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This work contains two items:
* Divrei Torah on the Parasha
(Jacob) took from the stones of the place and he put them around his head, and lay down in that place… (28:11)
This Parasha is unusual in that it is written in the Sefer Torah in a continuous narrative form, without any breaks – except before the initial word and after the final one. Like Parashat Miketz (the only other Parasha with this characteristic) it presents an ongoing, deepening presentation of the formative events in the life of a key personality - in our case the Patriarch Jacob - who shaped the future of generations of Israelites after them. It thus has a unified structure.
In addition, stones appear in three incidents in the stories of Parashat Vayeitze – but nowhere else in the narratives of the Book of Genesis, as listed below:
1. Before Jacob slept, he placed stones (plural) around his head, but when he woke up after his dream he took ‘the stone that he put around his head’ (28:18) – stone – in the singular, and built it into an altar. The Talmud (Hullin 91b) brings the tradition that G-d had joined the stones together, making them one.
2. Jacob arrived in Haran through a field, with a well covered by a large stone (29:2) – in the singular. The Torah describes the size of this stone by saying that the shepherds who came to draw the water had to wait until enough of them had arrived in order to roll the stone off the well. When Jacob first saw the shepherdess Rachel - his future wife, he single-handedly removed that huge stone and gave her sheep water to drink…
3. After twenty years with Laban – where he had been tricked in working fourteen years for his daughters and six years for his sheep, he fled with his family and possessions towards the Holy Land. At the end of the angry exchange between Jacob and Laban they made a treaty, which was given substance by Jacob’s first putting up a single stone (31:45), and afterwards ordering his men to gather stones (plural) to make a mound.
What may be learnt from stones featuring in the above three incidents? And why, in the first story, do many stones become one large stone; in the second, the large stone remains a large stone, and in the third, the structure starts as a single stone and the Jacob orders it to be made into many stones?
The individual small stones represent hardness, cruelty, and troubles – if fact stoning to death is one of the Biblical methods of execution (e.g. Lev. 24:23). By contrast, the large stone suggests firmness, security, and strong foundation.
So the stones that Jacob gathered ‘from…the place and put them around his head’ denoted the elements of his own very troubled life. Those included his fleeing from Esau to save his own life, his parting with the security of his family, his being robbed of all his possession en route by Esau’s son Elifaz (Midrash: Shemot Rabbah 31:17; see Rashi to 50:5), and his having to sever his roots with his sheltered background in travelling some five hundred kilometers to a destination virtually unknown to him.
In the dream, however, G-d showed that all that happened to Jacob was to direct him towards his final goal. That was “Your children shall be as many as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out westwards, eastwards, northwards, and southwards; and the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your children.” In other word, he was to become the father of the ultimate pinnacle of the Creation – the Chosen Nation. Following the Talmudic tradition above, those stones all became one. Jacob recognized the symbolism – namely, that all his individual troubles would come together in a positive way into a common purpose – in being part of the positive spiritual makeup of the Patriarch Jacob and thus becoming the large foundation stone of the Israelite nation. That is explained below.
The process of Jacob’s troubles led him to the second large stone – on his arrival at Haran, that large stone blocked the well. When he saw Rachel from a distance moving towards the well he put the two things together: Rachel was the essential part of the ‘big plan’ that G-d had for him. To Jacob the big stone was not merely a big stone. It was a link with the first big stone – which symbolized G-d’s turning his troubles into something great and positive – His plans to bring him to father the Kingdom of Priests and Holy Nation (Ex. 19:6). Thus the coming together of Rachel and the big stone told him that he had met the person who was to join him to form together the foundation of the Torah Nation. (This can also explain the kiss that Jacob gave to Rachel.)
When Jacob made his treaty with Laban some twenty years later, he demonstrated that symbolism in reverse. He first put up a single stone – to represent his own progress towards having become a foundation stone of the Israelites. But then Jacob demonstrated to Laban that G-d had enabled him to achieve this despite Laban’s attempts to bully and cheat him. He did this by ordering his men to pile up many stones in a heap… and in doing so, showed that the troubles Laban caused for him were ‘small stones’ – painful, hard, cruel - but in being detached from the big stone, no longer relevant to Jacob’s own purpose in life.
