21st Century P’shat: 1-2 minute divrai Torah for each aliyah

Vayeitze

  1. We open with Yaacov ‘praying.’ We associate this with Ma’ariv, but as with the other two prayers there is no actual ‘praying’ going on. In this case, Yaacov sleeps and Hashem answers his greatest fear: that he has no future. This fear runs throughout – it is why he forces Esav into selling the birthright and why he goes beyond Rebecca’s opportunism to lie to his father and ensure he gets his blessing. Hashem sees this and, in Yaacov’s greatest moment of need reassures him with a prophecy of thousands of years in the life of Israel (his name). It isn’t enough – Yaacov only offers his ‘house of G-d’ conditionally.
    1. At this point, Yaacov is not yet great enough to encounter Hashem while awake.
    2. Why does Yaacov merit such attention? What has he done that is so great? Abraham worked with his wife, Yitzchak created connections between generations. Yaacov did something perhaps even greater – he defied fate. The ancient world was dominated by the idea of unavoidable fate and he fought it, and lost and fought it again. He never seemed to believe reality was set in stone.
    3. My brother Isaiah points out that the sun goes down when Yaacov leaves Israel and comes up (before the encounter with Esav) when he returns. The sun rises and sets on Israel’s presence in the land.
  2. Yaacov’s challenge is more all the clearer when he weeps on Rachel. He lacks confidence, but encountering her gives him some hope – something even Hashem couldn’t provide.
    1. On the Lavan track, we encounter a very different well than Eliezer found. Aside from Rachel, no women come to draw water. In fact, there’s a big rock on the well because nobody trusts anybody else any more. The community has been poisoned. We’ll see why as this parsha continues.
  3. Leah lacks a connection to Yaacov. So Hashem blesses her with children. Why? She is deserving of being a fully connected part of humanity. This need for connection is part of what sets Abraham apart. If Leah can’t connect with her own husband, Hashem will connect her by giving her children who form a link in the ongoing chain of humanity.
  4. Hashem zachors Rachel. When used with Hashem, this term normally describes when somebody must be saved in order to keep the covenant. Rachel says earlier that she is dead without children – she might now be in such dire straits that she needs rescue to be zachored. But where’s the covenant? Hashem has promised her nothing. But just as Yishmael was saved because of a covenant with Abraham, Rachel may be saved because of Hashem’s covenant with Yaacov and her connection, in turn, to him.
  5. The rods thing is a weird miracle. First, it isn’t presented as a miracle. Second, we know from genetics and biology that peeled sticks don’t make animals go into heat and have stripped children. Third, Yaacov has a whole story about it in which he changes key details (like whose idea it was). fourth, Hashem doesn’t seem command this weird act beforehand. So why does Yaacov do it? He does it because he believes it will work. He is uncertain about the future and he feels a need to change fate through action.  Hashem caters to him by making it a miracle after the act. And Yaacov returns the favor by eliminating the mechanics of what he did (and including Hashem)  in his description of what occurred.
    1. While Yaacov may believe his trick will work – ultimately he does recognize it comes from Hashem – after all, who could he be emulating? This might be why Hashem talks to Yaacov – and perhaps during the day. He has risen since his departure from Canaan.
  6. Lavan refers to “G-d of y’alls father.” What y’all is he referring to? I think this reinforces Lavan’s role. Terach had the same G-d as Avraham. Rivka and Rachel and Leah do. But Lavan has his own gods. He is incompatible with his own family’s G-d.
    1. We always talk about Rachel dying because she hid Lavan’s gods and Yaacov saying whoever hid them would die. But he didn’t say that. He said if Lavan finds them whoever has them will die. But Lavan doesn’t find them. I think Rachel dies for the same reason the Jewish people were evicted. She is a member of the family of Avraham and she is in the land of Avraham and she has idols. Those three ingredients are combustible.
  7. Why is Lavan incompatible? We see why right away. He says all the women and kids are his, which is patently ridiculous given the earlier agreements. But in the next verse, he agrees to a covenant with Hashem as a witness. Laws and covenants have predictability and stability and tradition. They have Kedusha. Lavan, except under threat of force from Hashem, is outside of all of this. When people like this have an influence on society we see what we saw at the beginning of the parshe with the total lack of trust around the well.