We read in Parashat Vayeitzei of Yaakov’s arrangement with his uncle, Lavan, that he would work for seven years shepherding Lavan’s flocks, after which Lavan would give him his daughter, Rachel, as a wife.
Chizkuni raises the question of why Yaakov made such a high initial offer – seven full years of work. Seemingly, he should have at least begun by proposing a “cheaper” price for Rachel’s hand in marriage, perhaps just a year or two of service. Yet, Yaakov made no such offer, and from the outset expressed his willingness to work for seven years. Chizkuni answers, “Yaakov did not imagine that he would be given a woman as beautiful as Rachel for a short period of work, and so he said seven years.” Yaakov highly valued the privilege of marrying Rachel, and so he did not consider seven years of work a high price to pay.
Chizkuni’s comments perhaps reflect one of the Yaakov’s important traits – an ethic of hard work and responsibility. Yaakov did not feel entitled to anything. He understood that life’s blessings – such as marrying the woman he wanted as a wife – require time, work and sacrifice. Rather than try to fulfill his wishes with the least possible effort, he recognized the need to put in a great deal of time and work.
The Rambam, in the final passage of Hilkhot Sekhirut, points to Yaakov as the model of an employee’s responsibilities, citing Yaakov’s own description toward the end of Parashat Vayetzei (31:36-40) of his dedication to Lavan’s flocks. Even though his employer tried to deceive and manipulate him, Yaakov felt responsible to invest maximum effort in caring for the sheep, braving harsh weather and staying awake at night devotedly looking after the cattle under his charge. Rather than lowering his standards for the sake of convenience, he rose to every challenge that arose out of a keen sense of duty and obligation. We learn from Yaakov the value of responsibility, not to take anything for granted, to recognize that we are not naturally entitled to anything, and to be prepared to work hard to obtain what we need and want.