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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Who Could Yaakov’s Brothers Be?

Last week we looked into the dangers of Jews becoming overly socially connected to the members of other nations. The issue comes to the fore again in this week’s parasha. After the confrontation and conciliation between Yaakov and Lavan, a feast took place between the two sides. The Torah tells us that Yaakov “called to his brothers to eat bread,” which they did before retiring on the mountain (Bereishit 31:54). The question that the Rabbis ask is: who were these brothers of Yaakov? Different answers are presented.
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Last week we looked into the dangers of Jews becoming overly socially connected to the members of other nations. The issue comes to the fore again in this week’s parasha.

After the confrontation and conciliation between Yaakov and Lavan, a feast took place between the two sides. The Torah tells us that Yaakov "called to his brothers to eat bread," which they did before retiring on the mountain (Bereishit 31:54). The question that the Rabbis ask is: who were these brothers of Yaakov? Different answers are presented.

According to the Midrash Zuta (Kohelet 9:11), it refers to the closest of Yaakov’s relatives – his sons. To explain why his sons would be called his brothers, the midrash posits that since they were approaching his height, he referred to him as brothers. This explanation is difficult for two reasons. 1. The great age difference seems much more significant than the height similarity. 2. The Torah continues that they retired on the mountain and Lavan got up in the morning, which implies that there was some sort of connection between the two subjects of the story on this point, which there is not if it refers to Yaakov’s sons.

The Midrash Sechel Tov (Vayeitzei 31:54) states that Yaakov’s "brothers" were Lavan and his family, who were Yaakov’s in-laws. This approach certainly does not have the difficulties that we raised on the Midrash Zuta’s approach. But why does the Midrash Zuta prefer its explanation, despite its difficulties, to that of the Midrash Sechel Tov?

Apparently they could not accept the possibility that Yaakov would call members of Lavan’s family, who were idol worshippers and cheats, his brothers. There would be a concern that such an act of drawing close would allow in negative influences (as we saw last week regarding Eisav’s marriages to daughters of Chet).

Rashi managed to take the approach of the Sechel Tov and still avoid the problem that we raised. He says that the brothers were the members of Lavan’s family who had developed a good relationship with Yaakov. Apparently, they were compelled to chase Yaakov along with Lavan, but they were good, honest people. Very possibly, they were influenced by Yaakov and were monotheistic. Therefore he could call them brothers. The Ramban posits like the Sechel Tov. The Radak explains that once they had made a treaty, he could refer to all of them warmly.

We can discern in the different opinions clear approaches as to whom one can draw close to and perhaps when one can make treaties with members of other nations. We will continue this theme next week, based on a question which arose in the time of David Hamelech.
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