Parsha and Manuscript: Vayetze - ‘Wait this week’

Friday, 6 December, 2019 - 6:40 am

MS. Michael 384 (1399).jpgIn the portion of Vayetze it discusses the marriage of Jacob to Rachel and Leah. He worked for seven years for his uncle Laban to marry Rachel but was deceived into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. Laban then says to Jacob:[1] ‘Wait until the week of this one is over and we will give you that one too, provided you serve e another seven years.’ The question that arises is why did Laban say ‘wait the week’ and not give Jacob Rachel right away or after a few days? What is the significance of Jacob being asked by Laban to wait a week before marrying a second wife? In this essay, we will explore the concept of waiting seven days and how it reflects an aspect of Jewish law that is relevant until today.


Seven days of wedding feast


In Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer from the 2nd century it suggests that the seven days were days of the wedding celebration that should last for seven days according to Jewish law:[2] ‘Rabbi José said: From whom do we learn of the seven days of banquet? From our father Jacob. For when our father Jacob married Leah, he made a banquet with rejoicing for seven days, as it is said, "Fulfil the week of this one."’[3]


This interpretation of the phrase ‘wait this week,’ referring to the week of the wedding celebration, is followed by Rashi in the 12th century: ‘This is the construct state, because it is vocalized with a chataf (a sheva), [and means] the week of this one, which are the seven days of feasting [celebrated by a newly wedded couple]. This appears in the Jerusalem Talmud, Mo’ed Katan.’[4] Similarly, Rabbi David Kimchi: ‘Conclude the days of the wedding celebration with this one with Leah.’ R' Chaim of Chernowitz[5] (1760-1816) suggests that the term ‘fill’ suggests that Laban asked Jacob to not only wait a week before marrying Rachel but allow the week to be dedicated fully for the celebration of the marriage with Leah despite having been deceived into the marriage.


Seven days of wedding celebration is also found with Samson, for when he went down to the land of the Philistines, he took a wife and kept seven days of banquet and rejoicing, as it says: ‘And it came to pass, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him.’[6] Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer explains that the companions were eating and drinking and rejoicing, as it is said, "And Samson said unto them, Let me now put forth a riddle unto you" (Judg. 14:12); and another text says, "They could not declare the riddle in three days" (Judg. 14:14).


MS. Michael 384 (1399).jpgDon’t mix celebrations


A further teaching in connection with the seven days is the teaching in Jewish law that one celebration should not interfere with another celebration. The Midrash[7] and the Jerusalemite Talmud[8] comment: ‘Rabbi Ya’akov bar Acha derives from the statement of Laban ‘wait this week’ the law that one celebration should not interfere with another celebration (ein me’arvin simcha b’simcha)’. This is also mentioned in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah:[9] ‘On Chol HaMo'ed weddings are not held, for one celebration should not be mixed with another, as implied by Genesis:[10] “Complete the week [of celebration] of this one and then I will give you this other one.”’


The Babylonian Talmud[11] disputes the source offered in the Jerusalem Talmud from the marriage of Jacob and offers a different source for the prohibition not to mix celebration - from the dedication of the Temple, where it states:[12] “So Solomon held the feast at that time, and all Israel with him, a great congregation, from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt, before the Lord our G-d, seven days and seven days, fourteen days.” Since it is written “fourteen days,” why do I need the verse to specify “seven days and seven days”? Learn from it that these seven days of celebrating the Temple dedication must be discrete, and similarly, these seven days of celebrating the Festival of Sukkot must be discrete, due to the principle that one may not mix one joy with another. This dispute between the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud is highlighted in the medieval period by the French Tosafists[13] and Rabbi Moses Cucci in Sefer Mitzvot Gadol.[14]




The view of Rashi however is ambiguous whether one may derive the prohibition not to mix celebrations from the marriage of Jacob. In the printed edition it omits the teaching altogether. This is how it is found also in MS Opp. 34 and MS. Oppenheim 35. In MS. Canonici Or. 35 the teaching is found in the margin, while in other manuscripts it is mentioned in the main text: MS. Canon. Or. 81, MS. Michael 384 and MS. Canonici Or. 62.


A further variation is between the manuscripts where the prohibition is included. In MS. Canon. Or. 81 it states: ‘for (l’fi) one celebration should not be mixed with another.’ In MS. Michael 384, MS. Canonici Or. 35 in the margin and MS. Canonici Or. 62 it states: ‘From here we derive that we don't interfere one celebration with another celebration.’


