FROM THE TORAH
VAYETZE: The Seventh Sedra of the Torah
At the end of last week’s Sedra Toledot, Jacob is pressed by his parents, Rebecca and Isaac, to travel from Beersheba in Canaan eastward to Charan and make contact with his mother’s family there. There are two reasons. Rebecca fears that Jacob’s rough older brother Esau will commit fratricide for being supplanted by Jacob. Therefore she wants Jacob to seek refuge with her family in Paddan Aram until Esau’s anger subsides. She also wishes to prevent Jacob from marrying a local woman from Canaan and, with Isaac’s support, would have him take a wife instead from the daughters of her brother Laban. This week’s Sedra Vayetze continues the narrative with Jacob’s departure from Beersheba. It follows the next twenty years of Jacob’s life in Charan with his eventful marriages, the birth of his children, and his relationship with his uncle Laban, who becomes his father-in-law and employer. The sedra ends with the dramatic departure of Jacob, along with his family, back towards his native land.
JACOB FINDS THE ETERNAL AT BETH EL
So Jacob “leaves” (Vayetze) Beersheba and goes to Charan. He encounters “the place” and spends the night there, as the sun set. He arranges some of the stones for his head, and there he lies down. He dreams of a ladder standing on the ground, with its top reaching heaven, as angels of God are going up and coming down upon it. Positioned upon it is the Eternal, who says:
“I am the Eternal, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The Land upon which you lie I am giving to you and to your offspring, and your offspring shall be as the dust of the earth. You shall spread out westward and eastward, northward and southward, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you and your offspring. Know that I am with you and that I shall protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this Land. I shall not leave you until I have accomplished all that I promise you.”
Then Jacob awakens from his sleep and recognizes that the Eternal was in that place, although he had not known it. Fearfully he says: How awesome is this place! It is none other than the House of God and the Gate of Heaven.
Jacob arises early the next morning and sets up the stone he had used for his head, as a pillar. He pours oil upon it and names the place Beth El (“House of God”). Luz was its name at first.
Jacob makes the following vow: If God will be with me and protect me on this journey which I am undertaking, and He gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I return safely to my father’s house, then the Eternal shall be my God. This stone, he continues, which I have set up as a pillar shall become a house of God, and from whatever You provide me, I shall set aside a tenth of it for You.
JACOB MEETS RACHEL AT THE WELL
So Jacob moves onward to the land of the Easterners. He encounters a well in the field, surrounded by three flocks of sheep. For now the mouth of the well is covered by a large stone. When all of the flocks are gathered, they would roll the stone off of the opening and water the sheep. Then they would replace the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.
Jacob greets them, “My brothers!” He asks them where they are from. “We are from Charan,” they say. He asks them if they know Laban son of Nachor. They answer that they do. He asks of them his welfare. They say he is well and add that his daughter Rachel is coming with the flock.
Jacob suggests to them that, as it is too early to expect the livestock to be gathered, they should water the flock that is there and return to pasture. They refuse to alter their practice of waiting until all of the flocks are gathered before they roll the stone off of the well and water the sheep.
As Jacob is speaking with them, Rachel, daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother, a shepherdess, arrives with her father’s flock. Seeing her and the flock, Jacobs steps over to the stone, rolls it from over the mouth of the well, waters Laban’s flock, kisses Rachel, and breaks into tears. Jacob explains to Rachel that he is the son of Rebecca, her father’s sister. Rachel runs to tell her father. When Laban receives the news, he runs to greet Jacob. He hugs and kisses him and brings him into his house. Jacob tells Laban all that has transpired. Laban says to him, “You are indeed my bone and flesh!” and he stays with him for the duration of a month.
JACOB WORKS FOR LABAN
Then Laban suggests to Jacob that just because they are kinsmen, Jacob should not have to work for him for no compensation. What should be your pay? he asks. Now Laban had two daughters: Leah, the older, had weak eyes. Rachel, the younger, was physically attractive. Jacob loves Rachel and proposes serving Laban for her for seven years. Laban responds by expressing his preference to give Rachel to him rather than to another man, so “stay with me!” Jacob works for Rachel for seven years, but in his eyes they are as only a few days, because of his love for her.
