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Vayetze 5760

By: Rav Alex Israel

Rashi's opening comment to the parsha reads in the following way.


"VaYetze Yaakov: Due to the recording of Yitzchak's negative attitude to the women of Canaan (as marriage partners), the narrative was interrupted by Esav marrying Yishmael's daughters, as it states: "And Esav realised that the Canaanite women were displeasing to his father." (28:8)  When that topic is complete the Torah returns to its earlier discussion.


This rather technical comment by Rashi needs some explanation. We shall see that it:

a.) teaches us quite a bit about how we should understand repeated lines in Chumash

b.) focuses our attention upon a dual theme in the nature of Yaakov's journey to Padan Aram - Lavan's house.


What textual problem is Rashi drawing our attention to here? (Why not pick up a Chumash right now and try to work it out yourselves!)


Notice that the Torah has already stated (28:5) "Yitzchak sent Yaakov off, AND HE WENT TO PADAN ARAM, to Laban son of Betuel the Aramean ... " Why does it now state "And Yaakov left Beer Sheva bound for Haran." (2810) Did the passuk not indicate that he had already arrived there? Why the repetition?


Here, we see Rashi tell us a classic literary technique of the Torah. He informs us that when the Torah "gets distracted" by a side-point, it frequently returns to its earlier topic by means of repetition of an earlier line. What do I mean? Look at the pesukim. Rashi tells us that the act of Yitzchak sending Yaakov to marry a girl from Rifka's family in Haran drove home the message  to Esav that Yitzchak really disapproved  of his wives. (cf. 26:34-5) Thus, as a direct consequence of Yaakov's departure, Esav marries again to "family". He marries Yishmael's daughter.  The Torah is interested in giving us this piece of information about Esav and this is the only relevant place to situate it. However, after this item, the Torah wishes to resume the story of Yaakov. In order to "refocus" the reader on the Yaakov story, the Torah repeats or paraphrases the last passuk, to get us back into things.


This is an interesting technique of repeating details deliberately in order to resume a theme. Another classic example of this would be in the story of Yosef. Chapter 37 ends with Yosef being sold to Egypt. Chapter 38 tells the story of Yehudah and Tamar. When we resume the Yoseph story in Ch.39 the Torah repeats (with minor differences) the closing passuk of Ch.37 as if to remind us of where we left off. (Another example - a little more elaborate: cf. Genesis 46:8, 27 and Shemot 1:1-5 and see the Ramban's introduction at the start of Shemot.)




This is a good answer in terms of textual analysis, and it teaches us much about the Torah's literary style in general. But, I think that a further explanation can be offered, and in the spirit of "shivim panim letorah", I think that we will find that the two explanations can sit reasonably well side by side.


We should realise that when we see Jacob leave home, he sets out on his journey with a dual purpose in mind. THE FIRST ASPECT of his leaving home is his flight from brother Esau. In the wake of the “blessings” incident, we hear Esau threatening to kill Jacob:


“ The moment my father dies and we will complete the mourning period for him, I will kill my brother Jacob; the sooner the better” (27:34).


Rebecca’s response is to send Jacob away from the homestead, to allow Esau to calm down a little:


“Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you. Now, my son, listen to me, flee at once to Haran, to my brother Laban. Stay with him ... until your brother’s fury subsides...” (27:42- 44).


Indeed; at their next meeting- 22 years later - Jacob is frantically worried that Esau will try to exact some sort of revenge, but Esau simply runs to Jacob and embraces him. Apparently the air has cleared with time. Maybe it was due to Rebecca’s plan.


THE SECOND REASON for leaving is not an escape. It is a mission; a quest to find a wife for Jacob. Like his father before him, the proposed address for looking for a suitable spouse, is Aram, home of Lavan. Jacob gives him the familiar patriarchal command:


“ You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women. Go to Padan Aram, to the house of Bethuel.... and take a wife there from the daughters of Laban...”  (28:1-2)


Let us focus on the defining features of the two motives.