Many people go through very difficult times in life. They find themselves hit by problems and unpleasantness from several directions at the same time, and they can find no way out. For example a forty year-old man may simultaneously be made redundant in his job, lose a close relative, worry over a sick child, and through no fault of his own, face a breakdown in his marriage. At the time he may be tempted to ‘give up’ on life, become heavily depressed or even, G-d forbid, contemplate suicide. However when he looks back over that period, he sees himself the greater person for what happened to him – even though he would not wish to go through the pain a second time. Specifically his job did end in dismissal, but he found more productive and enjoyable work; the child recovered and he managed to build a good relationship with him despite his not having access to him all the time, and in the meantime he married a much more suitable lady, building up a new family in a warm positive atmosphere. His ex-wife may still press legal action – unreasonably – for extra maintenance payments, but he has the confidence to see those ‘small stones’ as background noise – no longer part of his life – and he can deal with them with confidence, having found stability and a true sense of his purpose in the Creation.
PARASHAT VAYEITZEI – FOR THE STUDENT AND FOR AROUND THE TABLE
BASIC QUESTIONS ON PARASHAT VAYEITZEI …
Who said to whom, and in what circumstances?
(a) I shall give the land on which you are lying to you and your descendants.
(b) The day is still long.
(c) Nevertheless you are my flesh and blood.
(d) Why have you deceived me?
(e) Am I instead of G-d, who withheld from you the fruit of the womb?
(f) If only it would be as you say!
(g) He gained all this wealth from what he took from our father.
(h) Leave this land and return to your native land.
(i) It is within my power to harm you.
(j) G-d is a witness between you and me
(a) G-d to Jacob, through the dream of ladder, and the descending and ascending angels. This is the first recorded occasion of G-d communicating directly with Jacob (28:13)
(b) Jacob to the local shepherds of Haran, at the end of his long journey from the Holy Land. He rebuked them because they were finishing their day’s work early, presumably at their employer’s expense (29:7).
(c) Laban to Jacob: after Jacob had told him ‘all those things’ (text does not state what they were, but they hardly elicited an enthusiastic response), Laban admitted him to his household on the stated grounds of Jacob’s being one of Laban’s own relatives - ‘flesh and blood’. (29:14)
(d) Jacob to Laban, on discovering after the wedding night that Laban’s scheming caused him to unwittingly marry Leah instead of her promised sister, Rachel (29:25).
(e) Jacob’s heated answer to Rachel’s distress on being childless in the face of her sister Leah’s already being the mother of four children (30:2).
(f) Laban to Jacob, following his suggested salary arrangements which, on the face of it, seemed entirely to Laban’s advantage (30:34).
(g) Laban’s sons - overheard by Jacob. It seems from the text that Laban’s sons were talking among themselves. Their complaint was based on Jacob’s prosperity as a cattle breeder, and his success in turning the impossible conditions for his salary to good account (31:1).
(h) G-d to Jacob (31:3) – after twenty years at Laban’s house.
(i) Laban to Jacob, on catching up the fleeing Jacob and his family, but he acknowledged that G-d had ordered him otherwise… (31:29)
(j) Laban to Jacob. This refers to the treaty agreed on oath between Laban and Jacob. Jacob was to treat Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel, with appropriate respect, and neither party was to pass the designated landmark with hostile intentions (31:50).
Why, according to Rashi, did
(a) the angels in Jacob’s dream ‘ascend and descend’ (28:12) the ladder? One would have expected them to first ‘descend’ from on high, and then ‘ascend’…
(b) Jacob raise his voice in weeping after he kissed Rachel (29:11)?
(c) Jacob have to stress to Laban that he would not be merely working seven years to marry merely Rachel, but to marry ‘Rachel your youngest daughter’ (29:18)?
(d) Leah, on giving birth to her fourth son Judah, exclaim ‘this time I may gratefully praise G-d’? (29:35)
(e) Rachel bring her Bilha, her associate, into Jacob’s intimate household?
(f) Rachel die prematurely? (two explanations)
(g) G-d warn Laban to speak ‘neither good nor bad’ (31:29) with Jacob as he was about to catch up with him in his flight from his household. Why not just ‘bad’?
(h) angels of G-d meet Jacob after he parted company with Laban?
(a) Jacob was at the frontier between the Holy Land and the rest of the world. As he crossed it, the angels entrusted to look after him changed – the first group leaving (ascending in having completed their mission) and the second group arriving (descending to start their mission). The angels serving in the Holy Land were not to serve outside, and vice-versa.
(b) He perceived through Divinely-inspired insight at that moment that their being together would be for a short period, and that when the time came, they would not be buried in the same place. More mundanely, he became conscious that he did not bring to their meeting the material wealth reminiscent of Abraham’s servant when seeking a partner for his father, Isaac.