Jacob says to Laban: Give me my wife, for my time has been fulfilled; now I should cohabit with her. Laban invites all of the local people and makes a feast. In the evening he delivers his daughter Leah instead of Rachel, and Jacob cohabits with her. In the morning, behold it is Leah! Jacob demands that Laban explain what he is doing: Did I not labor with you for Rachel? Why have you deceived me?! Laban justifies his action by explaining that giving the younger before the older is opposed by local custom. His solution: fulfill the week for this one, and we will give you the other one. Thus Jacob does: he fulfills the week for Leah, then Laban gives him his daughter Rachel for a wife. Laban gives Leah his maidservant Zilpah, to be hers, and he gives Rachel his maidservant Bilhah, to be hers. Jacob cohabits also with Rachel, and he loves Rachel more than Leah. Then he labors with Laban for yet another seven years.
LEAH BEARS FOUR SONS
The Eternal, observing that Leah is unloved, opens her womb, while Rachel is barren:
Leah conceives and bears a son. She names him Reuben [“See a son!”], thinking that “the Eternal sees my affliction, and now my husband will love me.”
Leah conceives again and bears a son. She names him Shimon [“Hear affliction!”], thinking that “the Eternal hears that I am unloved, so He is giving me this one also.”
Leah conceives again and bears a son. She names him Levi [“Attached”], thinking that “this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”
Leah conceives again and bears a son. She names him Judah [“Thanksgiving”], thinking that “this time I shall thank the Eternal.”
Then Leah stops bearing.
RACHEL IS “CHILDED” TWICE THROUGH BILHAH
Rachel, having borne no children to Jacob, is envious of her sister. Of Jacob she demands, “Give me children, or else I shall die!” Jacob is angered at Rachel and says, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you fruit of the womb?” Rachel proposes that Jacob cohabit with her handmaiden Bilhah, “and she shall deliver upon my knees, I shall be ‘childed’ from her!” So she gives him Bilhah, her maidservant, for a wife:
Bilhah conceives and bears a son to Jacob. Rachel names him Dan [“Judge”], thinking, “God has judged me, He has listened to my voice and given me a son.”
Bilhah, maidservant of Rachel, conceives again and bears a second son to Jacob. Rachel names him Naphtali [“My wrestling”], thinking, “I have wrestled in a divine contest with my sister, and I have prevailed.”
LEAH GIVES ZILPAH TO JACOB FOR TWO SONS
When Leah realizes that she has stopped bearing, she gives Zilpah her maidservant to Jacob for a wife:
Zilpah, maidservant of Leah, bears a son to Jacob. Leah names him Gad [“Fortune”], thinking, “Good fortune has come.”
Zilpah, maidservant of Leah, bears a second son to Jacob. Leah names him Asher [“Happy”], thinking, “Women consider me happy.”
LEAH HIRES JACOB AND BEARS TWO MORE SONS AND A DAUGHTER
During the wheat harvest, Reuben finds love-mandrakes in the field and brings them to Leah, his mother. Rachel asks Leah for some of them. “Was it not enough for you to take my husband,” replies Leah, “that you would also take my son’s love-mandrakes?” Rachel offers Jacob to Leah, to “sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s love-mandrakes.” So, as Jacob is returning from the field in the evening, Leah goes out to meet him: “You are coming to me, because I have hired you with my son’s love-mandrakes.” He sleeps with her that night, and God pays heed to Leah:
Leah conceives and bears a fifth son to Jacob. She names him Issachar [“He provides a reward”], thinking, “God has granted my reward for my giving my maidservant to my husband.”
Leah conceives again and bears a sixth son to Jacob. She names him Zebulun [“Honor”], thinking, “God has bestowed a wonderful gift upon me; now my husband will honor me for having borne six sons to him.”
After that she bore a daughter and named her Dinah.
RACHEL BEARS JOSEPH
God remembers Rachel. He listens to her and opens her womb:
Rachel conceives and bears a son. She names him Joseph [“May He add”], thinking, “God has gathered up my disgrace; may the Eternal add for me another son.”
