Vayishlach – 2 Sisters

In our parsha and the previous parsha (Vayeitzei), a question comes up regarding Yakov our forefather: – How could he marry two sisters:?  The forefathers were known to keep the entire Torah even before it was given to the Jewish people, and one of the 365 negative commands of the Torah is not to marry two sisters?

One answer is suggested by the Ramban – he says that the forefathers kept the Torah only while they were in Israel, but while outside of Israel, they did not keep the Torah.  However, from Rashi’s commentary at the beginning of our parsha, we know that he did not agree with the Ramban; Rashi says that Yakov said to Esau, “I lived with Lavan and I kept 613 mitavoth.”  So, according to Rashi, Yakov kept all of the mitzvoth, including not to marry two sisters, even while outside of Israel.

Another commentary (the parshat dreachim) suggests that even though the forefathers kept the entire Torah, the exception was when a prophet or prophetess indicated that they should not or need not do so.  In the case of Yakov, his mother Yitzhak told him to go to her father’s house to find a wife…so it would appear that he did so according to the instructions of his mother who was a prophetess, so perhaps the injunction against marrying two sisters did not apply.  However, nowhere do we find that Rivka told her son Yakov to marry two sisters.  Nor did Rivka mention that after marrying Leah, Yakov should marry Rachel as well…so we must look for another answer…

Actually, the resolution to our question depends upon whether the forefathers were “Jews” in the same sense that we consider ourselves Jews in this day and age after the Torah was given, or whether the forefathers were “benei Noach” who voluntarily took upon themselves the added responsibility of keeping the 613 mitzvoth of the Torah.  If we accept the former explanation – that even before matan Torah the forefathers were considered full-fledged Jews, then we have a nice resolution to our question.  We can say that in order to marry Yakov, who was Jewish, the sisters had to “convert” to Judaism. And we know that two sisters who convert are no longer considered sisters for Jewish purposes – so it was permissible for Yakov to marry both of them!

However, nowhere do we find that the forefathers or anyone else was considered Jewish before the Torah was given.  Moreover, the entire process of conversion was derived from the experience of matan Torah, when the entire Jewish people “converted” en masse…so we are forced to search for yet another reason why Yakov was able to marry to sisters…

After the flood, the benei Noach accepted upon themselves not to act deceitfully, and not to fool one another.  This manner of behavior preceded and took precedence over whatever extra new stringencies or additional matters of conduct (such as the mitzvoth of the Torah) that the forefathers took upon themselves.  For Yakov not to marry Rachel after having married Leah would have required that he renege on his responsibilities as a ben Noach.  After having made a promise to marry Rachel, he could not go back on that promise even though he already married Leah, because the laws of Noachide behavior meant that he could not fool or deceive another human being.  For that reason, Yakov was required to marry Rachel; he had no choice.  At this point in history, before the Torah was given, the Noahide laws were obligatory, while the laws of the Torah were mere stringencies.  They did not apply in a situation which contradicted the laws of Noahide behavior.  Therefore, Yakov had no choice but to marry the second sister (and the two maid servants as well) – he could not honor the laws of the Torah in a situation in which they contradicted the laws of Noahide behavior.

For more details and explanation, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 5, pp. 141-149

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: