Pricey Mandrakes

Vayetzei

Reuvain, Leah’s oldest son, goes out during the wheat harvest and returns home with a bouquet of Dudaim – mandrakes – for his mother. Rochel covets the flowers and asks Leah to share the gift with her.

Leah responds: “Don’t you think that it is enough that I have to share my husband, now you want to share my son’s Dudaim?”

Rochel takes the cue from Leah’s grievance, and in exchange for the mandrakes, she offers Leah the company of Yaakov for that evening . When Yaakov comes home that afternoon, Leah goes out to court him, informing him that she had earned the right for his companionship. 

Rashi, quoting the Medrash, tells us that as Rochel did not sufficiently value the presence of a Tzaddik, she did not merit to be buried together with him. Instead, Rochel was buried in a roadside grave near Beis Lechem, and she alone of all our Patriarchs and Matriarchs was not buried in Moaras Hamechpelah.

Question

Where do we see that Rochel was lacking in respect to living with Yaakov? Moreover mandrakes contain natural properties to increase fertility, and Rochel was hoping that the use of this herb will enable her to finally become pregnant. This being the case, she actually took the flowers to enhance her being together with a Tzaddik and make it more productive; if so why is she challenged for obtaining the flowers?

Answer

We have two clues as to what Chazal saw in Rochel. The first a little more subtle than the second. 

1. The wording and phraseology between Rochel and Leah: Rochel said “therefore Yaakov will be with you instead of your son’s mandrakes” instead of saying “to obtain your son’s mandrakes, Yaakov will be with you”. Her choice of style and the manner in which it is ordered implies that for a price I am willing to give up my privilege of having Yaakov, as opposed to it is so important for me to get those dudaim that I am willing to give up a night with Yaakov. Moreover, Rochel was the one who offered to relinquish spending the time with Yaakov.

2. When Leah greeted Yaakov to enlighten him about the switch, Leah said “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes”. Rashi adds  “I paid Rochel her fee”. This connotes that the exchange smacked of being a transaction. There was a deal transpiring, a night with Yaakov in exchange for the Dudaim. A desperate man who separates with a family heirloom in order to pay for his child’s marriage expenses doesn’t view it is as a sale. Even though it is technically sound and enforceable in a court of law, his hand is forced. The fact that Rochel viewed it is as a hire is a lack of respect and value for the company of Yaakov.

Rochel wanted the mandrakes for their aphrodisiac qualities, as these would increase her chances of childbearing. She was held to the high standard that befits the Imahos and was accountable for the manner in which she was willing to make the concessions to secure the Dudaim. 

Story

Simon Wiesenthal, (1908 – 2005) was an Austrian Holocaust survivor who spent four and a half years in the German concentration camps such as JanowskaPlaszow, and Mauthausen during World War II.

After the war he became famous for his work as a Nazi hunter. Wiesenthal dedicated most of his life to tracking down and gathering information on fugitive Nazis so that they could be brought to justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

At a conference of European Rabbis in Bratislava, Slovakia the Rabbis presented the 91 year old Simon Wiesenthal with an award, and Mr.Wiesenthal, visibly moved, told the Rabbis the following encounter that he had with Rabbi Eliezer Silver.

Rabbi Eliezer Silver (1882 – 1968) was among American Jewry’s foremost religious leaders, and most noted for spearheading efforts in rescuing as many Jews as possible from Europe. He raised funds, requested exemptions on immigration quotas, offered to ransom concentration camp prisoners for cash and tractors – talks that freed hundreds from Bergen-Belsen and other death camps- and organized rallies in Washington. After the war he traveled to Europe and worked tirelessly on the ground to assist his brethren.

It was in Mauthausen after liberation that Simon Wiesenthal was visited by Rabbi Silver when he had come to help and comfort the survivors.  Rabbi Silver had organized a special prayer service and he invited Wiesenthal to join the other survivors in praying. Mr. Wiesenthal declined, and explained his position.

“When I was in camp, I saw many different types of people do things. There was one religious man of whom I was in awe. This man had managed to smuggle a Siddur into the camp. I was amazed that he took the risk of his life in order to bring the Siddur in.

The next day, to my horror, I realized that this was no religious man. He was renting the Siddur in exchange for people giving him their last piece of bread. I was so angry with this Jew, how could he take a Siddur and use it to take a person’s last piece of bread away? So I am not going to pray, if this is how religious Jews behave.”

As Wiesenthal turned to walk away, Rabbi Silver tapped him on the shoulder and gently said in Yiddish, “Oy na’ar, na’ar”. Wiesenthal was intrigued why had the Rabbi called him childish. The answer wasn’t long in coming.
Rabbi Silver continued “Why do you look at the manipulative Jew who rented out his Siddur to take away people’s last meals? Why do you look at that bad Jew? Why don’t you focus on the dozens of Jews who gave up their last piece of bread in order to be able to use a Siddur? That’s faith. Those are the Religious Jews.”

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