Rachel the Great Educator
By: Rav Yitzchak Dei
In our parsha we read about the events concerning Yaakov in the house of Lavan, the establishment of Beit Israel and the founding of the Tribes, all this under difficult conditions, physically and spiritually. After twenty years in the house of Lavan, the time came to pack up, get the children together and go back home to Eretz Israel. Yaakov fears that Lavan, with his deceitfulness, will delay him for an additional number of years like he did previously. He is determined that this will not happen again, and therefore he plans to escape without Lavan's knowledge. Yaakov exploits the opportunity that Lavan goes to shear his sheep, and he gets away with his wives, eleven children and all their possessions.
Just before their departure, Rachel did something which at first glance is completely incomprehensible (Bereshis 31:19): "And Rachel stole her father's teraphim (idols)." Why did Rachel do this? Rashi explains: "She intended to separate her father from idol worship." If up to now the story in the Torah was hard to understand, Rashi's explanation is doubly difficult to comprehend. Would it occur to us that because Lavan lost one of his idols, he would simply decide that he had no choice other than to serve HaShem? How could taking the teraphim help Lavan stop serving idols?
HaRav Avraham Ben Ezra offers a different explanation. The teraphim were not idols but rather implements of witchcraft through which Lavan could divine the future. And these are his words: "And it is probable that her father Lavan knew astrology, and she feared that her father would look at the stars and know which way they escaped. Yaakov only stole his da'at (awareness) since da'at is mainly in the heart." Rachel feared that if the teraphim remained in the hands of Lavan, he could use them to know where Yaakov's camp was resting, and therefore he could catch up with him and attack him. Similarly, the Ramban brings a proof that Lavan looked into the future from what Lavan said to Yaakov (Bereshis 30:27): "I have divined, and HaShem has blessed me for your sake." (See Rashi there.)
Several years ago I heard a beautiful explanation in the name of HaRav Yehoshua Bachrach ztz"l which clearly illuminates Rachel Emenu's character, and explains the risk she took in stealing the teraphim and her transformation into the "mother" of all the tribes of Israel in spite of her being the biological mother of only two tribes.
Rachel feared for the spiritual future of the children. During their childhood and adolescence, the dominant father figure which stood before them was none other than: Lavan. Their father Yaakov worked with great dedication and remained day and night in the field with the sheep, as he himself says: "I was (outdoors) all day, the heat consumed me, and ice at night, and my sleep escaped from my eyes." Yaakov was not near his children, and therefore it was very difficult for them to be influenced by him.
There was no escaping the fact that the impression made by the wicked and vulgar grandfather could not be erased so quickly, and the spiritual danger of being influenced by his corrupt thinking and behavior was very great.
Rachel decides to take action in a shocking way which will make a lasting impression on the children, to orchestrate a spectacle which will succeed in removing at once any feeling of honor or appreciation toward Lavan and his heritage. And this is what happened: Lavan, out of breath and agitated, yells: "why did you steal my gods?" He runs amok from tent to tent, rummaging and searching helplessly for his idol, grandpa's lost god which is helpless to save itself and all the more so cannot save anyone else…
When this drama is played out before the astonished children, Rachel knows that her plan has succeeded. Her purpose was to humiliate and diminish idolatry and idol worshippers in the eyes of the children and to expose them in ridicule and shame. By this demonstration, which was worth a thousand mussar sermons, Rachel succeeded in uprooting from the hearts of the children any sentiment of respect for idolatry as well as in making fools of its worshippers. The mission was accomplished. Lavan departs flustered and everyone understands unequivocally that there is no truth in idolatry and in Lavan's way of life.
Thus Rachel the great educator merited being the mother of all of us, of all the tribes, through her self-sacrifice for the spiritual world of Am Israel and her determination to protect of its holiness.
Having understood this, perhaps we can say that this situation could have made an impression upon Lavan, had he the sense to see his miserable condition and try rethink his path. And now we can understand Rashi's previously-mentioned words: "She intended to separate her father from idol worship."
Shiur ID: 9328