The Importance of Learning Without Distractions: An analysis of Midrash on the Parsha
My Rebbi, Rav Moshe Stav Shlita is fond of pointing out that the Torah stories and midrashim we are taught in pre-school are often the stories of the torah which we remember much better than those we learn later in life. In this weeks parsha, parshas toldos, there are a number of such stories that we have heard in pre-school or before. When these stories are analyzed in a broad and analytical context, we can see connections and messages which would not have been noticed before.
The pasuk says in this week’s parsha ״וישמע יעקב אל אביו ואל אמו וילך פדנה ארם״.
(בראשית פרק כ״ח פסוק ז׳)
“And Yaakov listened to his father and mother and traveled to Padan Aram.”
Rashi comments that we see from this pasuk that Yaakov first went to learn Torah in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever for fourteen years. This detour begs analysis for in reality, Yaakov had been commanded by his parents to go down to the house of Lavan in a place called Charan to marry one of his daughters. What gave Yaakov the right to delay this command of his parents to spend quite some time learning in yeshiva?
This question is furthered by the statements of חז״ל with regards to when a person should spend time in their life learning torah. The Gemara in kiddushin (29b) comments: ״אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל הלכה נושא אשה ואח”כ ילמוד תורה.״
“Rav Yehuda says in the name of Shmuel, the law is that one first marry, and then learn Torah.”
Tosfos comments on this Gemara that this statement of Shmuel applies to an individual who has the financial abilities to support a family and learn Torah, without being burdened and distracted by the needs for a family. However, one who does not have prior financial support must first dedicate his time to Torah, and only after that should he get married.
Based on this, we must ask again why Yaakov diverted to yeshiva first instead of marrying? After all, Yaakov left his parents house with adequate financial support to marry prior to yeshiva. Why then do we find that he did exactly the opposite?
To answer this question, we must first look at another story from the midrash which many of us have heard early in our lives. The midrash says that when Yaakov was on his way down to the house of Lavan, he encountered Elifaz, the son of Eisav. In the encounter, Elifaz expressed interest in taking Yaakov’s life. In response to this, Yaakov made the following deal with Elifaz: Yaakov told Elifaz that one who has no possessions is considered to not be living. Therefore, take all of my possessions, and then it will count as if you have taken my life. Being that Yaakov’s possessions were great at the time, Elifaz accepted the deal, and took all of Yaakov’s possessions in place of his life.
Now that the financial position of Yaakov had taken a dramatic downward turn, the order of his life plans had to be adjusted as well. Being that Yaakov now had no money, it would not be appropriate for him to marry before spending years learning in an environment without the distraction of earning a livelihood. He therefore diverted to Padan Aram to learn for fourteen years in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever.
Perhaps a message we can take from the connection of these stories is the importance of securing time in one’s life to dedicate to Torah study during which they will not be caught up in toils of the working life. Ideally, this would be done after marriage, though only in a case where the financial situation is appropriate for it. That situation of course being one in which Torah study would not be a distraction to earning a livelihood and supporting a family, and visa versa. We must realize the importance and appreciate the time we have in our lives to learn without distractions. Those years are the formative years of one’s life, and must not be taken for granted.
Student Studying in KBY