What is the reason for these variations in the Rash manuscripts? Firstly, why is the addition omitted in the printed edition, but then added first in the margin and incorperated in the main text in other manuscripts? Secondly, what is the reason for the variation of the word: ‘for’ (l’fi) in MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396) or just ‘sh’ein’ – another way of writing ‘for’ - in MS. Michael 384 (1399) and ‘from here is derived’ (m’kan) inMS. Michael 384 (1399), MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425) and MS. Canonici Or. 62 (1472)?


It would seem that the Rashi commentary that have the addition follows the Jerusalem Talmud that one may derive the law against mixing celebrations from Jacob, while the versions of Rashi’s commentary that does not include the prohibition follows the Babylonian Talmud that the law is derived from Solomon, not form Jacob. They would be selective in the quoting of the Jerusalem Talmud from Moed Katan whereby the idea that the waiting a week refers to the seven days of celebration may be derived from the Jerusalem Talmud but not the prohibition against mixing celebrations. Why is this selective differentiation made?


The difference between the two teachings is that the first – that wait a week refers to seven days of the wedding celebration is not to say that this is a source for the Jewish law that one must celebrate seven days after a wedding, but rather an observation that this is what is meant by the statement of Laban. Regarding the prohibition to mix celebrations, the meaning is to say that this is the scriptural source for this law.[15]


From Pre-Sinai to post Sinai


The variations within the Rashi manuscripts and compared to the printed edition reflects a consideration in Jewish law regarding the relationship between the customs and behaviour of the patriarchs to Jewish law that was established years later at Sinai. The fundamental question is: can one derive law post Sinai from the customs of the patriarchs pre-Sinai?


May not derive law from pre-Sinai


A principle in Jewish law quoted by the Tosafot from the Jerusalemite Talmud[16] is that we may not derive scriptural law from pre-Sinai. This is mentioned in relation to the source for the law of mourning for seven days. The Talmud rejects the idea that this may be derived from the mourning of Joseph for Jacob in Genesis and rather quotes the verse in Amos:[17] ‘I will turn your festivals into mourning,’ as the source, due to the inability to derive law from before Sinai. Similarly, the Talmud questions the idea that we ay derive the time of the afternoon prayer from Abraham: The Talmud states:[18] ‘Rav Safra said: The time for the afternoon prayer of Abraham begins from when the walls begin to blacken from shade, marking the beginning of the setting of the sun. Rav Yosef said: And will we arise and derive a halakha from Abraham? Didn’t Abraham live before the Torah was given to the Jewish people, and therefore halakhot cannot be derived from his conduct?’[19]


Patriarchal laws derived from pre-Sinai – eight cases


The laws that the patriarchs established and have been incorporated into Jewish law, however, aside from the above law that one should not mix celebration together, following the Jerusalem Talmud, includes the following:


1. Vigilant are early in the performance of mitzvot


From the verse in Genesis:[20] ‘And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he saddled his donkey, and he took his two young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for a burnt offering, and he arose and went to the place of which G-d had told him’ we derive that the vigilant are early in the performance of mitzvot. This is derived,[21] as it is written: “And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.”[22] And it was taught in a baraita: The entire day is suitable for performance of the mitzva of circumcision; however, the vigilant are early in the performance of mitzvot, and circumcise in the morning. As it is stated with regard to the binding of Isaac: “And Abraham arose early in the morning” after hearing G-d’s command. This indicates that Abraham arose early in his eagerness to perform G-d’s commandment.


2. Conjugal relations in years of famine


The law against conjugal relations in years of famine is derived from Joseph. The Talmud states:[23] ‘Reish Lakish said: It is prohibited for a person to have conjugal relations in years of famine, so that children not be born during these difficult years. As it is stated: “And to Joseph were born two sons before the year of famine came.”’[24]


3. Waiting three months before remarrying


The law that not only a yavama[25] but also all women must wait three months before remarrying is derived from Abraham. The Talmud explains:[26] a yevama has to wait, since if she is pregnant with viable offspring, consummating the levirate marriage would violate the prohibition against engaging in relations with one’s brother’s wife. The reason all other women must wait is due to the fact that the verse states with regard to Abraham: “To be a G-d to you and your seed after you,”[27] which indicates that the Divine Presence rests with someone only when his seed can be identified as being descended from him, i.e., there are no uncertainties with regard to their lineage and it’s possible to distinguish between the seed of the first husband and the seed of the second husband. After three months, if she has conceived from her previous husband, the pregnancy will already be noticeable.


