By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
This week’s parsha, Vayetzei, begins with Jacob on the run from his family and home. Although he leaves with his father, Isaac’s birthright and blessing, these were obtained under false pretenses. His mother, Rebecca, heard his brother, Esau, mutter that he intended to kill Jacob for this deception. She urged Jacob to travel to Haran, the home of her brother and his family.
The physical and emotional stress of Jacob’s life at this time exhausted him. He retreated into either a deep sleep or had floated into an alternative consciousness when he was confronted by a mysterious dream.
In this state, Jacob believed that a ladder was erected from the ground with its top reaching heaven. Angels of God were ascending and descending upon it. The Lord was standing over Jacob and said: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac; the land upon which you are lying, I will give to you and to your seed” (1). God continued: “Your seed shall be as many as the dust of the earth; and, through you, shall be blessed all your descendants” (2).
After receiving this blessing from God, one might think that Jacob would be changed in a profound way. However, consider Jacob’s response: “If God remains with me; protects me on my journey; provides me with food to eat; and clothing to wear, then He shall be my God” (3). Faith is fluid, and Jacob, obviously, is still not ready for a deeper relationship with God. “In effect, Jacob is suggesting that there are conditions, which God must fulfill, in order to earn his faith” (4).
Jacob finally reaches his destination in Haran. His very first sight is that of the beautiful daughter, Rachel. Jacob immediately says to her father, Laban: “I will work for you for seven years, if you let me marry your daughter, Rachel” (5).
The night of the wedding, Laban brought Leah (his older daughter) to Jacob’s tent. When the sun rose the next morning, Jacob saw Leah, not Rachel, lying in his bed. In fury, Jacob found Laban, raised his voice and screamed: “What have you done to me? Have I not worked for you for seven years, so as to marry Rachel? Why have you deceived me?” (6). Laban responded that ‘tradition’ demands that the elder daughter marry before the younger. He also said: “I will give you Rachel, too, for another seven years of labor” (7).
Jacob now had both sisters as wives. The jealousy between the two was frenzied. Leah was extremely fertile, and with each child she bore, she expected more of Jacob’s love. To complicate matters, Rachel believed that she was barren. Ultimately, she conceived and gave birth to a boy named Joseph.
Jacob worked fourteen years for Laban, to finally marry his ‘first love’, Rachel. He was promised wages and farm animals by Laban, if he stayed and continued to work in the field for another six years. Jacob acceded to Laban’s offer and continued working, to the extent that Laban became extremely prosperous. However, when Jacob requested his portion, Laban refused and the two men quarreled. When God saw the iniquity of Laban, he said to Jacob: “Return to Canaan, and I will be with you” (8).
(1) GENESIS (28:13)
(2) GENESIS (28:14)
(3) GENESIS (28:20-21)
(5) GENESIS (29:18)
(6) GENESIS (29:25)
(7) GENESIS (29:29)
(8) GENESIS (31:3)