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Q&A

Why did Yaakov propose his payment scheme?

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In Vayetze, Genesis 30:25–43, Jacob and Laban come to and execute a strange agreement:

Jacob agrees to tend Laban's sheep under a payment scheme as follows: First (as explained by Rashi to verse 32), Laban separates all the speckled and spotted goats and all the brown sheep, and gives them to his sons to tend separately. Jacob tends the remaining animals. Then, any speckled or spotted goats or brown sheep that are born thereafter from among the animals that Jacob tends constitute his wages.

And so it was. Jacob used strategic husbandry to get the animals to be born colored. Laban (as explained by Rashi to 31:7 and 31:41) kept changing Jacob's wages, from animals with one kind of marking to animals with another, but the animals kept being born to benefit Jacob (31:8).

My question is — why did Jacob propose such a deal? I would think (on no particular basis) that shepherds would normally be paid either in cash or perhaps in a percentage of sheep born that year. Why did he propose such a strange payment scheme? Is it perhaps because he knew he could get the animals to be born that way? If so, is that due to whatever husbandry tricks he knew or because of faith that God with intervene to his benefit?

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Rav Hirsch points out that Yaakov knew that Lavan was a trickster and was going to attempt to avoid paying him anything. He had worked forteen years for his wives and children without getting anything. Lavan in Vayeitze 30:27 tried to con him ito continuing to work for free.

I have a superstitious idea that Hashem has blessed me for your sake.

Yaakov knew that if he made a standard deal, Lavan would have cheated him. As a result he attempted to ensure that whatever he was to be paid would be obviously his and not Lavan's. as Rav Hirsch said on Vayeitzei 30:31

You are not to give me anything. Jacob had experience how Laban understood how to twist and deceive in paying after the work had been don. You are to pay me. An arrangement must be made whereby that which is to be Jacob's wages become his property as soon as it is born; for once anything has become Laban's property it is not so easily obtained from him, however justified the demand might be.

Indeed, after Yaakov left, Lavan chased after him and pretended that everything Yaakov had actually belonged to him.

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Yaakov didn't come up with the scheme on his own. If he had done so, it would have required relying on a miracle without any expectation of one - he would have been better off working for "normal" wages.

Rather, he had a prophetic dream first, as recounted in Genesis 31:10. He only tells the story when he is getting ready to leave in order to explain to his wives how he got the Laban's flocks and why now, when God spoke to him in a second dream, that it was time to leave. (Ramban, referenced in Artscroll Stone Chumash on 31:13 that there were two distinct dreams recounted at one time.)

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