December 9-10, 2016 – 10 Kislev 5777
Annual (Genesis 28:10-32:3): Etz Hayim p. 166-187; Hertz p. 106-117
Triennial (Genesis 28:10-30:13): Etz Hayim p. 166-176; Hertz p. 106-111
Haftarah (Hosea 12:13-14:10): Etz Hayim p. 188-193; Hertz p. 118-121
Jacob: A Story of Self Transformation
Yardén Raber, CY Talmud Faculty
Our forefathers are not necessarily depicted by the Torah as flawless heroes, but rather as flesh-and-blood creatures with human faults and natural inclinations. Jacob is perhaps the clearest example of this phenomenon: his life is marked by enmity towards his brother, and his behavior toward others has serious implications in his life’s journey. It is in fact this behavior that ultimately leads Jacob to flee his own land after having deceived Esau. However, as we might see in this week’s Parashah, this forced exile is what opens the possibility for Jacob’s personal journey toward repentance.
Apparently the exile from the Land of Israel has not only personal implications for Jacob but also theological ones. The S’fat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Arieh Alter, Poland, 19th-20th Cent.) asserts that by fleeing the Land, Jacob is also taking a step back from God. Nevertheless, this is not necessarily a bad thing; on the contrary, being away from God is what awakens in Jacob a greater desire to reveal the godly essence that dwells in his inner being. In other words, while in exile Jacob engages in a thorough search for God through tikun atzmi, a process of self transformation. Throughout this whole process he faces situations that force him to put himself in the place of the victim and the oppressed. Just as Jacob deceived his brother Esau by stealing from him the first-born’s blessing, he is now deceived by Laban. It seems that Jacob’s own deception tactics are now directed against himself: while Rachel, Laban’s younger daughter, has apparently been allotted to Jacob, it is indeed Leah, the eldest daughter, who is given to him first. The situation which had forced him to flee in the first place has been reversed; Jacob now learns what it is to be on the receiving end.
Jacob’s relationship with Leah is depicted as a very problematic one. In fact, Jacob loves Rachel, but hates Leah (Gen. 29:31-33), thus leading to an enduring confrontation between the two sisters. However, according to Rabbi Isaac Abarbanel (Portugal-Spain-Italy, 15th-16th Cent.) it is precisely this relationship what leads Jacob into a new stage of self-awareness and personal transformation. Abarbanel argues that every child that Jacob and Leah bore together helped him clear the hatred from his heart, until it was wholly eradicated. That is to say, parenthood made of Jacob a completely new man.
Our patriarch has now undergone two fundamental changes: on the one hand, he has been in the place of the oppressed and is therefore aware of his own mistakes; on the other, he has now completely cleared up his heart from any sort of resentment toward others. Only after this process of tikun atzmi is he able to re-encounter God, who is reflected in every single human being. Jacob has now returned to his true self; therefore, he is now ready to go back to his own land and to look at his brother’s face again.
A Vort for Parashat Vayetse
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
Jacob leaves for Haran, where his mother Rivka’s family still lives, with a problematic “vow” -he promises loyalty to God if God protects and provides for him, and “if I return [v’shavti b’shalom] safely/in peace to my father’s house” (Gen 28:21). Rashi departs from the simple meaning of b’shalom and says it means “shalem min ha’chet – free from sin, that I not learn the ways of Lavan.” The Vaiyichtov Moshe says that had the Torah wanted to say, “and if (God) return me in peace,” it would have used the hiphil, causal form, v’heshevani. God watches over our physical wholeness, he explains; but protection from sin is our responsibility – “All is in God’s control, except the fear of God” (Talmud Brachot 33b).
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
In this Parasha Yaakov (Jacob) becomes a patriarch. As he leaves the country (he will return at the end of the Parasha), he is promised by God to receive the land of Israel. He arrives at his uncle Laban, marries Laban’s 2 daughters and their 2 handmaids, and sires 12 children. He also proves to be a very knowledgeable and hard working shepherd.
1) On his way from his home in Be’er Sheva towards Aram (in Syria) Yaakov stops to spend the night. 28:11 puts great stress on the location (makom) that Jacob is in, a stress that continues in vv.16-19. Why do you think that Jacob is so aware of his location at this point in his life? What is the name of the location (v.19)? Many years later, the kingdom of Israel will have one of its main shrines in that place (I Kings 12:26-29). How might our story be related to that?
2) Upon arriving, Yaakov goes to the well (29:2-9). Why do you think that this is his destination of choice? Who else went to the well as he arrived in a place where he knew no one (look at 24:10-14)? What other point(s) of similarity can you find between the 2 stories?
3) Yaakov, wishing to marry Rachel, Laban’s daughter, makes an agreement with Laban regarding the bride’s price that he will pay (29:18-21). How much will he pay? Look at the contract that they agree on: How specific was Yaakov regarding who he is intending to marry (v.18)?
4) Leah, who finds herself as the unloved wife of Yaakov, does provide him with 7 children (29:32-30:21). How many boys and how many girls does she have? Note their names. Based on that, when did Leah’s relationship with Yaakov change? Who is the first child with a positive reason behind his name?
5) Rachel also has children, but only after many years. Read 30:22-24 carefully. How did Rachel feel during all the years that she could not bear children? How many reasons are given for the name that she gives her first son? What is his name? What are the reasons?