4. A woman is given twelve months to prepare for her wedding


The law that a woman is given twelve months to prepare for her wedding is derived from Rebecca. The Talmud states:[28] From where are these matters derived, that a virgin is given twelve months to prepare for her wedding? Rav Chisda said it is based on the fact that the verse states with regard to Rebecca: “And her brother and mother said: Let the damsel abide with us for days (i.e. a year), or ten (i.e. ten months).”[29]


5. Obligation of a guarantor


The obligation of a guarantor to repay a loan in derived from Judah. The Talmud states:[30] Rav Huna said: From where is it derived that a guarantor becomes obligated to repay a loan he has guaranteed? As it is written that Judah reassured his father concerning the young Benjamin: “I will be his guarantor; of my hand shall you request him.”[31] This teaches that it is possible for one to act as a guarantor that an item will be returned to the giver.


6. Ostracism that was declared conditionally requires nullification


An ostracism that was declared conditionally requires nullification, even though the condition was not fulfilled, is derived from Judah. The Talmud states:[32] ‘It is derived from Judah, as it is written with regard to his request that his father allow the brothers to take Benjamin to Egypt: “If I do not bring him to you…I would have sinned to you for all days,”[33] i.e., I will remain ostracized as a sinner.[34]


7. A sacrifice requires a knife


The law that a burnt offering must be slaughtered with a knife is derived from Abraham. The Talmud states:[35] Rather, the term: Utensil, must be stated of a knife, as the slaughtering may be performed only with a knife and not with a sharp stone or reed. The Talmud asks: And with regard to a burnt offering itself, from where do we derive that it must be slaughtered with a knife? This is learned from that which is written: “And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slaughter his son;”[36] and there, Abraham was offering a burnt offering, as it is written: “And offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.”[37]


8. Offering a sacrifice outside the Temple courtyard


The prohibition against offering a sacrifice outside the Temple courtyard is derived from Noah. The Talmud states:[38] Rabbi Yosei says: And one is liable for offering up an offering outside the courtyard only once he offers it up upon the top of an altar that was erected there. Rabbi Shimon says: Even if he offered it up on a rock or on a stone, not an altar, he is liable. Rav Huna says: What is the reason of Rabbi Yosei? As it is written: “And Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every pure animal, and of every pure bird, and offered up burnt offerings on the altar” (Genesis 8:20). Noah was particular to use an altar rather than one of the available rocks. Apparently, this was because placing an item upon an altar is the only act that can be considered offering up.


9. To divorce after ten barren years


The law that one may divorce after ten years of marriage without bearing children is derived in the Talmud[39] from Sarah, where the Torah states:[40] ‘And Sarah was barren; she had no child.’


10. Procreation


The commandment of procreation is derived from Adam, where it states:[41] ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the land and conquer it.’[42]


11. Departure from the truth for peace


The idea that one may depart from telling the truth for the sake of peace is derived in from Joseph. The Talmud states:[43] ‘It is permitted for a person to depart from the truth in a matter that will bring peace, as it is stated: “Your father commanded before he died, saying: So you shall say to Joseph: Please pardon your brothers’ crime, etc.”[44] Jacob never issued this command, but his sons falsely attributed this statement to him in order to preserve peace between them and Joseph.


Removal of a lone grave


The permission to remove a single grave or two graves is derived from Jacob. The Mishnah states:[45] One who finds a corpse for the firsttime, i.e., he discovers a single corpse in a place that was not previously established as a cemetery, if the corpse islying intheusual mannerof Jewish burial,he removes itfrom there andalsoits surroundingearth. It is assumed that this corpse was buried there alone.’ The Talmud proceeds to ask:[46] ‘What are the circumstances of surrounding earth? Rav Yehuda said: The verse states with regard to Jacob’s instruction to Joseph to transfer his remains to Eretz Yisrael: “You shall carry me out from Egypt,”[47] which indicates: Take some earth out from Egypt with me, i.e., take the earth that is near the corpse.’[48]




The taking of tithe is first found by the patriarchs. With Abraham it says:[49] And blessed be the Most High G-d, Who has delivered your adversaries into your hand," and he gave him a tithe from all.’ With Jacob it says:[50] Then this stone, which I have placed as a monument, shall be a house of G-d, and everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You.’[51] With Isaac, it states:[52] ‘And Isaac sowed in that land, and he found in that year a hundred fold, and the Lord blessed him,’ which the Midrash interprets as referring to tithe.’[53]