JACOB COPES WITH LABAN’S DECEIT
When Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob asks Laban for leave to his native land, together with his wives and his children, “for whom I have worked.” Laban acknowledges that “the Eternal has blessed me because of you,” but he invites Jacob to name his price for the work he has done. Jacob reminds Laban of how greatly his livestock have increased since Jacob started working for him, from only a few to a multitude, “that the Eternal has blessed you because of me.” Now it is time for me to do the same for my own household! Laban responds by asking Jacob again, “What can I give you?”
Pay me nothing, says Jacob, but allow me this one thing. I shall again pasture and protect your flock, if I may pass through them today and set aside for my compensation only the few speckled and spotted animals: the dark-colored sheep and the spotted and speckled goats. To test my honesty, you will be able then to track my compensation, for any goats or sheep not showing those unusual characteristics will not belong to me. Laban readily agrees to the proposed arrangement.
But on the same day, Laban transfers to his sons all of the streaked and spotted male goats and all of the speckled and spotted female goats, all having some white in them, and all of the dark-colored sheep. He puts three days of distance between himself and Jacob, and leaves Jacob to pasture what remains of Laban’s flock, all but the animals that they had agreed would belong to Jacob!
So Jacob takes rods of fresh poplar and almond-wood and plane, and peels stripes out of them, laying bare white stripes around them. He places the rods which he has peeled, at the drinking troughs in front of the flocks. As the goats come to drink, they also mate. As they mate facing the striped rods, they bear young that are streaked, speckled and spotted. Jacob separates the sheep and has them face the streaked and the dark-colored within the flock. He produces for himself his own flocks, and he does not put them with the rest of Laban’s flock. Moreover, when the sturdier animals of the flock mate, Jacob sets up the rods so that those animals at the troughs mate in view of the rods. But for the animals that show feebleness, he does not set up the rods, so that the feeble, white animals remain with Laban and the sturdier streaked, speckled and spotted animals go to Jacob. Jacob becomes very wealthy, acquiring large flocks, servants, camels, and asses.
JACOB SEEKS SEPARATION FROM LABAN
Jacob hears the talk of Laban’s sons: Jacob has taken all of our father’s property and turned it into great wealth. Moreover Jacob notices a change in Laban’s attitude towards him. The Eternal says to him: Return to the land of your fathers, to your birthplace, and I will be with you! Jacob sends word of Laban’s change of attitude and God’s promise, to Rachel and Leah, who are in the field with his flock. He reminds them how hard he has worked for their father and that even though their father cheated him and changed his wages many times, “God never allowed him to do me harm.” Whichever type of animals he promised me at any one time, whether speckled or streaked, that is the type that were born. God liberated your father’s livestock and gave it to me!
Jacob relates a dream that he had when the flocks were mating. I saw that the male goats mounting the flock were streaked, speckled and mottled. An angel of God explained that this was because of what Laban was doing to me. “I am the God of Beth El, where you anointed a pillar (cf. 28:18) and made a vow to Me (cf. 28:20-22); now get out of this country and return to your native land!”
Rachel and Leah express doubt as to whether they remain heirs to property in their father’s house. “We are thought of as foreigners to him, as he sold us and continues to spend the value for which we were sold. Really, all of the wealth which God has liberated from our father is rightly ours and our children’s. So now, follow through on all that God has said to you!”
JACOB AND HIS HOUSEHOLD FLEE
Jacob mounts his children and his wives on the camels. He drives all of his livestock and wealth, acquired in Paddan Aram, towards Isaac his father in the land of Canaan. When Laban is out, shearing his sheep, Rachel appropriates her father’s icons. Jacob, for his part, keeps Laban in the dark about their departure. He flees with all that he has and crosses the Euphrates, heading towards the hill country of Gilead.
Three days later Laban learns that Jacob has fled. With his kinsmen he pursues him for seven days and catches up with him in the hill country of Gilead. There they encamp, while Jacob has pitched his tent in the heights. God warns Laban the Aramean, in a night dream, not to threaten Jacob. But Laban accuses him of secretly removing his daughters like captives of the sword: why did you leave without telling me? If you had told me that you wanted to leave, says Laban, I would have sent you off in celebration, with singing and dancing and music! You did not even let me kiss my children goodbye. You have acted foolishly, and I have it in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father told me last night not to threaten you. Seeing that you have left because you desire your father’s house, tell me at least why you have stolen my gods!