1. Is initiated by Rivka

2. She tells him to go to Haran

3. Length of stay: until Esav calms down



1. Sent by Yitzchak

2. To Padan Aram

3. Length of stay: as long as is necessary to find a wife!




It is interesting how the Torah itself manages to demonstrate this dual dimension in Jacob’s departure. It does this by repeating the same detail - Jacob's journey from Beer Sheva to Haran - twice but in a different way.


Jacob’s journey is mentioned twice in the Torah. The first time, we are told:


“Then ISAAC sent Jacob off, and he went TO PADAN ARAM, to Laban the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebecca, mother of Jacob and Esau” (28:5)


Here it is specifically Isaac who sees him off,  and he is described as going to Padan Aram. Clearly he is fulfilling the "marriage" mission - Isaac’s mission. In addition, Laban is described with deliberate association. We are told of Laban’s  relationship to Betuel - that he is from the family of Abraham. We are also told that Rebecca came from Padan Aram and mothered two children. The underlying current here is stressing that Jacob is going to Padan Aram to marry and to set up a family.


But then we read a second time of Jacob’s departure:


“Jacob left Beer-Sheva and set out for Haran” (28:10)


Haran (rather than Padan Aram) is the place that his mother sent him to.  The  place that he flees from is mentioned explicitly to stress that his focus is on leaving as much as it is on getting to Haran.  (see Rashi's second comment here, which picks up on this need to mention the place that Yaakov is leaving) In this image, Yaakov is a penniless fugitive who must sleep in whatever place he can find resting his head on a simple rock.




 Yaakov's dream is dual in nature. Certain aspects of the dream express God's concern with Yaakov's personal safety whereas other dimensions of the dream deal with Yaakov as a covenantal patriarch. Let us see.  Jacob goes to sleep and God appears to him in a vision. God’s message is a covenantal message. God tells him :


“"I am Hashem, the God of Avraham your father and the God of Yitzchak. The land upon which you lie I will give to you and your offspring ...."


But there is also a message of protection and reassurance:


"I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you...” (28:15)


Why does Yaakov need this reassurance? This message is clearly directed to Yaakov's fear from Esav. In this frame of mind, the blessing of God's protection and His reassurance that Yaakov will indeed eventually return home, are comfort indeed. God does not tell him that he will find a good wife. He tells him that he will be protected and that he will eventually return home. This is what a man on the run needs to hear. Yaakov can rest easy with the knowledge that this nightmare will be over some day.


But there is a second side to the dream and a second story to tell which relates not to trickery and death-threats, but to family and covenant. Let us remember that Yaakov is leaving home. In this family of Abraham, the "outsiders" (eg. Lot Yishmael) are the ones who have been known to leave the family homestead and the covenantal family continues on its path - in Israel, Canaan, the promised land. Isaac, the covenantal son was instructed never to leave the land.  But now here is Esav who is staying at home. Yaakov is leaving.  In the aftermath of a deceit to his father, he is being sent out. We can be sure that Yaakov is gravely concerned about his covenantal status. Has he been rejected , tainted in some way? To allay Yaakov's fears, God arrives re-affirming the covenantal promise to Jacob, telling hi that he is the continuation of his father and grand-father's line. In this dimension too, the promise of return to Canaan and to his father's house must provide some well-needed security.


But this dual story is relevant to subsequent events too. Are his escapades in Beit Lavan a reflection of his family-building role or a product of his fugitive status?




The Midrash Tanchuma to our Parsha opens with a most strange although interesting question:


"Someone who kills accidentally, to where is he exiled? ... to the city of Refuge (ir miklat) ... and Yaakov Avinu escapes from Esav to Haran"


Now Yaakov has not killed anyone, he has cheated his brother out of a blessing. But the Midrash paints Yaakov as a desperate fugitive on the run. There are certain parallels with the accidental murderer:


- in both cases someone has done a wrong act

- in both cases the fugitive is fleeing a person who is trying to kill him (Yaakov from Esav, and the accidental killer from the relative of his victim - the goel hadam.

- in both cases the person goes into exile.


