Note to readers: This column is dedicated to the refuah sheleimah of Shlomo Eliezer ben Chaya Sarah Elka.
At the beginning of this week’s parshah Yaakov sent a message to Eisav. In the message were the words, “im Lavan garti – I lived with Lavan.” Rashi explains that Yaakov was informing Eisav that he had kept the entire Torah, as the word “garti” is the same numerical value as the amount of mitzvos in the Torah: 613. The following strong question concerning this statement has been discussed by the Rishonim and Acharonim: How could Yaakov say that he kept the entire Torah when he married two sisters, Rachel and Leah, which is biblically prohibited? Additionally, the Gemara in Yuma 28 says that Avraham Avinu kept the Torah; presumably the other avos did as well. How then did Yaakov marry two sisters?
The Ramban, in parshas Toldos (26:5), says that the avos only kept the Torah in Eretz Yisrael. He explains that it was for this reason that Rachel died before Yaakov entered Eretz Yisrael, so that when he entered Eretz Yisrael he was only married to one sister.
Although this answers the second question of how Yaakov married two sisters, it does not answer the first question. For how then could Yaakov say that he kept the entire Torah when in fact he did not keep any of it, as he was not obligated in it while he was chutz la’aretz?
Similarly, the Rama (Teshuvos 10) and the Maharal (Tiferes Yisrael 20) say that only Avraham kept the Torah. Yitzchak and Yaakov did not. This too does not explain the statement made by Yaakov informing Eisav that he kept the Torah in its entirety.
The Radvaz (Teshuvos 696), the Marshah (Yuma 28) and the Perashas Derachim write that Rachel and Leah had to undergo conversion before Yaakov married them. The halacha is that a convert is not considered related to their biological family members. Therefore, a convert may marry a biological relative. Two biological sisters who converted can marry the same man, since they are not considered sisters.
The Nefesh Hachaim suggests that the avos kept the Torah based on what they perceived as necessary for making tikkunim in the world. Once the Torah was given, one is not allowed to make such calculations. However, prior to mattan Torah the avos would violate certain commandments if they believed it was necessary for their avodah. Yaakov married two sisters because he felt that it was necessary in order for him to accomplish his spiritual goals.
The Brisker Rav and Reb Moshe Feinstein (Even Haezer 4:9) offer a different approach in answering both questions. They say that although the avos kept the entire Torah there were several discrepancies. Certain concepts did not yet exist prior to mattan Torah, and regarding those things the avos did not keep the Torah. The Torah only prohibited marrying two sisters via kiddushin. Before mattan Torah the concept of kiddushin did not exist. The Rambam writes in the beginning of Hilchos Ishus that when one wished to marry a woman before the Torah was given, they simply lived together without having any kiddushin. Under those circumstances, one may “marry” two sisters.
The Gemara, in Pesachim 119b, says that Hashem will make a meal for all the tzaddikim. They will ask Avraham Avinu to bentch and he will refuse, saying that since Yishmael came from him he should not bentch. Yitzchak Avinu will refuse because Eisav came from him. Yaakov Avinu will refuse to bentch, for he will say that he married two sisters that the Torah would eventually prohibit. But according to the previous two answers (of the Brisker Rav, Reb Moshe, the Radvaz, the Marshah, and the Perashas Derachim) the Gemara is not understandable. Based on their answers Yaakov had done nothing wrong. Why would he feel that he should not bentch based on his marriage to two sisters who converted, or for simply living together with them without kiddushin? What he had done would have been permitted – even after the Torah was given.
According to the Ramban, that the avos did not keep the Torah outside Eretz Yisrael, and according to the opinions that hold that Yaakov did not keep the Torah at all, we can understand why Yaakov said that he was unfit to lead in bentching, since what he did would become forbidden after the Torah would be given. Similarly, the answer of the Nefesh Hachaim fits well with the Gemara since what Yaakov did would not have been permitted after the Torah was given.