Jacob answers Laban: I did not tell you because I feared that you would try to wrest your daughters from me. As far as your gods are concerned, anyone with whom you may find them shall not live! In the presence of our kinsmen, show what I have that is yours, and take it. Jacob did not know that Rachel had taken them. Laban searches the tents of Jacob, Leah, the two maidservants, and does not find his gods. Leaving Leah’s tent, he comes into the tent of Rachel. Rachel had put the icons in the cushion of the camel and was sitting on them. She says to her father, “Let my lord not be angry, but I cannot stand before you just now due to the way of women.” Laban feels around all of the tent but does not find them.
Angry at Laban, Jacob challenges him to show what, if anything, of his he has found: “Put it here in front of my kinsmen and yours, and let them decide between us!” For twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your she-goats did not miscarry, and the rams of your flock I did not eat. If an animal was injured, I absorbed the loss. I endured the scorching days and the freezing nights and the accompanying lack of sleep. Of those twenty years in your house, I worked fourteen of them for your two daughters and another six years for your flocks, during which you switched around my wages time and again. Were it not for the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Dread of Isaac, you would have sent me away emptyhanded! But, seeing my affliction and my toil, He made judgment last night.
LABAN AND JACOB MAKE A PACT OF SEPARATION
Laban responds: The daughters are mine, the sons are mine, the flocks are mine, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do about these my daughters today, or about the children which they have borne? So now, let us make a pact, I and you, as a witness between us. Jacob sets up a stone for a pillar, and he tells his kinsmen to gather other stones, which they set up as a mound and have a meal by it. Laban calls it Yegar Sahadutha [“Mound of Witness” in Aramaic], and Jacob calls it Gal-Eyd [“Mound of Witness” in Hebrew]. Laban declares, “May this mound be a witness between me and you this day!” It was also called Mitzpah [“Lookout”], for he said, “May the Eternal look out between me and you when one man is hidden from the other. If you should harm my daughters or take other wives, and no one else is present, see: God is witness between me and you!”
Laban says further to Jacob: This mound and this pillar which I have set up between me and you—let neither of us cross over them to the other one with the intent of doing harm. Let the God of Abraham and the God of Nachor judge between us, that is, their ancestral deities. Jacob swears by the Dread of his father Isaac, and he performs a sacrifice in the heights. He calls on his kinsmen to eat bread. They eat bread and spend the night there.
Early the next morning, Laban arises and kisses his sons and his daughters and blesses them, whereupon he returns to his home. Jacob went on his way, and angels of God meet him. When Jacob sees them, he says, “This is God’s camp,” so he names that place Machanaim [“Grand Encampment”].
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Vayetze
Jacob fled to the country of Edom;
Israel served for one wife,
and then for another wife he guarded.
The Eternal brought Israel up
from Egypt by one prophet,
and now by another prophet
is he guarded.
SIN OF IDOLATRY
Ephraim has caused bitter anger,
for which his blood is upon him;
his Lord punishes him
for his disgrace.
At one time Ephraim was exalted in Israel,
but when he became guilty in Baal,
They continue to sin,
making molten images
out of their silver,
and for sacrifices
they kiss calves!
Those things are as transient
as the morning cloud and dew,
as the chaff that is blown
from the threshing-floor,
and as smoke from the window.
I am the Eternal your God
from the land of Egypt
and in the barren wilderness,
none other but Me.
Yet, now satisfied,
they have forgotten Me.
So I wait for them like a lion,
like a bear ready to rend
the enclosure of their heart.
This shall be your destruction,
for rejecting My help!
Your kings and your judges
will not save you in your cities,
It is I who grant them in My anger,
and I take them away in My wrath!
The iniquity of Ephraim
is stored up for punishment:
unwise is he for failing
to remove himself
from his mother’s travails.
Should I redeem them
from the power of She’ol?
