Rashi brings a gematria at the beginning of Parshas Vayishlach:

גרתי בגימטריא תרי"ג, כלומר, עם לבן הרשע גרתי, ותרי"ג מצות שמרתי, ולא למדתי ממעשיו הרעים

Now, if one takes this literally, it is attesting to the fact that Yaakov actually kept all the laws of the Torah. (See here.) Let us assume this opinion. [According to others, though, I understand that it may be simply an allusion to the fact that Yaakov remained righteous even though he lived in Lavan's estate.]

But, we know that Yaakov in fact did not keep all the mitvos of the Torah. He married two sisters. Now, although clearly many reasons are given to explain his ability to do so, he still cannot say "תרי"ג מצות שמרתי" if one of the 613 was explicitly violated. How can he say that?

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    Maybe it should be עם לבן גרתט? or better yet עם לבן גרשצטי – Double AA Dec 5 '11 at 0:02
  • I think the title of this question should be clarified. – Shmuel Dec 5 '11 at 0:18
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    @ShmuelL, It was supposed to be a joke. But go ahead and edit it if you like. – jake Dec 5 '11 at 0:44
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    It's also absurd to suggest that he abstained from consuming the gid hannashe. And, for that matter, that he performed any mitzvot that require of one that he be a kohen. Or within the land of Israel. Or in the presence of kohanim. Or where there was a beit miqdash. If one is forced to assume that these other mitzvot were only observed in a spiritual/metaphysical/rhetorical manner, why not this one as well? (But it's a good question, seeing as Rashi nowhere says any of that, and seeing as this one involves a clear violation). – Shimon bM Nov 26 '13 at 12:57
  • Also, while what you have asked is a question on Rashi, there's a partial (?) duplicate here: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/4088/… – Shimon bM Nov 26 '13 at 13:08

Among the many explanations of what it means when we say that the Avos kept the Torah (as in the linked question) is that they did so on a spiritual level. R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi thus states in one of his Chassidic discourses (Va'eira 5572):

קיים אאע״ה כל התורה כולה עד שלא ניתנה וכן ביעקב עם לבן גרתי ותרי״ג מצות שמרתי והיינו רק ברוחנית שהרי לא יתכן שקימו מצות חליצה ויבום ופרה אדומה כו׳

"Our forefather Avraham kept the entire Torah before it was given, and so too with Yaakov, 'I sojourned with Lavan and kept the 613 mitzvos'. This is only on a spiritual level, since it is impossible for them to have carried out the mitzvos of chalitzah, yibbum, parah adumah, etc."

- and he goes on to explain that in this sense they reached only a "lower" level of closeness to Hashem, unlike us, their descendants, who are able to perform these mitzvos physically and thereby connect with Hashem's Essence.

So according to this approach, the fact that Yaakov in fact married two sisters is neither here nor there: he accomplished that mitzvah in a spiritual dimension, just like all of the others.

How so? The Tzemach Tzedek (in Derech Mitzvosecha, Issur Ervas Achos Ishto 30a-b) explains that Yaakov's marriage to Rachel and Leah - and indeed, all of the forbidden relations in the Torah in general - in fact are reflective of the "unification" of enormously great Divine energies in the world of Atzilus, energies which are too intense to descend into the lower worlds - including our own - without being perverted into evil. He continues:

אלא שיעקב לפי שהי' לפני מ"ת והי' טהור וקדוש עשה כן דוגמת היחוד באצי' כי לו יאתה לעשות כן להיותו מרכבה למדות דאצי' וגם לאה ורחל הם מרכבה כנ"ל ועדיין לא ניתנה תורה בבי"ע לאסור לעשות כן למטה

"But Yaakov - living as he did before the Giving of the Torah, and being pure and holy - did this following the model of the unification in Atzilus. It was appropriate for him to do so, since he was a 'chariot' for the attributes of Atzilus, and Leah and Rachel too were a similar 'chariot,' as explained earlier, and the Torah had not yet been given in the [lower worlds of] Beriah-Yetzirah-Asiyah to forbid this to be done below."

