Parashat Vayetze- Erev Shabbat 27 November 2020
Week of 22 to 28 November 2020
Torah portion: Gen 28:10-32:3 Haftarah: Hos12:13-14:10
Theme: Deception has Consequences.
Vayetze ( “he went out”) begins as Jacob leaves home and is on his way to his relatives in Haran to escape the wrath of his brother, Esau whose blessing he had fraudulently received from their aging father, Isaac. Jacob (encouraged by his mother, Rebecca) had deceived Isaac into believing he was Esau. Eventually Jacob will fall in love with Rachel and will himself be deceived by Laban, her father. Finally, the last act of deception takes place as Jacob and his household leave Haran: both Laban and Jacob are deceived by Rachel. “It is not the way of the Torah to moralize over questionable behaviour but rather to show its consequences in people’s lives.” (Etz Hayim, p.160n). Jacob finds out what it is like to be deceived and defrauded.
A blessing cannot be stolen. It is both guidance and a gratuitous gift to the person for whom it is intended. It is a prayer to God but not a magical incantation that binds God regardless of the spiritual context. A blessing has value only when accompanied by an ethical life. In last week’s portion Jacob received two blessings from his father Isaac. The first intended for Esau and obtained by Jacob by deceit concerned the promise of material prosperity and political leadership (27:28-29). The second blessing was given to Jacob as he left home (28:3-4). The key to the second blessing is the reference to “the blessing of Abraham” and this is a spiritual calling. When we read God’s message to Jacob with this in mind, we see that God’s promises to him paraphrase the promises to Abraham, the Land, numerous descendants and that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him and his seed (28:13-14 compare with 12:3ff) There is no word about wealth or political leadership. As the story evolves, Jacob does not get Esau’s blessing: he loses all that he has, fleeing for his life and sleeping on the ground with a stone for his pillow (28:11). Jacob had to struggle for every bit of wealth that he acquired. Laban worked Jacob mercilessly (31:40) promising him Rachel in marriage after working for seven years. On the marriage night Laban deceived him into marrying his older daughter Leah. Jacob then had to work for Laban for seven more years before he could marry Rachel who was his true love and then he escaped.
As the parting takes place the last act of deception is perpetrated. Both Laban and Jacob are deceived. Laban is cheated of his household deities, but Jacob makes a rash pronouncement “the one with whom you find your household gods shall not live.” This puts Rachel in mortal danger as she had stolen the gods and put them into her camel’s saddlebag (31:32). Later (as we shall read in the next parasha) the curse has dire consequences: Rachel will die when giving birth to Benjamin (35:15-20). She is buried on the road to Ephrath not in the burial tomb of the Patriarchs at Machepalah.
It is in these narratives that the Torah teaches that deception has dire consequences.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1 Can we ever escape the consequences, whether good or bad, of our actions? 2. Consider the many blessings you have received. Do you see them as a gift from God?
Bibliography: Lieber D.L ed, Etz Hayim (JPS 2001. Notes: R. Uziel Weingarten (2002).
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Marie Andre Mitchell SNDdeN South Africa, Bat Kol Alumna