May repentance be concealed
from My sight!
He may have flourished
among the reeds of Egypt,
but here the Eternal’s east wind
will blow up from the wilderness,
dry out his fountain,
and spoil the store
of his precious gifts.
Samaria has rebelled
against her God,
so she will fall by the sword
and see mother and child
ripped into pieces.
CALL FOR REPENTANCE
Return, O Israel, to the Eternal your God,
as you have stumbled in your iniquity.
Take with you words,
and return to the Eternal.
Say to Him: “Forgive all iniquity,
and take that which is good!”
Thereby will we offer our lips
in place of bulls.
Assyria is not our Savior,
we will not ride upon horses;
we will no longer call
the work of our hands
for, by contrast, in You
there is compassion
for the orphan.
GOD’S HEALING RESPONSE
I shall heal them from their failings
and love them freely;
I am no longer angry with him.
I shall be as the dew to Israel,
he shall blossom as the lily
and be rooted and verdant
as the Lebanon.
Ephraim shall eschew idols,
and I shall respond
by protecting him in My shade
as the verdant cypress tree.
From Me is your fruit!
Let one who is wise
understand these words,
for the ways of the Eternal
The righteous walk therein,
but transgressors stumble in them.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Genesis Rabbah 68:6
“Jacob leaves Beersheba and goes to Charan.”
Did only Jacob leave Beersheba? Were there not also accompanying asses and camels and their drivers? And why mention his leaving Beersheba altogether since his departure can be assumed in his journey to Charan?
Rabbi Azariah in the name of Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Simon, and Rabbi Chanin in the name of Rabbi Samuel son of Rav Isaac, said: When a righteous person inhabits the city, he is its glory and its beauty. When he leaves, its glory and its beauty depart.
Similarly, we could ask about Naomi: “She leaves the place where she was…” (Ruth 1:7), why only “she,” considering that her two daughters-in-law also went with her, back to Judah (cf. ibid.)? Similarly we can answer: When righteous Naomi inhabited the place, she was its glory and its beauty. When she left, its glory and its beauty went away.
But the case of Naomi is different than the case of Jacob. When Naomi left the country of Moab, we do not know of any righteous people who remained. However, when Jacob left Beersheba, his righteous parents Isaac and Rebecca remained! This might teach us that it really has nothing to do with the number of righteous in a place, for each righteous person makes a unique and irreplaceable impression.
Genesis Rabbah 68:9
“He encounters ‘the place’…”
“The place?” Which place? There is no antecedent! No geographical “place” has been pre-identified. “The Place” (Hamakom) is one of the expressions we use, quite frequently, for God: He encounters Hamakom, “The Place,” the Holy One, blessed be He! This is supported by his ensuing dream and discovery of God’s presence there (cf. 28:12-19).
Why do we call God Hamakom, ”The Place?” Because He is the Place of His world, and His world is not His place! This is apparent from the following:
Exodus 33:21: The Eternal says to Moses, “Behold there is place with[in] Me!”
Deuteronomy 33:27: “A dwelling-place is the ancient God….”
Psalms 90:1: “O Lord, You have been our dwelling-place….”
Said Rabbi Abba bar Yudan: He may be compared to a warrior riding upon his horse with His weapons hanging on either side. The horse is secondary to the rider, but the rider is not secondary to the horse. Thus it was said: “You ride upon your horses, upon your chariots of victory!” (Habakkuk 3:8)
Genesis Rabbah 68:9
“He encounters ‘the place’…”
“The place?” Which place? As there is no immediate antecedent, we can assume that it refers to “the place” par excellence: the place of the future Temple! In what sense does he “encounter” the Temple? Not surprisingly, he prays there!
Said Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: The Patriarchs ordained three services of prayer.