Meaning, then, that Yaakov lived and observed Torah as it is in Atzilus; what actually happened here on earth could not affect that higher spiritual world. That began only with the Giving of the Torah, when Hashem declared that "the lower ones can ascend above, and the higher ones can descend below" (Shemos Rabbah 12:3).

  • but isn't there a difference between spiritually accomplishing a mitzvah that can't be done physically (and as such, has no action which contradicts the spiritual performance) and transgressing a mitzvah physically but accomplishing it spiritually? Wouldn't the physical action cancel out the spiritual intent? – Menachem Dec 7 '11 at 2:25
  • @Menachem: see edit. – Alex Dec 7 '11 at 15:21

Ya'akov couldn't be "mekayem" (to perform?) all the miztvot. For example Kivud av (honoring your parents) and Yishuv Eretz Yisrael (live in Israel). So here "shamarti" may mean something different. When Ya'akov heard Yosef's dream (Breshit 37:11) the Torah writes that he "shamar" the dream. Rashi writes: שמר את הדבר - היה ממתין ומצפה מתי יבא, he waited anxiously for it to happen. So maybe here too, Ya'akov is telling Esav that not only he kept all what he had to and could do but even waited until he could keep all the rest and didn't give up his hope.

BTW regarding the 2 sisters he married there is a long discussion in Chazal on the matter.

  • your opening sentence makes no sense. He did Yishuv Eretz Yisorel, and did Kivud Av... (Yaakov was in Israel when Yosef was sold, and Yaakov helped bury his father) – avi Dec 5 '11 at 6:10
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    At the time he said "Im Laban garti" for about 20 years he was away from Israel and about 34 years away from his father. So he wasn't able to perform those mitzvot. What you said happened afterwards, when he was able once again to perform those mitzvot. – rony Dec 5 '11 at 7:33
  • If it is Wednesday, am I not allowed to say that I keep Shabbat?!? Your comment still doesn't make sense. – avi Dec 5 '11 at 7:40
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    If it is Wednesday and for the last 20 years you were not able to keep Shabat, the most you can say about yourself is that you intend to keep next Shabat. When asked why, you may answer that you were "anus" and couldn't keep Shabat. But the fact is that you didn't do it for 20 years. The commentators deal with why was Ya'akov so afraid of Esav. The reason given is that he felt he was lacking in those mitzvot he couldn't perform. – rony Dec 5 '11 at 7:51
  • Rony you are implying that he didn't keep those mitzvot before he went to Lavan's house. But that isn't true either. There are plenty of mitzvot he didn't keep, those 2 aren't clear winners. – avi Dec 5 '11 at 8:26

As @rony points out, there were many mitzvot that Yaakov had no way of keeping while he was in the house of Laban. Some examples include all the mitzvot that are dependent on the Land (e.g. Trumah) and Mitzvot that are dependent on the congregation (e.g. appointing a king). @Alex brings other examples in his answer. If so, how could Yaakov say "עם לבן גרתי ותרי״ג מצות שמרתי"

According to the Chumash Shai LaMorah, the Darchei David offers the following answer, based on a Gemara in Menachot (110A):

אמר רבי יצחק מאי דכתיב זאת תורת החטאת וזאת תורת האשם כל העוסק בתורת חטאת כאילו הקריב חטאת וכל העוסק בתורת אשם כאילו הקריב אשם

Rabbi Yitzchok said: What does it teach us when it says "This is the Torah of a sin-offering", "And this is the Torah of a guilt-offering"? All who toil in the laws of a sin-offering are considered as if offered a sin-offering, and all who toil in the laws of a guilt-offering are considered as if offered a guilt-offering.

The Darchei David extends this logic and says that Yaakov was telling Eisav that he toiled in the Torah of all 613 Mitzvot, and it was therefore as if he performed all the commandments.

