The final section of Parashat Vayetze tells of the pact made by Yaakov and Lavan as they parted ways, when Yaakov made his way back to his homeland in Canaan. Twice in this narrative we find Yaakov turning to “echav” – “his brethren,” or “his comrades” – and inviting them to join him. The first is when he instructed “echav” to collect stones and form a monument, which would serve as a symbol and testament of the pact made with Lavan (31:46). Later (31:54), Yaakov hosts a feast at the site of the pact, and invites “echav” to join him.
Interestingly, Rashi interprets the word “echav” differently in these two contexts. In the first context, regarding the collection of stones for the monument, Rashi explains “echav” as a reference to Yaakov’s children, “who were ‘brothers’ for him, joining him in distress and war.” In the context of Yaakov’s feast, however, Rashi writes that “echav” refers to Yaakov’s friends among Lavan’s men. Apparently, Yaakov had befriended some of Lavan’s servants and family members who had joined Lavan as he pursued Yaakov, and Yaakov invited these men to his feast.
The Tolna Rebbe noted the significance of the different meanings of “echav” in these two contexts. There are “brethren” who are prepared to join one another during times of “feasting,” in periods of success, joy and celebration, but not in times of crisis and distress. In the context of the creation of the monument, Rashi emphasizes that Yaakov’s sons “were ‘brothers’ for him, joining him in distress and war.” The process of collecting stones symbolizes the difficult, tedious work entailed in creating and defending boundaries to protect ourselves. When it comes to hard work, one can expect the cooperation and assistance only of his “brothers” who “join him in distress and war.” The “fair weather friends” are happy to join for “feasting,” but not in times of crisis when hard work and effort are urgently needed.
Rashi’s two comments thus remind us of the importance of being “brothers joining him in distress and war” – committed friends and family members who are available for one another through thick and thin, in times of happiness and in times of distress. We need to come to one another’s side not only for “feasts,” but also for the difficult, laborious tasks that are needed.