Shabbat Shalom! – Vayetzei

This week’s Torah portion is Vayetzei, “And he left.” Jacob leaves his ancestral home in a hurry, fleeing the rage and despair of his brother Esau. In last week’s portion, he tricked his twin Esau out of his birthright and their father’s blessing. In this portion, he will learn what it is like to be tricked out of something rightfully his.

Jacob’s uncle Laban is a tricky fellow, too, and Jacob will suffer at his hands in this portion. Readers often gloss over the degree to which the sisters who will become Jacob’s wives are complicit in Laban’s deception. Leah knew that Jacob expected to marry Rachel, but when her father substituted her for her sister under the wedding veils, she went along. Rachel said nothing either. Thus Jacob, who wore animal skins to deceive his father, was himself deceived in his wedding bed by the women he married!

A hagiography is a piece of writing that makes its subjects seem to be saints. Torah is often the opposite of a hagiography. The writer(s) tell us stories about the family of Abraham that most families would bury and never tell.

This week’s interpreters:

The Mouth of the Well by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Rachel and Leah Show Us a Thing or Two by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Regarding a Ladder by Rabbi Jordan Parr

The Power of Persuasion by Rabbi Rafi Mollot

A Midshipman’s Torah: Dealing with Dishonesty by Rabbi Nina Mizrahi

As Only God Knows by Rabbi Marc Katz

Communication for Good or Bad by Miriam Jaffe

Vayetzei: A Broken Family

Image: A pile of stones. Photo by Mathias_Beckmann/Pixabay.

Towards the end of Parashat Vayetzei, after the drama between Jacob and Laban has played itself out, we find an account of a treaty between the two men.

They don’t like one another. Each believes himself to have been cheated by the other. Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah, then got seven more years of labor from him to earn the hand of Rachel. Then Jacob, angry at his father-in-law, used trickery to enrich himself by means of Laban’s flocks. Laban resents it, believing Jacob’s wealth is stolen from his pocket.

Both men see themselves as the victim of a cheating scoundrel.

Finally, Jacob sneaks away with his wives, his household, and his flocks, and Laban follows in hot pursuit. He whines that Jacob crept away secretly, robbing him even of a chance to say goodbye to his daughters, even robbing him of his household gods.

Jacob roars back at Laban, and the twenty years of resentment pour out of him. And then, just at the moment we expect the two men to come to blows, Laban points out that like it or not, they are family: Laban’s daughters are Jacob’s wives. They have more in common than their grudges.

“Come, let us make a pact, you and I, that there may be a witness between you and me.” (Gen 32:44) Jacob sets up a pillar, and they make a pile of stones and share a meal. And in a telling detail, they call the place by two different names, words that mean the same thing, one in Aramaic and one in Hebrew. As alike as Laban and Jacob are in many ways, ultimately they do not understand one another at all.

Sometimes, when families or individuals cannot get along, peace looks like a boundary line, respected by both, though they cannot understand one another at all.

Shabbat Shalom! Vayetzei

This week we continue the story of Jacob. Now he’s out in the world, learning adult lessons, mostly the hard way (but isn’t that how we all do it?)

Some divrei Torah I can recommend to you:

Vayeitzei: Words Words Words by Ben on Six Degrees of Kosher Bacon

How To Read the Torah by Rabbi David Kasher on ParshaNut

Wherever You Go, There God Will Surely Be by Rabbi Edwin C. Goldberg

TorahMama by ImaBima

Ladder by the Velveteen Rabbi

And a couple of my own:

Telling Family Stories

Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This

I wish us all a Sabbath of Peace, a Shabbat Shalom of healing and hope.

Telling Family Stories

When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me a lot of wild stories, most of them true. Most of her stories were about the family: how her grandmother MaryAnn lost her wedding ring, how they celebrated Grandpa Carroll’s 100th birthday, how her own mother, Ma Maggie, learned to make lace.

I see evidence of family story-telling in Parashat Vayetzei:

While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s flock; for she was a shepherdess. And when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his uncle Laban, and the flock of his uncle Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone off the mouth of the well, and watered the flock of his uncle Laban. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and broke into tears. Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father. – Genesis 29: 9-12

When I read this, I can only imagine that Rebekah told her favorite child the story of meeting Abraham’s servant by the well – perhaps that very well. Laban’s men point Rachel out to Jacob, and this time he helps her water her animals, the exact reverse of the scenario with the servant and Rebekah. After he waters the animals, he kisses her, and it is clear from that moment that he intends to marry her. He is acting out the story of his parents – only this time, there is no servant go-between, and Jacob is the initiator of all the action.

There is a power to old family stories. This one sets in motion both a love affair and a tragedy. Rachel and Jacob are a love match, but because of Laban’s treachery, Rachel and her sister Leah will be set up as rivals for the rest of their lives. The rivalry will live on in their sons and their descendants, a bitter inheritance.

Eventually we wrote down the family stories, and every year we retell them. We call them “Torah” now but they are no less a family matter. We reinterpret the stories in every generation, as families do. And sometimes we find ourselves re-living parts of them both consciously and unconsciously.

What family stories do you retell to the next generation? What stories have you re-created on your own, with or without intent?