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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT VAYETZE
December 10, 2005 - 9 Kislev 5766

Annual: Genesis 28:10-32:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 166; Hertz p. 106)
Triennial Cycle: Genesis 30:14-31:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 176; Hertz p. 111)
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13 - 14:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 189; Hertz p. 118)

Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director

Summary

Jacob flees to Haran. He dreams at night of a ladder reaching to the sky, with angels going up and down. God appears to Jacob and promises that his descendents will be as the dust of the earth. Jacob awakes and says, "God is present in this place and I did not know it." He calls the place Beth El (house of God) and makes a vow of faithfulness to God.

Jacob travels east and comes to a well. There he spots his cousin Rachel, and he immediately falls in love. Jacob kisses Rachel, and makes an agreement with her father Laban to work seven years for Rachel's hand in marriage. After seven years of work, Laban tricks Jacob and gives him Rachel's older sister, Leah, instead. Jacob may marry Rachel but must work an additional seven years for her. Altogether, Jacob works twenty years for Laban, seven for Leah, seven for Rachel, and six for the flocks.

Leah begins to give birth to sons, but Rachel is infertile. Rachel cries out, "Give me children or I will die." Jacob responds with anger. Rachel gives Jacob her handmaiden Bilhah as a concubine, and Leah gives her handmaiden Zilpah. Finally Rachel does give birth to a son, Joseph. Between his two wives and his two concubines, Jacob is the father of eleven sons and one daughter. (A twelfth son will be born in next week's portion.)

Jacob sees that Laban's attitude toward him is changing, and he agrees to work for speckled and spotted sheep and goats. Through his knowledge of animal breeding, Jacob is able to help the herds breed many speckled and spotted animals, and he acquires wealth. Jacob, his wives, and children flee from Laban, and Rachel steals Laban's household gods. Laban chases Jacob and confronts him. Eventually Jacob and Laban sign a treaty, and Jacob begins the journey back home.

Issue #1 - Is There Justice?

"Laban said, It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older" (Genesis 29:26)

Discussion

  1. "What goes around comes around." Sometimes there are hidden messages in a portion. In this week's portion, Jacob thinks he is marrying his beloved Rachel but discovers he has married her older sister, Leah. When he protests, his father-in-law Laban says, "in our place the younger does not come before the older." What is the Torah trying to hint to us?
  2. Jacob had stolen the blessing from his older brother Esau. Was he wrong? This portion seems to indicate that he was punished; that the younger does not come before the older. It seems to be a clear hint of justice for wrong action. Is this the Torah's ultimate message?
  3. There is another similar hint later in Genesis. When Judah and his brothers throw Joseph in a pit and sell him as a slave, they approach their father with Joseph's bloody tunic. Judah uses the words heker na"Do you recognize this as your son's tunic or not?" Later, when Tamar confronts Judah after she has become pregnant, she says heker na"Do you recognize whose seal, cord, and staff these are?" The similarities in the language seems to indicate that Judah is being punished for the words he said to his father.
  4. The hidden message is "what goes around comes around." Justice seems to occur over time. The punishment fits the crime. The rabbis have a phrase for this - mida keneged mida, "measure for measure.
  5. Does justice seem to work out over time? This is the claim of the hymn Yigdal, based on Maimonides' thirteen principles of Jewish faith. Gomel l'ish hesed k'mifalo, notain l'rasha ra k'rishato. "God rewards a person kindness according to his actions, but he causes a sinner evil according to his wickedness." Is it true? Perhaps there is reward and punishment, but only in the next world. If justice does not exist, shall we drop this idea from our theology? If we cannot see the justice, does that mean it does not exist?
  6. In Pirkei Avotwe learn, "Rabbi Yannai said, It is not in our power to explain the relative peace of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous" (Avot 4:15). Is Rabbi Yannai giving up on finding justice in this world? Can we still teach our children that actions have consequences and what goes around comes around?

Issue #2 - Children Meeting Our Needs

"Leah conceived and bore a son, and named him Reuven, for she declared, it means 'the Lord has seen my affliction,' it also means 'now my husband will love me'" (Genesis 29:32)

Discussion

  1. Leah named her first born Reuven, from a Hebrew root meaning "to see." Her hope was that the child would save her marriage, that her husband would see her pain. She named her second son Shimon, from a root meaning "to hear." Her hope was that her husband would hear her pain. She named her third son Levi, from a Hebrew root meaning "attached." She hoped that her husband would become attached to her. Having children to strengthen her relationship with her husband did not work. Can a child save his or her parents' marriage? Is it a fair burden to put on a child?
  2. Leah conceived a fourth son, Judah, from the same Hebrew root as "thank you." This time she simply wanted to thank God for the blessing of the child, with no expectations about her marriage. Judah would become the leader of the tribes. (That is the reason we are called Jews.) Is it a coincidence that the child born without expectations is the one who became the leader?
  3. Is it possible for a parent to have children without expectations? Is it not normal do put expectations on our children? For example, do Jews have particularly high academic expectations for their children? What happens when Jewish children fail to meet their parents' high expectations by getting poor grades or dropping out of college?
  4. Some parents put unusual expectations on a child. For example, sometimes parents will give birth to a child to harvest bone marrow or other donor cells. Is having a child with such an expectation ethical?

 
 
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