(c) He had already perceived Laban’s dishonesty. Jacob sought to protect himself against someone else of the same name being substituted in Rachel’s place.
(d) Leah had long perceived her inferior status in Jacob’s household. She knew by Divine revelation that Jacob was to beget twelve sons: with four women involved, that would amount to three sons each. Judah was the fourth son, so she felt especially grateful in that despite her poorer position, G-d had enabled her to contribute to the household beyond her ‘fair share’.
(e) Rachel, according to Rashi, compared her distress at being childless with that of Sarah. As Sarah had finally given birth after promoting an associate wife into the household, Rachel took similar steps with her handmaiden, Bilha.
(f) Firstly, Rachel had, on her own spiritual level, shown disrespect to her husband Jacob, because she bartered the night she was to spend with Jacob to Leah in exchange for the ‘Dudaim’. (30:15) Secondly, when Laban accused Jacob of stealing his gods, he answered “With whomever your gods are found, he shall not live… look for anything that belongs to you and take it for yourself.” The verse continues, however, with ‘Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them’… (31:32)
(g) Rashi quotes the tradition that both the favors and malice of basically corrupt and hostile people can lead to no good.
(h) Once more Jacob was at the frontier, but this time between the rest of the world and the Holy Land. As he crossed it, the angels entrusted to look after him changed – the first group leaving having completed their mission, and the second group arriving to start their mission. The angels serving outside the Holy Land were not to serve inside, and vice-versa.
1. After G-d revealed Himself to Jacob for the first time, one of his main requests to G-d was that he would have ‘food to eat and clothes to wear’ (28:20) while he suffered exile from his father’s home. Why, according to (a) the Sforno, and (b) the Radak, did Jacob specify these particular things?
2. What, according to the Sforno, were the ‘Dudaim’ (30:14), and why did Reuben pick some and bring them to his mother, Leah?
3.Through the terms of an agreement, the text records in detail how Jacob employed his skills as a cattle farmer to outwit Laban. How, according to (a) the Da’at Zekeinim and (b) Rabbeinu Bachye was that consistent with Jacob’s personal integrity?
4. What, according to Hirsch, is the ‘Pachad Yitzchak’ alluded to in 31:42?
5. Part of the treaty agreed on oath between Laban and Jacob was that neither party was to pass the designated landmark with hostile intentions (31:52). Who, according to Rabbeinu Bachye, was the first to break the oath?
1. According to the Sforno, Jacob specified food to eat and clothes to wear so that poverty would not cause him to compromise himself in any way. The Radak points out that Jacob’s request typifies the righteous in general: seeking only necessities, and no luxuries.
2. The Sforno holds that Reuben deliberately sought the ‘Dudaim’ – fertility-inducing herbs – out of respect to his mother Leah, whom he knew longed for more children.
3. Based on Talmudic sources (see also Sam. II 22:27, Psalms 18:27), the Da’at Zekeinim applies the principle that notwithstanding the prohibition of theft and deceit, one should take the appropriate steps when facing thieves and swindlers. Thus Jacob applied skills obviously outside Laban’s experience which promoted the cattle to give birth to the type of young specified by Laban to become Jacob’s property. Rabbeinu Bachya, however, comments that Jacob only resorted to those means after having been instructed by an angel (following 31:10-12).
4. ‘Pachad Yitzchak’ – ‘the Dread of Isaac’ refers to the dread Isaac himself felt during Abraham’s supreme test – the Akeida – as he sensed the knife near his throat. The fear was instinctive, but Isaac conquered it and used it as a spiritual base on which to build his life towards G-d’s service. Jacob credited his father’s merits as defending him against the scheming Laban.
5. Baalam, from the same geographical area (Numbers 22:5) as Laban, and also one of his direct descendants, according to the Midrashic tradition cited Rabbeinu Bachya, broke the oath by crossing the forbidden line on his journey to curse Israel.
1. The Passover Haggadah states that whereas Pharaoh wanted to destroy all the males, Laban sought to “uproot everything”. Where may that be seen in this Parasha?
2. Laban accused Jacob of stealing his gods, he answered “With whomever your gods are found, he shall not live… look for anything that belongs to you and take it for yourself.” The verse continues, however, with ‘Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them’. (31:32) When Rashi, quotes the Midrash which sees the above as a reason for Rachel’s premature death. How could Jacob have made what seems to be a needless vow with potentially disastrous consequences?
*Please note – My own attempts to deal with the issues related in #2 may be found in the archives for 5761 on Shema Yisrael – on Parashat Vayeitzei.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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