1. Parsha Details
Parsha Details:Gen 28:10-32:3 (tri 31:17-32:3) [Haftorah Hosea (largest) 11:7-14:10]
2. Questions and a few observations
This week's parsha is the story of Jacob's time in Haran at Laban's (Rivka's brother) house. During the twenty years here, Jacob acquires four wives, eleven sons, one daughter and a large household. It is the complete story of Jacob's travels outside of Canaan (prior to Egypt). In fact, the ending is a very ceremonial split with Laban's part of the family.
Never again will wives for sons be sought from this branch of the family. Jacob's sons will marry wives from more local areas. In fact, we do not hear from this part of Abraham's family again on a personal level.
Several things that become unacceptable by the time of the Rabbis occur in this parsha, such as marrying sisters and erecting and anointing pillars. The inclusion of these details speaks to the age of the source material in this parsha. Like many parts of Torah, there are interesting events and usages that speak to antiquity and other interesting tidbits that link with much later times.
One of these tidbits is the use of the term fakhad Yitzkhak -- Fear of Isaac. There are exactly two of these usages in Torah, both in this parsha. The closest similar usage is in one part of Isaiah (chapter 2) where the prophet talks about pakhad YHVH [Fear of the Lord] three times in very close proximity. There is also one reference to pakhad YHVH in Samuel 1 (chapter 11) in a graphic scene of Samuel quartering an ox and sending it out as a message on what will happen to those who come after Saul or Samuel -- "and the Fear of the Lord fell on the people and they went out as one man." So is it the fear of Isaac and what he (Isaac) might do or is it shorthand for the Fear of the Lord that Isaac knew?
Let's look at the famous line comparing Leah and Rachel: What is meant by 'weak' eyes? The Hebrew is rakhot, which my trusty dictionary translates as: soft, tender, pillowy, mellowy, flabby, mellow, lenient, limp, smooth, gentle, flaccid. Would a reasonable translation be "While Leah had tender, gentle eyes, Rachel was strikingly beautiful in form and appearance (carriage)." (The same dictionary translate the yafe used for Rachel as handsome, fair, lovely, beautiful, well, pretty, nifty, smartly, bully, goodly, buxom, tuff, angelic).
Leah has always been considered the more quiet, spiritual sister, probably somewhat like Isaac? Eyes, after all are supposed to be windows to our inner beings. Does this sentence say that Leah was a beautiful person from the inside, but that Rachel was physically very attractive? She certainly appears more assertive.
So let's look at the day-to-day details of their lives that we see from this parsha. Each wife, including Bilhah and Zilpah have tents. Jacob may or may not have had his own tent (probably, so that he could do 'men' things without the women about -- even though tradition tells us either that he lived in Rachel's tent or that her 'couch' was in his tent). In any event, we get the feeling that Leah feels neglected in that Jacob is spending most of his time with Rachel in one way or another.
She asks Rachel "Is it a small matter that you have taken my husband?" As the first wife and one who has given her husband four sons already, Leah would normally expect an appropriate amount of time and attention from Jacob -- she is apparently not getting it. She seems to be saying "Isn't it enough that you get everything from Jacob (even without children) that I should be getting, do you still need an aphrodisiac (the mandrakes)?" Since Rachel is already getting "everything" in Leah's eyes, she must be torn between sisterly love (which would want her sister to have children) and self (that wants husbandly things from her husband).
We get a further glimpse into Leah's agony as she names her sixth son: "now will my husband live with me, because I have born him six sons;" Six sons (and a named daughter) was impressive at a time when everyone else is having two (Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Bilhah, Zilpah....)
And what about the status of Bilhah and Zilpah? Leah and Rachel 'own' them in that they were 'given' to them by Laban on their wedding night. And they give them to Jacob "as wife" (not as concubines). Since deeds and such have no writing associated with them yet, it is very unlikely that a Ketuba is part of a marriage yet. The public party and declaration would serve the same function in that environment. And the Torah uses the word wife for both Bilhah and Zilpah. And yet, Rachel and Leah retain the naming rights to their children, so there is at least a different status. Also, Bilhah and Zilpah have no mentioned say in family decisions -- Leah and Rachel rule the household. They must have gotten along fairly well to have been able to jointly run Jacob's growing household with ONLY the amount of rivalry mentioned in Torah (woe to the sister who gets between me and my mister....). That rivalry is obvious, but never gets to violence or trickery. They work their way out of potentially volatile situations "And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with you to night for your son's mandrakes."
And what about this living in tents? Well, it doesn't lend itself to privacy. Jacob 'overhears' (or is told about) Laban's sons talking disparagingly about him and he can see from Laban's expressions and actions that Laban is starting to agree with them -- and he knows this is not good. We can almost hear him asking "Oh Lord, what should I do?" And he is answered in a dream.
Now, what does he do? "And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field to his flock," or in other words, away from listening ears. They hear his dream and say "whatever God has said to you, do." This tells us a few things -- the sisters acted together and Jacob needed their agreement on these actions (indeed, they had to see about packing, etc) so that Jacob could pull this off. It's no wonder he waited until Laban left camp for an activity that would take more than a day or two.