Abraham ordained Shacharit, the Morning Service, as was said: “Abraham rises up early in the morning to ‘the place’ (Hamakom) (cf. supra) where he is standing facing the Eternal” (Genesis 19:27), and “standing” (Amidah) means praying, as was said, “Pinchas stands up and prays, and the plague is arrested!” (Psalms 106:30; cf. Numbers 25:1-9)
Isaac ordained Mincha, the Afternoon Service, as was said: “Isaac goes out to ‘talk’ in the field at the approach of evening…” (Genesis 24:63), and “talk” means prayer, as was said, “I cry aloud to the Eternal…I pour out my talk before Him…!” (Psalms 142:2-3) and “Evening, morning, and noon, I talk and I moan, and He hears my voice!” (Psalms 55:18)
Jacob ordained Ma’ariv, the Evening Service, as was said, “He ‘encounters’ The Place (cf. supra)…,” and “encounter” means prayer, as was said, “And you, do not pray for this people…and do not encounter Me…!” (Jeremiah 7:16), and “If they are truly prophets and the word of the Eternal is with them, let them by all means encounter the Eternal of hosts not to let the remaining vessels…go to Babylon!” (Jeremiah 27:18)
Said Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman: The three services of prayer are meant to correspond with the three transitions of the day.
In Ma’ariv one should be able to say: May it be Your will, O Eternal my God, to deliver me from darkness to light!
In Shacharit one should be able to say: I thank You for delivering me from darkness to light!
In Mincha one should be able to say: May it be Your will, O Eternal my God, just as You have allowed me to see the sun in its rising, so may You allow me to see it in its setting!
Another explanation was put forward by the Rabbis: They were ordained to correspond to the daily offerings.
The Morning Service corresponds to the Tamid, the daily offering, of the morning.
The Afternoon Service corresponds to the Tamid, the daily offering, of dusk.
The Evening Service does not have a fixed time.
Said Rabbi Tanchuma: Even the Evening Service has a fixed time, as it corresponds to the limbs and fats that were consumed in fire upon the altar all through the night.
Genesis Rabbah 68:12
“He dreams of a ladder standing on the ground,
with its top reaching heaven,
as angels of God are
going up and coming down upon it.”
“Going up” were the angels who had accompanied him when he was in the Land of Israel, while “coming down” were those who would accompany him outside of the Land of Israel.
Talmud Bava Bathra 123a
“Now Laban had two daughters:
Leah, the older, had weak eyes…”
What is the meaning of “weak” here? If you mean that Leah’s eyes were actually weak, is that really possible? After all, since the Torah does not even denigrate unclean animals, as when God told Noah to take of both “clean beasts” and “beasts that are not clean” (Genesis 7:8) instead of saying “unclean beasts,” would it denigrate the righteous?!
Rabbi Elazar suggests that the word rakot, which we translated “weak,” should actually be read arukot, “long,” referring to the long list of priestly and Levitical emoluments to which her descendants through Levi would be entitled.
Rav taught that rakot is the correct reading and that it does mean actually weak, but not as a denigration, rather as praise for her love of virtue. For she heard “through the grapevine” that people were saying that since Rebecca has two sons and Laban has two daughters, the older should marry the older and the younger should marry the younger. As she continued to listen to what people were saying, she learned that Rebecca’s older son was an evil man who robbed and that her younger son was a quiet man, a dweller of tents. The very thought of being wed to the wrong man caused her to weep so much that her eyelids fell out!
observing that Leah is unloved,
opens her womb…”
This could not mean unloved actually for the reasoning given above: the Torah would not denigrate the righteous! What it must mean, then, is that God saw that Leah was unloving of Esau’s behavior, and therefore He opened her womb!
Genesis Rabbah 70:20
Jacob cohabits also with Rachel,
then he labors with Laban
for yet another seven years.
Said Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Simon: It is the way of the world that a worker works faithfully for his employer for two, maybe three, hours. Then he sloughs off. But here, in the case of Jacob, just as he worked with full faithfulness for all of the first seven years, so did he for the last seven years. That is the meaning of “yet” another seven years!
“Jacob fled to the country of Edom;
Israel served for a wife,
and for a wife he guarded.”
Said Rabbi Yochanan: The prophet wishes to inspire his people with the example of Jacob their father. Just as Jacob your father was indentured to Laban before he married his wife, so also even after he married his wife he was indentured to Laban. You also: Before your redeemer (king) was born, you were enslaved, but now, even after your redeemer has been born, you are still enslaved.