There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.
Additionally, the Ashkenazic and Sepharidc, that is Eastern European and Spanish or Iberian Peninsula communities sometime differ on how they divide the Torah Portions.
It’s time to explore Torah Portion Vayetzei, aliyah by aliyah.
Vayetzei Genesis 28:10-32:3
Aliyah 1 – Genesis 28:10-22
28:11 He came to a certain place and stayed the night there, because the sun had set. He took a stone from the place, put it under his head and lay down there to sleep.
28:18 Ya‘akov got up early in the morning, took the stone he had put under his head, set it up as a standing-stone, poured olive oil on its top
How big was that rock? The commentaries say something interesting about this rock and I can see why: this account of the rock doesn’t make sense. If Jacob put the rock under his head, how was it big enough and substantial enough to be erected as a standing-stone? How much oil could he have place on its top if it was small enough to fit under his head? Was it a wedge shaped rock that neatly fit his head, but then could be tipped up and stood on end? Again, if the rock was small, how could it serve as a standing-stone? Doesn’t that name imply that it should be some sort of landmark or stone that has the capacity to stand out and stand on its own, not something that can be kicked over or moved with great ease?
28:15 Look, I am with you. I will guard you wherever you go, and I will bring you back into this land, because I won’t leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
How far does this promise extend? What does HaShem mean by this? Is the promise just that Israel will inhabit the Land, the Jacob’s descendants will posses Israel? After that, HaShem will be done with them? That can’t be, because Israel is an eternal inheritance to Abraham’s descendants and part of that promise is that He will be their G-d, according to Genesis 17:8. Is part of this promise actually conditional? What is the end goal, what is it that HaShem has promised to do with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Is it to bless all the families of the earth through them? If we believe that HaShem means it when he says his covenant with Israel is everlasting, than what does the conditional phrasing in this passage mean? Is it phenomenal? Is it an issue that needs to be dealt with at all, or can we just accept what it says at face value?
Aliyah 2 – Genesis 29:1-17
29:10 When Ya‘akov saw Rachel the daughter of Lavan his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Lavan his mother’s brother, Ya‘akov went up and rolled the stone away from the opening of the well and watered the flock of Lavan his mother’s brother.
Was Jacob breaking with community norms regarding this stone covering the well? Was the stone there by agreement of this community, where they all waited until they were gathered to open up the well, so they could all see that no one was overusing the well? Or was the stone too much for one man to handle under ordinary circumstances? It is not clear in the text either way, but it does seem to be an odd matter either way. If it wasn’t meaningful in some way, it wouldn’t be presented like this. The stone conversation could have been omitted and the fact that Jacob watered Rachel’s flock could have been highlighted. It feels significant that Rivkah watered the camels, then her son watered the sheep. On a simple level we see that the great among us should serve others.
Aliyah 3 – Genesis 29:18-30:13
29:25 In the morning Ya‘akov saw that he was with Le’ah, and he said to Lavan, “What kind of thing is this that you’ve done to me? Didn’t I work for you for Rachel? Why have you deceived me?”
It is interesting to me that both Rivkah and her brother Lavan deceived a man who couldn’t see by dressing up one sibling to look like the other and that he didn’t realize it until after he had given them something irrevocable. I previously asked in 5782 Toldot ABA if there would be a curse that fell on Jacob for deceiving Isaac. I also asked if Rivkah could spare him from receiving that curse. Based on this account, it would appear that she couldn’t take it on for him and that as Jacob dealt, it is being dealt to him as well. He is getting back what he gave to his father from his father-in-law. May we never know such things. May we always deal with others in a manner beyond reproach, even when it seems like compromising our values is the only way out.
Aliyah 4 – Genesis 30:14-27
30:27 Lavan answered him, “If you regard me favorably, then please listen: I have observed the signs that HaShem has blessed me on account of you.
HaShem blessed Lavan on account of Jacob, even though Lavan had deceived him in the matter of Rachel and Leah. He truly is a merciful, long-suffering and loving G-d.
Aliyah 5 – Genesis 30:28-31:16
31:4 So Ya‘akov sent for Rachel and Le’ah and had them come to the field where his flock was.
31:16 Nevertheless, the wealth which G-d has taken away from our father has become ours and our children’s anyway; so whatever G-d has told you to do, do.”
Abraham and Ya’aakov both consult and take counsel from their wives. HaShem tells Avraham to do what Sarah tells him and here, Ya’acov tells his wives what HaShem told them and then they sanction it. He could have easily told them to pack up because they were leaving and not said another word of it to them. Why didn’t he?
Aliyah 6 – Genesis 31:17-42
31:32 But if you find your gods with someone, that person will not remain alive. So with our kinsmen to witness, if you spot anything that I have which belongs to you, take it back.” Ya‘akov did not know that Rachel had stolen them.
We should be careful with our words. It seems Jacob cursed Rachel here because she dies in childbirth sometime after this. He didn’t know that she had stolen the idols. She believes in HaShem, so why did she take the idols? We can’t really say. The Torah penalty for theft and stealing is not death, it is reparation. The victim or offended party should be made whole, but Jacob said whoever stole the idols “will not remain alive.” That goes against HaShem’s will. I imagine that Jacob was tired, angry and defensive, that he let his flesh, his emotions get the better of him and he spoke in haste. It seems like that cost him a lot. We should be careful with our speech and rule over our emotions, lest they rule over us and cause us and others great sorrow and suffering.
Aliyah 7 – Genesis 31:43-32:3
31:53 May the G-d of Avraham and also the god of Nachor, the god of their father, judge between us.” But Ya‘akov swore by the One his father Yitz’chak feared.
Lavan is swearing by the One G-d and his false god, while Jacob swears an oath by the One G-d alone, like his father before him. It almost feels like Lavan is trying to tie Avraham to idolatry, being that he was broher of Nachor and he did grow up in a place, time and family of idolatry. The Torah’s emphasis on Jacob swearing to the ONE who his father feared seems like a rebuttal, refutation and declaration that not only does Jacob serve ONE, but so did his father Isaac because that is how he was raised and taught and that is because Isaac was a true son of Abraham. In a way, it feels like a defense of Avraham and an assurance that this line of patriarchs has been true to the One True King.
That concludes my journey through Vayetzei for the year 5782.
I hope these words have been a blessing to you.
May our Heavenly Father give you peace and joy.
This is Matthew and I am Walking In Liberty.