To reconcile this contradiction whether laws may be derived from before Sinai or not, a number of definitions are given to clarify this principle. Exceptions to the principle that one may not derive law from before Sinai are as follows:


Maimonides writes that a law that is based on an esmachta - hint, as opposed to a explicit source, like the burial of Jacob first in Egypt - and therefore a source for the requirement to remove surrounding earth when removing a grave - may be derived from before Sinai.[54]


In the 13th century, Rabbi Ishtori Haparchi (1280-1355) argued[55] that a differentiation may be made between the core law that cannot be derived from before Sinai, whereas and aspects of a law can be derived. 17th century Moroccan Rabbi Jacob Hagiz (1620–1674)[56] and 18th century Rabbi Jacob ben Joseph Reischer (Bechofen) (1661–1733) writes[57] that laws that are rational, may be derived from before Sinai. 


18th century Rabbi Isaiah Berlin (1725 – 1799), in his commentary Sheilat Shalom on Sheiltot d'Rav Achai Gaon, writes[58] thata law that cannot be derived from after Sinai may be derived from before Sinai. 19th century Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (1816 – 1893) argues[59] that where there is reason to think there should be no difference between cases, it may derived from before Sinai, whereas when there is a reason to differentiate, like the mourning for Jacob, performed uniquely for Jacob's honour, it cannot be derived from before Sinai.[60]


In the 20th century a further idea is presented by the Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn,[61] that a difference exists between outright law and law based on character traits. This is applicable with the law not to mix celebrations derived from Laban. A further consideration is that general ethical behavior, like the ethics of employment of Jacob working for Laban may be derived from before Sinai.[62]


Not mixing celebrations


Based on the above, once may reconcile the law of not mixing celebrations despite being derived from before Sinai in more than one way: a. The law of not mixing celebrations is based on rationale or character traits as it is human nature for one celebration to detract from another celebration taking place at the same time.[63] The law of seven days of a wedding celebration, on the other hand, cannot be derived before Sinai and is in fact therefore only rabbinical.[64]


An alternative approach to justify deriving the prohibition to not mix celebrations from before Sinai is that in truth as a stand-alone law may not be derived from before Sinai, but may be derived from before Sinai based on the biblical law that one should be joyous on the holiday or wedding celebration itself and that may not be diminished by another celebration. For this reason, one should not marry during the festival.[65]




Based on the above discussion, one may explain the variations in the manuscripts, whether the prohibition against mixing celebrations should be mentioned in the Rashi commentary in relation to the statement of Laban ‘wait this week’ regarding the marriage of Jacob to Rachel before Sinai. The manuscript that include the view of the Jerusalemite Talmud that 'not mixing celebrations' may be derived from pre-Sinai views the prohibition based on human nature and therefore be derived.


The manuscript that includes only the seven day of wedding celebration but omits deriving the prohibition not to mix celebrations maintains that it is problematic to derive from there a stand-alone law to not mix celebrations. Perhaps it can be seen as a law based on the first joy of the holiday but not a stand-alone law, thus omitting it from the manuscript, as not relevant to the story of Laban. 






[1] Genesis 29:27.

[2] Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 16:4 and 15.

[3] Gen. 29:27.

[4] 1:7.

[5] Be’er Mayim Chaim on Genesis 29:28.

[6] Judges 14:11.

[7] Genesis Rabba 70:19.

[8] Jerusalem Talmud Moed Kattan 6a.

[9] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Marriage 10:14.

[10] Genesis 29:27.

[11] Talmud Moed Katan 9a.

[12] I Kings 8:65.

[13] Tosafot on Moed Katan 8b.

[14] Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, negative commandment 75.

[15] Maimonides make this distinction, whereby the law of seven days of feasting is mentioned in Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mourning (1:1) from Moses, while the law against mixing celebrations is mentioned in Laws of Marriage (10:14) from Jacob and Laban.

[16] Talmud Moed Katan 20a.

[17] Amos 8:10. Talmud Moed Katan 20a.

[18] Talmud Yoma 28b.

[19] Some suggest however that this should be read as a passive statement rather than a question. Encyclopedia Talmudit 1:637, footnote 35. Rashi comments that this statement has to do with the specific idea but not the general principle at all that one may not derive law from the patriarchs. See Kaftor Uperach 1:9.

[20] Genesis 22:3.

[21] Talmud Pesachim 4a.

[22] Leviticus 12:3.

[23] Talmud Ta’anit 11a.

