Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Parshat VaYetse

The Dust of the Earth

God promised Avraham, Yitschak and Yaakov individually that they would have countless descendants. However, He used a different expression with each forefather:


"I will make your seed like the dust of the earth, so that if a man will be able to count the dust of the earth, so will your seed be counted" (Bereshit 13:16).

"Look heavenward and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So will be your seed" (ibid 15:5).

"I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand that is on the seashore" (ibid 22:17).


"I will multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens" (ibid 26:4).


"Your seed shall be as the dust of the earth" (ibid 28:14).

All three expressions imply that their descendants would be countless. But are these expressions merely expressions or do they have extra meaning?

Stars in the sky – each star is bright and untouchable. Even as individuals the star is special.

Sand on the shore – sand is forged through the waves crashing against the shore. It takes many millennia for the sand to form and comes through hardship.

Dust on the earth – one treads on dust; being a piece of dirt is nothing to be proud of.

Perhaps these expressions represent different phases in the Patriarchs' and the Jewish people's lives.

Abraham made the move to the Holy Land, but he also experienced exile and much hardship in his life. All three expressions are appropriate for him.

Yitschak remained in Canaan his whole life. He was prosperous and had stability. The expression of stars is appropriate for him.

Yaakov begins this Parsha with the sun setting. He is left in darkness and insecurity as he begins his life in exile. There he will find himself repeatedly cheated with no rights. Even though he flourishes and becomes a large family, he must still resort to subterfuge to escape from Lavan. He may have become numerous, but he is no star, nor is he as sand: He is "as the dust of the earth" - trodden on, frightened and homeless.

Yaakov represents the Jew in exile: worried, defenseless, yet still flourishing. However, Yaakov does not remain in exile, he returns, as will all his progeny.


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