Stolen Money Yields No Profit
It is written, “They took their livestock and their wealth which they had amassed in the land of Canaan and they came to Egypt – Jacob and all his offspring with him” (Genesis 46:6-7). Concerning this subject, Rashi cites the words of the Sages: “Jacob gave Esau everything that he had acquired in Padan Aram in exchange for a place in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, saying that all the goods acquired outside the land of Israel had no value in his eyes, as it is written further on: ‘In my grave, which I have hewn for myself in the land of Canaan – there you are to bury me’ [Genesis 50:5]. Jacob placed a pile of gold and silver before Esau and said to him, ‘Take this in exchange’ ” (Shemot Rabba 31:17). See Rashi’s commentary on this subject.
1. How could Jacob, who had worked day and night in order to earn his wages (Genesis 31:40-41) – and who, as we know, benefited from numerous miracles while in Laban’s house – have considered the possessions that he had acquired as being of little worth?
2. If in fact righteous men “consider their possessions as being more important than themselves” (Sotah 12a), what is the difference between possessions acquired in Eretz Israel and those acquired elsewhere? This is especially true of Jacob, of whom it is said: “Jacob was left alone” (Genesis 32:25) “because of tiny objects left behind” (Chullin 91a), which shows that he placed particular importance on his possessions. Therefore why did he give them to his brother Esau?
Jacob did not want to draw any profit from the goods he acquired while staying with Laban. He knew Laban to be a deceiver and a thief, and he feared that a part of his earnings had been dishonestly acquired by Laban (Tanhuma Vayigash 1). Even though Jacob had faithfully served Laban and only received what was owed to him, he did not want to profit from earnings whose origin were dubious, and he put his money aside over the years without using it. Jacob did not place the money that he earned working for Laban with his own money, for he thought that stolen money was included in the wages that Laban paid him. He therefore did not want to benefit from it in any way, even though he himself had earned it honestly. Not only did Jacob refrain from using this money, he did not want his children to inherit it from him.
Before descending into Egypt, Jacob gave this entire fortune to Esau in exchange for a place in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. This is similar to what Abraham did when he gave presents to the children of his concubines (Genesis 25:6), for Jacob wanted his children and their descendants to rejoice in the land of Goshen only with wealth that had been earned honestly.
This is truly astonishing! For 39 years, Jacob made no use of his wages – money whose origins were dubious – and he was content to put it aside.
From this we see the greatness of righteous men and their devotion to upright values. Even though their possessions are precious to them, money of dubious origin has no value in their eyes. This is a lesson for us all. We must differentiate between money that is honestly gained and money that stems from dishonest transactions, between good wages “that support a man” (Pesachim 119a), and possessions that must not be used, even if they are acquired in a completely honest way. This is because such possessions may be defective in some way, especially if they originate from dishonest people living in a place that, like Haran, “draws the anger of G-d.” We must therefore only use money that is free of all traces of fraud.