The Purpose of Examples

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


The Purpose of Examples

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


The book of Genesis is replete with stories of our ancestors. Are these stories meant to be a mere historical lesson, simply letting us know our history, or are they meant to impart something more meaningful?

Our Rabbis say that every person should ask himself, “When will my actions meet up to those of the forefathers?” This is quite a daunting task, and from this question we can begin to understand that the Book of Genesis is much more than an historical document.

But how do we reach this seemingly elusive goal of having our acts match up to those of Avrohom and Sarah, Yitzchok and Rivkah, and Yaakov, Rachel and Leah? “Maaseh avos siman labanim—the acts of the forefathers are a signpost for their descendants.” This statement tells us that their acts (as we have noted in a previous D'var Torah) have given us a “spiritual D.N.A.”

We all know that to reach our full potential is not a matter of simply observing the Torah, but also of internalizing the messages given in the Torah. This is why, besides consisting of laws, the Written Law and the Oral Law (the Talmud) also contain many stories and ethical teachings.

Let us look at a couple of examples from this week‘s portion.

After Yaakov receives the blessings from Yitzchok, he is forced to flee for his life. He spends the next several years in refuge at his uncle Lavan’s house. This is the first example of a Jew finding himself under the stewardship of a non-Jew. While there, Yaakov fends for himself and does not allow himself to be cheated. He is also later able to say with pride that though he lived with Lavan, a person who did not go in the ways of G-d, he (Yaakov) was still able to go in the way of G-d to the highest possible degree. This is an important lesson to a people who continually find themselves in exile.

Another example is the story of Rachel and Leah. Yaakov contracts to marry Lavan’s daughter, Rachel, after 7 years of working for him. On the night of the wedding Lavan decides to switch his older daughter Leah for Rachel (though both were destined to be married to Yaakov, Yaakov was as yet unaware of this). When Rachel realizes this is going to happen, she gives to Leah the code words she had devised with Yaakov, should such a situation arise. Why did Rachel do this? In order that her sister not be shamed. This is one of the most selfless acts in human history, and has inspired thousands of people to greater levels of sensitivity.

Home ] Up ]