Vayeitze; Embarking on Life’s Journey

Jacob left home in a hurry to escape the violent hatred of his brother Esau, but also charged with the task of finding a G-d fearing wife amongst his mother’s family. Meeting his cousin Rachel, his ‘beshert’, at the well, Jacob shows superhuman strength in rolling an enormous stone off the top of the well. Due to the machinations of his uncle Laban (ironically, his name means “white”), he ends up with two wives, and due to Rachel and Leah’s rivalry, and Rachel’s long childlessness, two concubines. With all these women he was certainly on a roster system, and succeeded in carrying out the command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’. We know about the roster, for when Leah’s first-born son Reuben finds some aphrodisiac/fertility “dudaim” (mandrakes) and Rachel wants them to help her become pregnant, she tells her older sister Leah that she’ll exchange her rostered night with Jacob in exchange for the plants. Jacob is known as the father of the twelve tribes, and is the only one of the three patriarchs whose children all form part of the inheritance of Abraham. Laban is the father-in-law from hell, and even Rachel and Leah complain about him. He makes it very hard for Jacob to earn a living as a shepherd, until Jacob manages some genetic engineering with the flocks and steals away with his family while Laban is out shearing.

The spiritual side of the Parsha concerns Jacob’s famous dream, of the angels descending and ascending up to Heaven. G-d speaks to Jacob in his dream, reiterating the blessing that Jacob is indeed the one to carry on the Abrahamic line, and promising to look after him when he’s out of the Promised Land, until he returns home again. When he awakes Jacob makes a pact with G-d to give a tenth of all he owns to Tzedaka, if G-d looks after him. And at the end of the Parsha, after 20 years of struggle and adventure, when Jacob comes back to the Land of Israel, the angels of G-d greet him. Jacob says: This is G-d’s camp. And he called the place “Machanayim – two camps”. It’s also the name of a good game of Dodge we used to play at Zionist youth camps.

The story of Jacob is inspiring as it models the way in which G-d can help us in our sometimes lonely journeys through life and in our struggles with earning a living and keeping domestic harmony. Jacob represents ‘Everyman’.

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