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.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Parshat VaYetseh

Yaakov's Guilt

Yaakov is constantly cheated by Lavan. First he works for him for a month without being paid (Bereshit 29:14-15). He is then given Leah instead of Rachel and is forced to work another seven years for Rachel.

After the fourteen years were over Yaakov then made a deal with Lavan that: "every speckled and spotted kid, and every brown lamb among the sheep, and [every] spotted and speckled [one from] among the goats" (ibid 30:32), would be his wages.

Rather then being satisfied with this good deal, Lavan "removed on that day the ringed and the spotted male goats and all the speckled and spotted female goats, whichever had white on it, and all the brown [from] among the sheep, and he gave [them] into the hands of his sons" (ibid 35).

He wanted to ensure that Yaakov would not have any of those types of sheep and goats in his flock to breed. It would therefore be unlikely that Yaakov would be able to earn any wages. Lavan even "set three days' journey between himself and Yaakov" (ibid 35) so that there could not even be accidental contact with those sheep and goats.

When Lavan saw that Yaakov had nevertheless succeeded, Yakkov claims that he: "mocked me and changed my wages ten times...If he would say thus, 'Speckled ones shall be your wages,' all the animals would bear speckled ones, and if he would say thus, 'Ringed ones shall be your wages,' all the animals would bear ringed ones" (Bereshit 31:7-8).

Slowly but surely, Lavan enslaved Yaakov to such an extent that when Yaakov asked for his freedom, he used the language of a slave being released from his master: "Send me away, and I will go to my place and to my land" (ibid 25 and compare to Shemot 5:1).

Why did Yaakov allow this to happen?

On one occasion Yaakov did confront Lavan, when he switched Rachel with Leah. However, even then his response was minimal and when Lavan said: "It is not done so in our place to give the younger one before the firstborn" (Bereshit 29:26), which appears to be a poor response to a major fraud, Yaakov remains silent. Why?

The answer lies in the events of Parshat VaYetsh and Parshat VaYishlach.

Yaakov was not a willing partner to the snatching of the berachot from Esav. Rivka insisted he do it. She waived away his protests saying that she would be responsible for the repercussions; she cooked the food, put it into Yaakov's hands and even dressed him in Esav's clothes (see ibid 27:13-17). Yaakov was a reluctant partner in this treachery, barely succeeding in disguising his voice.

Nevertheless he is duly punished. He is exiled from his home and comes into darkness. The man that dwelt in tents found himself sleeping in the open air, all alone. He is actually shocked that God hadn't forgotten him (ibid 28:16). Perhaps he thinks that he is getting all he deserved.

Lavan did not give a feeble excuse to Yaakov; he chose his words well: "…in our place to give the younger one before the firstborn" (ibid 29:26). Lavan is playing on Yaakov's conscience for he, the younger son, had pushed himself ahead of Esav, his older brother. Yaakov is stunned into silence. He cannot respond to Lavan's simple defense and proceeds to accept all of Lavan's further frauds, asking nothing of substance for himself.

Yaakov's deeds linger so much on his conscience that when he finally returns to Canaan, he humbles himself before Esav, describing himself as a slave to Esav, his master. He is trying to say that the blessing that he would be his master was nonsense. Yakov says that he was promised: "dew of the heavens and the fatness of the earth and an abundance of corn and wine" (ibid 27:28) but in reality all he got was exile with Lavan.

Yaakov finds the guilt of his actions all consuming and eventually begs Esav: "to take my blessing" (ibid 33:7), which Esav reluctantly does.

Perhaps Yaakov's taking of the Yitzchak's blessing was not such a good thing.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat VaYetseh entitled: "The Dust of The Earth", appears at


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