[24] Genesis 41:50. The Talmud qualifies however that nevertheless, those without children may have marital relations in years of famine, as they must strive to fulfill the mitzva to be fruitful and multiply.

[25] A widow whose husband died childless and who is not permitted to marry another man until one of her husband’s surviving brothers either marries her or absolves her of this obligation through the halitza ceremony.

[26] Talmud Yevamot 42a.

[27] Genesis 17:7.

[28] Talmud Ketubot 57b.

[29] Genesis 24:55.

[30] Talmud Bava Batra 173b.

[31] Genesis 43:9.

[32] Talmud Makkot 11b.

[33] Genesis 43:9.

[34] The Talmud explains in more detail the context: ‘Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says that Rabbi Yonatan says: What is the meaning of that which is written: “Let Reuben live and not die” (Deuteronomy 33:6), followed immediately by the verse: “And this for Judah” (Deuteronomy 33:7)? Why was the blessing of Judah linked to that of Reuben? Throughout those forty years that the children of Israel were in the wilderness, Judah’s bones were rattling in the coffin, detached from one another, because the ostracism that he declared upon himself remained in effect, until Moses stood and entreated G-d to have mercy upon him. Moses said before Him: Master of the Universe, who caused Reuben to confess his sin with Bilhah? It was Judah. Judah’s confession to his sin with Tamar led Reuben to confess to his own sin. Moses continued: “And this is for Judah…hear G-d, the voice of Judah” (Deuteronomy 33:7). At that point his limbs entered their designated place [leshafa] and no longer rattled, but the Heavenly court still would not allow him to enter the heavenly academy. Moses continued: “And bring him to his people” (Deuteronomy 33:7), so that he may join the other righteous people in Heaven. That request was also granted, but Judah did not know how to engage in the give-and-take of halakha with the Sages in the heavenly academy. Moses continued: “His hands shall contend for him” (Deuteronomy 33:7). That request was also granted, but Judah did not know how to resolve any difficulty raised to reject his opinion until Moses prayed: “And You shall be a help against his adversaries” (Deuteronomy 33:7).

[35] Talmud Zevachim 97b.

[36] Genesis 22:10.

[37] Genesis 22:13.

[38] Talmud Zevachim 108b.

[39] Talmud Yevamot 64b.

[40] Genesis 11:30.

[41] Genesis 1:28.

[42] Furthermore, the fact that the law applies to a man and not the woman is derived from the same verse. The I states (Yevamot 65b) :Rabbi Ile’a said in the name of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon: The verse states: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the land and conquer it” (Genesis 1:28). It is the manner of a man to conquer and it is not the manner of a woman to conquer.

[43] Talmud Yevamot 65b.

[44] Genesis 50:16–17.

[45] Talmud Nazir 64b.

[46] Talmud Nazir 65a.

[47] Genesis 47:30.

[48] See a discussion on this in Sheiltot d'Rav Achai Gaon 45.

[49] Genesis 14:20.

[50] Genesis 28:22.

[51] Maimonides and Ra’avad dispute whether this is the same law of tithe that exists post-Sinai. See Likkute Sichot 25:120.

[52] Genesis 26:12.

[53] Genesis Rabba 73. Mishneh Torah, Laws of kings 9:1. Kaftor Uperach 1:9.

[54] Tosfot Yom Tov in the name of Maimonides, quoted in Sheiltot d'Rav Achai Gaon 45. Another example of this distinction is in Talmud Rosh Hashana 33a, Tosafot, pertaining to the prohibition of making a blessing in vain. A similar idea is mentioned in Torat Nevi’im (Encyclopedia Talmudit 1:637, footnote 33) that alaw that is based on giluy milsa – revelation and opposed to source - may be derived from before Sinai.

[55] Kaftor Uperach 1:9.

[56] Techilat Chachmah 1:1, quoted in Shvut Ya’akov 1:26.

[57] Shvut Ya’akov 1:26.

[58] Sheiltot d'Rav Achai Gaon 45.

[59] He’emek She’elah quoted in Encyclopedia Talmudit 1:637, footnote 33.

[60] This logic us used to explain why the purchase of land for the burial of Sarah is unique in that Abraham insisted on paying for the whole value, distinct from the post Sinai concept of land purchase that may be based on token value - shaveh p'rutah (Likkutei Sichot 10, p. 63).

[61] Likkutei Sichot 1:65.

[62] Likkutei Sichot 25:142.

[63] Tosafot Moed Kattan 8a.

[64] Mishneh Torah, laws of mourning 1.

[65] Talmud Moed Katan 20a.


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