The Midrash continues to use criminal comparisons as it likens the 7 years of service to Lavan that Yaakov works for Rachel’s hand in marriage to the Jewish slave who is bought for seven years. In the minds-eye of the Midrash, Yaakov is not just acquiring a wife! He is selling himself to slavery! - being subject to punishment. Indeed, by his own admission, it is a grueling life: "scorching heat ravaged me by day and frost by night and my eyes new no sleep" (31:40)


So Yaakov is in exile.


But it would seem that exile is not all bad. Yaakov establishes a large family in Haran, marrying two wives (and their handmaids) and having 12 children. He leaves Lavan a wealthy man (although in a somewhat ironic twist he will soon give all his wealth to Esav).


In this way, we can see the two aspects of Yaakov's mission to Haran being developed. The suffering of the fugitive and the building of family.




It should not surprise us then that there are two stages to Yaakov's departure from Lavan. The first time relates to family:


"After Rachel had borne Joseph, Yaakov said to Lavan, 'Give me my wives and my children, for whom I served you, that I may go ..." (30:25-6)


Yaakov has a family. Even Rachel , his favourite wife has borne a child. He has 12 children. His "family" mission is over. It is time to go home.


But Lavan persuades him to stay and Yaakov gets stuck there for another 6 years. It is at the end of this period during which he amasses a large herd of livestock :


"that Lavan's sons were saying, 'Jacob has taken all that was our father's and from that which was our father's he has built up all this wealth.' Jacob also saw that Lavan's manner towards him was not as it had been in the past. Then the Lord said to Jacob, 'Return to the land of your fathers where you were born and I will be with you.'" (31:1-2)


We might suggest that when Lavan turns with suspicion to Yaakov, that Yaakov returns to a dimension of living where fear and suspicion pervade his consciousness . Now Yaakov will have to flee Lavan, just like Yaakov fled from Esav! So we see that even Yaakov's return, reflects the dual dimension of his journey to Haran. On his return, he will have to reconfront Esav and the haunting twenty-year old memories.  (Clearly, the meeting of angels at the border -32:1 - reflects his outward journey. See also Yaakov's return to the place of his vision - Beit El - where the two parshiot present in the account there reflect the dual dimension of his journey to Lavan. See Chap 35. cf. 35:4-8 as opposed to 35:9-14)




In this Shiur we have attempted to focus our attention on two themes that are threaded throughout the Parsha : the flight of Yaakov, and his quest to build the covenantal family. These themes recur repeatedly in different guises but in many ways form the backbone of the Yaakov-exile narrative.


Obviously, maaseh avot siman lebanim, raises certain questions as regards our exile of 2000 years. Like Yaakov, we are in exile "for our sins" in flight from country to country. On the other hand exile has seen a tremendous growth in Jewish culture - where would we be without the incredible fruits of our sojourns in Spain, Germany, Poland, USA etc. Is exile a refuge, a shelter when the going gets tough in the Holy Land and we are chased out? (and note how it is precisely when Yaakov gets rich that he is a subject of suspicion.)  Or is exile, not so much exile, but rather a place to build, a greenhouse, an environment in which to find new opportunities which cannot be found at home and to use them to grow and flourish? Think about it!


Shabbat Shalom.





STUDY the opening Parsha 28:10-22

Think about the following:

* What is the purpose of the dream? What message does God want to give to Yaakov?

*  What is Yaakov’s mood or state of mind at this point? What is occupying his thoughts? Does the dream provide any answers for his concerns?

* The imagery of the dreams: If you had this dream how would you interpret it?



THE IMAGERY OF THE DREAM: read the dream in the perspective of the shiur that we have just presented. Do the interpretations of the mefarshim connect with one aspect or the other of Yaakov's journey? What particular phrases does each parsha draw on and which phrases do they ignore?


1. See RASHI and RASHBAM,  on v.12

·       What symbolism does Rashi see in the angels? What is his textual support?

·       Why does the Rashbam reject his interpretation?


2. See the two explanations in the RAMBAN on v.12

Both explanations have a different idea of the significance of :

1. The ladder

2. the angels

3. Going up and down.


See if you can list the significance of each element of the dream according to each explanation.


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