Shabbat December 7, 2019 - Vayetzei , Torah Reading - Genesis 28:10-32:3
The parasha begins with Jacob being sent away after the deception he
had practiced on Isaac with the help of Rachel. And immediately the
narrative jumps into the hauntingly vivid dream Jacob has the first
night of his journey. The text says that he stopped at a certain
place because the sun had set. Rashi suggests that this means the sun
miraculously set at an unusual time in order for him to stop there.
While sleeping, Jacob dreams of angels ascending and descending a
golden ladder. We’re told that because the text says “ascending and
descending” not “descending and ascending” we know that the angels had
accompanied him on his journey and then ascended to heaven, but he
could only see them when dreaming. G-d then speaks to Jacob, blessing
him and his descendants. When he awakes he utters the famous line “G-
d was in this place and I did not know it.”
Shaken by the experience he utters “Ma nora hamakom hazeh” How
awesome is this place! Yet, overwhelmed and shaken as he appears,
he’s also very much strengthened by the Divine contact and promise.
As the parasha continues and he joins his kinsman Laban and seeks
work and a wife (and another wife, when he is tricked into marrying
the wrong woman) we encounter a portrayal of a self-assured young man,
not the scared adolescent we saw fleeing his father’s home.
All is not well in Jacob’s household. Leah has many children but the
begins with Reuben, son of Leah, gathering dudaim, which he brings to
his mother. Dudaim are usually thought to be mandrakes, a plant used
in many cultures for a variety of folk remedies, including as a cure
for infertility. Parts of the plant also have hallucinogenic
Rashi, on the other hand, thought they were flowers of the jasmine
plant. In any event, Rachel wants some of the dudaim, and persuades
her sister to give them to her by promising a night with their shared
Leah goes to Jacob and explains she has bought a night with him with
mandrakes and he indeed sleeps with her. It makes for an interesting
window into the complex family dynamics resulting from marrying two
If Rachel wanted the mandrakes as a cure for her infertility, her plan
seems to backfire, as it is her sister who conceives and has several
more children. However, G-d does finally bless Rachel with a son,
Joseph. His eventual rule over his brothers will doubly follow the
biblical pattern of the younger having the upper hand over the elder.
Not only is he the younger brother, but also the son of the younger
Jacob works out a deal with Laban, his father-in-law, whereby Jacob’s
earnings for working for Laban will be that he gets all the spotted,
streaked, and speckled sheep in the flock, while Laban gets the ones
of uniform color. That way it’s clear which sheep are whose. Laban
tries to trick Jacob by removing all the speckled and spotted sheep in
the night and giving them to his sons. Jacob the accomplished
trickster, finds out what happened. While presumably muttering to
himself the ancient Near East equivalent of “Don’t snow the snowman,”
he comes up with a trick to ensure that many speckled lambs are born.
He holds spotted and streaked branches in front of the mating sheep,
causing them to have spotted and streaked offspring. Don’t try this
at home – it is unlikely to work.
As the final section of Vayetzei begins, Jacob is running away again.
When he came to Padan Aram to stay with his Uncle Laban, he was
running away from his brother’s wrath. At that time Jacob was a young
man and had no wealth, possessions, or family. Now he has two wives,
two concubines, children, animals, and wealth. But still he runs off
without telling his uncle/father-in-law Laban. And Rachel steal’s her
father’s teraphim – household idols.
When Laban finds out they are gone he pursues them. G-d warns Laban in
a dream not to confront Jacob, but he does speak to him angrily. He
asks why Jacob left suddenly and without warning, without giving Laban
a chance to say goodbye to his children. And he accuses Jacob of
taking the teraphim, which he calls “gods” indicating that Laban, at
least, is not a monotheist.
Perhaps Rachel isn’t either, and that’s why she wanted the teraphim,
believing in their power. Laban does say that he will not harm Jacob,
because of the dream in which G-d spoke to him.
Jacob replies that he left without telling him because he worried that
Laban would try to keep his daughters, Jacob’s wives. And he denies
stealing the teraphim and says whoever took them will die, not
realizing his favorite wife is the thief. Genesis Rabbah says that
Jacob’s inadvertent cursing of Rachel is why she dies in childbirth.
Laban looks for the teraphim, but does not discover that Rachel has
them. She hides them under the cushion she’s sitting on, and tells
her father she can’t get up because she has her period.
Jacob and Laban have it out, arguing over who cheated whom, but agree
to make a pact of peace between the two of them. Then Jacob leaves
with his family and his possessions (and the teraphim, although Jacob
doesn’t know that). He is met by angels and names the place where he
camps after meeting them “Mahanaim” – twin camps. It seems one camp
is for the people and the other for the angels.
Haftarah Hosea 12:13-14:10
The haftarah comes from the book of Hosea, one of the twelve “minor
prophets” – so called for their brief writings. He is believed to
have lived during the Eighth Century BCE, prophesying in the northern
This week’s haftarah concerns itself with the common prophetic theme
of the people being punished for worshiping false gods. Hosea talks
about Ephraim – by which he means the Ten Tribes in the north –
worshiping idols and being punished for that transgression. He goes
on to say that if they repent the result will be forgiveness. The
haftarah includes the famous line “K’chu imachem dvarim v’shoovoo el
Adoshem” – “Take words with you and return to G-d.” This section
stressing salvation through repentance is also part of the haftarah
for Shabbat Shuvah, in preparation for the High Holidays.
The connection between the Torah and haftarah readings is found in the
beginning of the selection. It references Jacob fleeing to the land of
Aram in order to get a wife and refers to his work for Laban.
Chayei Sarah 5780
Lech Lecha 5780
Ki Tavo 5779
Sh'lach Lecha 5779
Acharei Mot 5779
Shabbat Eighth Day of Pesach 5779
Shabbat First Day of Pesach 5779
Ki Tissa 5779