  • This system sounds wonderful. If I study the mitzvot I can violate them at the same time & get credit for keeping them? (/tongue-in-cheek)...The notion that this works for mitzvot one is actively violating seems to overstate the case. I can't bring a tamid, but I can learn about it and get some sort of credit, fine. But that I can marry two sisters, learn why I shouldn't, and get credit for not marrying them seems to be amazing. – Ze'ev misses Monica Dec 30 '11 at 16:16
  • @Ze'evFelsen: See Alex's answer, where he addresses this issue. – Menachem Dec 30 '11 at 20:05
  • I was just reading this with my son, who's learning this parasha in Chumash, and he asked a good follow-up: How could Yaakov have had time to toil in Torah thus, while we was working so hard (by his own account) for Lavan? – Isaac Moses Aug 18 '14 at 0:33
  • @isaac. Not In front of a computer right now, but the reason the avot chose to be shepherds was because it was light work and gave them time to focus on g-d – Menachem Aug 18 '14 at 5:39

Rashi's comment can be found here: http://kodesh.mikranet.org.il/comment/t0132_5.htm

Firstly, this opinion appears as ד"א, davar achar, a secondary comment, which are often understood by Rashi's supercommentaries as being of secondary importance, often not compelling answers, but merely 'drashas' which are only brought to solve one particular problem and not as a sweeping explanation.

Secondly, the source of this comment is Breishit Rabbati which is a late Midrash primarily based on the teachings of Moshe HaDarshan, an 11th century scholar who Rashi quotes on many other occasions as well (he may hay have learned directly from him as well?). There's no reason to believe this Midrash is from Chazal. Source: http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%9E%D7%A9%D7%94_%D7%94%D7%93%D7%A8%D7%A9%D7%9F

Thirdly, this comment is not brought in all editions of Rashi. (Example, see Artscroll's Rashi series).

Finally, the simplest solution is that it is Aggada, 'legend', midrash, and many giants of Torah have already stated: אין מקשין על האגדה We do not ask questions regarding Aggada.

That is to say, Aggada was intended for moral edification, teaching lessons, etc. It is not intended to augment historical statement or fact about the events discussed. It does not guarantee consistency with other texts.

I wrote out a longer response regarding Midrash, but instead decided to attach it to this relevant discussion: does one have to take a Midrash/Aggadah literally?

  • Shvach. I think that however low you put R' Moshe HaDarshan, he should have been able to figure this out – ertert3terte Nov 15 '13 at 22:39

To the question of Rachel and Leah's mother mocdeg brought down this answer, which would make them only half sisters which may then be allowed.

The sefer Tiferes Shlomo al HaTorah in Parshas Vayetze brings a number of answers to the question of how Yaakov was allowed to marry two sisters. One of the answers is that Rachel and Leah were born to Lavan from two different wives and therefore not prohibited to Yaakov. In light of this, you may have to change your question to "What were the names of Rachel and Leah's mothers?


The Rashba explains:

When Chazal teach that the Avos kept the Torah, they mean that every mitzvah hints to a certain aspect of Divine Wisdom, and this Divine Wisdom obligates us to do deeds and allusions which hint to this Wisdom.

The Avos with their superlative intelligence perceived the roots of this Wisdom and thus performed 'mitzvos' accordingly, but not necessariy the same ones or in the same way as we were commanded at the giving of the Torah.

As for the issue of Yaakov marrying two sisters, you should know that the Torah rests on three pillars - time, place and items. Time - not on all days is doing work forbidden like Shabbos and Yom Tov, or is eating chametz forbidden like Pesach, or are obligated in the having of a succah and a lulav like Succos. Place - not all places are obligated in the separation of Terumah and Ma'aser and the forbidding of tevel like Eretz Yisrael, or obligated in the bringing of offerings like the Beis Hamikdash. Items - not just any plant can be used in place of the lulav and esrog, and not just any animal can be offered as are cows, sheep and doves, and not everyone is fitting to perform the sacrifices as is a Kohen.

I cannot explain more than this, but an intelligent person will understand my words.

What the Rashba means is that Yaakov was able to ascertain with his great wisdom that according to the time and the place and the items (the two sisters), he was not forbidden to marry them.


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