending to their bodily needs, their mind was all the time with G-d. “I think these four reached that high degree of perfection in their relation to G-d, and enjoyed the continual presence of Divine Providence, even in their endeavors to increase their property, feeding the flock, toiling in the field, or managing the house… even those worldly affairs were for them a perfect worship of G-d.” (See also chapter 26 of the Path of the Just for a glimpse into this level of Kedusha [holiness].) Their holiness goes beyond what we can even imagine, as the Rambam adds: “But a person like myself must not imagine that he is able to lead men up to this degree of perfection.” The acts of the Avot were done out of lofty intentions and can in no way be compared to ours. The state of the world today is that the good intentions are still mingled in with elements of not so pure ones. If we were to kiss others etc., we could not avoid the physical lusts which accompany those acts. When Yaakov met his cousin and gave her that kiss, he had no affiliation to the physical, animal side of the act, as the Rambam stated. The Netziv of Volozhin also points out that he kissed her in public, showing he related no aspect of a sexual act to this kiss of friendship to his relative. Indeed, we must learn from the Avot, their traits of kindness and purity. We must try to emulate their acts of charity and much more. But to think they are like the guy next door who can sometimes “fall” and give in to temptation, that is a total misunderstanding of who we are dealing with. We attribute to these giants of spirit our weaknesses, unable to imagine that anyone could be so holy. Look with what modesty the holy Rambam related to the Avot. On a sort of technical level, we must remember that this act took place before the Torah was given, and we cannot copy their acts after they were forbidden at Sinai, like the marrying of 2 sisters by Yaakov (see Nefesh HaChaim, Shaar.I:21-22). And even though the Avot kept the Torah before it was given, that was only in the Land of Israel, as the Ramban tells us in his commentary to Vayikra 18:25. Again, use this question to elevate the sights of your chanichot. Let us try to rise up to the loftiness of our ancestors and not bring them down to our level. Then the Tanach will be a source of holy inspiration for us all and give us the true blessing that lies within it.
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