By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant The translation of this week’s Torah Parsha (CHAYEI SARAH) is ‘The Life of Sarah’. Ironically, only the first two lines of the Parsha pertain...
This week’s Parsha (VAYETZEI) begins with Jacob on the run from his family and home. Every aspect of his life is complicated. Although, he leaves his home with his father’s (Isaac) birthright and blessings, these blessings were obtained under false pretenses. His relationships with each of his family members are clouded, as is the journey on which he has embarked.
After he has betrayed his brother, Esau, and his father, his mother, Rebecca, urges him to travel to Haran, the home of her brother and his family. Esau had threatened to kill Jacob for his deceit; and, Rebecca fears for his life. The physical and emotional stress of Jacob’s life has exhausted him. He retreats into either a deep sleep, or had floated into an alternative consciousness, when he is confronted by a mysterious dream.
In this state, Jacob believed that a ladder was set upon the ground, and its top reached to heaven. Angels of God were ascending and descending upon it. The Lord was standing over Jacob, and said: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac; the land upon which you are lying, I will give to you and to your seed” (1). God continued with his speech to Jacob: “Your seed shall be as many as the dust of the earth, and through you, shall be blessed all the families, your descendants” (2).
Once Jacob had received this blessing from God, one might think that this event would change him in a profound way. However, consider Jacob’s response to the words, which he had just heard from the mouth of God: “If God remains with me; protects me on my journey; gives me food to eat; and, clothing to wear, then He shall be my God” (3). Faith is fluid and Jacob, obviously Jacob is still not ready for a deeper relationship with God. Literally, he is giving God conditions, to earn his faith.
Jacob finally reaches his destination, in Haran, at the family home of his Uncle Laban. The narrative shifts back to love, loss, pain and betrayal. Jacob meets the beautiful Rachel in the field, and immediately says to her father, Laban: “I will work for you for seven years if you let me marry your daughter, Rachel” (4).
The night of the wedding, Laban brought Leah (his older daughter) and her maidservant to Jacob’s tent. When the sun rose the next morning, Jacob saw Leah, not Rachel, lying in his bed. In fury, Jacob found Laban in the fields, raised his voice and screamed: “What have you done to me? Have I not worked for you for seven years, so as to marry Rachel? Why have you deceived me? “(5). Laban responded, by explaining the tradition of the elder daughter to marry before the younger. He gave no apology for his deceiving Jacob. However, Laban did say: “We will give you Rachel too, for another seven years of labor” (6).
Jacob now had both sisters as wives, as well as their handmaidens. The jealousy between the two sisters was frenzied. Leah felt that she was hated and cringed at the unspoken love between Jacob and Rachel. However, Leah was extremely fertile. Each child she bore, she flaunted, believing that Jacob would love her more. Matters became even more painful in the household, when Rachel realized that she was barren.
Ultimately Rachel became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who she named Joseph. Later, she bore a second son, named Benjamin.
Between Leah, Rachel, and the two handmaidens, Jacob was blessed with thirteen children; twelve sons, and one daughter. He had completed his additional seven years, working for Laban. The two men settled, with Jacob taking half the flock of sheep.
Then, Jacob had another ‘Revelation’. The descendants of his twelve sons would ultimately comprise a nation (the twelve tribes of Israel). God’s prophecy was correct! The spirituality, which was lacking in Jacob, now infused his mind, his heart, and his soul.
Jacob became a righteous man, deserving to be listed with his wives, along with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, as the three sets of patriarchs, whom we honor in our prayers each week at Shabbat.
(1) GENESIS (28:13)
(2) GENESIS (28:14)
(3) GENESIS (28:20-21)
(4) GENESIS (29:18)
(5) GENESIS (29:25)
(6) GENESIS (29:29)