One can almost see the scene. Laban has left and is well into his shearing activities. The household starts packing, as quietly as possible at first. Finally, as goods are moved out of the tents and onto camel and/or asses, and tents start to come down, it becomes apparent what is happening. Those loyal to Laban see it and see what is happening and they have to run and find Laban and tell him. No wonder it took three days to get the word to Laban. He must have stopped in the middle of the poor sheep that was actually being shorn to run after Jacob and see what was happening. And he had to go home first, see what happened (can you picture the sight?), gone through his own household enough to see that his teraphim were missing (and nothing else he cared about), and then pursue Jacob and sons.
Teraphim -- which ones? how many? Were they just 'key ones'? Many conflicting traditions here and many scholarly arguments. Were they 'deeds of property'? (we'll talk about inanimate objects as witnesses later), were they 'good luck charms', were they really worshipped (least likely -- revered for what they symbolized or the magical powers they may have been thought to have, maybe)? In any event, Rachel did this with much forethought -- there had to be a reason. Laban was a business man, certainly not a deeply religious man, but one who gets visions. If these teraphim were 'idols' as we think of them today, they could be easily replaced at the local 'gods' shop and would have primarily a financial value. So somehow, we know they were much more than that. And none are individually singled out, so there is not a sentimental value there (and I must admit, I do not see Laban as all that sentimental -- his focus was money and power/prestige/ego).
The financial aspects are key when Laban catches up with Jacob (can you see him struggling to catch his breath and remain calm?). We are told that Laban had a vision where God tells him "Take heed that you speak not to Jacob either good or bad." In other words, Laban sees that he should listen to what Jacob has to say and work something out -- there is both good and bad in his leaving -- intentions will become apparent when they meet and talk.
Jacob, of course, responds to the teraphim theft as a man of honor would, "With whom you will find your gods, let him not live. .... For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them." So who did he think stole them? And why? Would they have had value if one intended never to return to Laban's turf? Fortunately, Rachel is clever enough to hide them successfully from Laban (and probably Jacob, too).
And a deal is made between two powerful families with a fascinating agreement: "The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, [let] the God of their father... judge between us." A very interesting and ancient formula. They are part of one family, but becoming separate. This is a real split. It is 'formalized' with sacrifice and the pillar and stone heap are called as witnesses (oral society) to the agreement (treaty). Inanimate objects are seen as 'witnesses' to signify things -- agreements, treaties, deeds, etc.. Were the teraphim witnesses in the same way?
"And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac." (one of the two usages). We are not told if Laban swore anything and if so by whom. We are not told if Laban offered any sacrifices -- perhaps not since only Jacob had readily available animals (Laban probably had none with him). And the sacrifice must be offered by the one who owns it. It would have been possible for Jacob to sell or give Laban what he needed for a sacrifice, but we do not hear of this. Is the treaty somewhat one sided? Or is Torah already losing interest in Laban? Is the judgement already taking place?
Was Rachel's action to steal her father's witnesses of deeds and agreements to hurt him? To claim them for herself? We never hear about worship to these teraphim -- there are no sacrifices made to them in Bereyshit accounts. Tithes are not given to them. And yet they had great significance -- Jacob and Laban both call them gods when they are talking about them -- soon we will hear about them being hidden while the family prepares to approach God (more then). Sacrifices are done outside (less messy) at either religious gatherings (like Melchizedek) or at treaty 'signings' as we see in this account.
This meeting and ceremony took some time -- several things are worked out, not the least of which is Laban's charge to Jacob: "The Lord watch between me and you, when we are absent one from another. If you shall afflict my daughters, or if you shall take other wives beside my daughters, although no man is with us, God is witness between me and you." Pretty fatherly for a man depicted as purely mercenary and heartless. And pretty devout in his own way -- he acknowledges that he will not know of it since they won't be close enough after this, but he calls on God to 'know and witness'.
The rest of the treaty terms are worked out, there is sacrifice, feasting and both go their separate ways, never to mingle again. And Jacob continues homeward to the next set of challenges.
3. Some Observations
This weeks's parsha starts out with Jacob leaving his father's and ends with his returning to the Land. Mishna tells us that the first who reads from the Torah says a blessing and the last to read from the Torah says a blessing. Blessing on going out and on coming in...
And this parsha is a complete story. It is one unit with no openings in the columns (5 1/2+). It is only slightly shorter than the only other solid parsha (mikeytz) in Bereyshit which we will read in about one month. It is intended that we read this parsha in one sitting and see that it forms a unit. It has been edited from various recounted details or it was copied into our Torah from an intact unit.
Parts of it are very old and faithfully transmitted -- the evidence of this is that there are parts that cause the Rabbis and scholars ever since some 'problems', such as Rachel stealing the Teraphim. If Torah were simply a story written much later to 'unify' a bunch of folks or 'bring wayward children of Israel and Judea" back to God, this little detail would not have been included -- that would have been much easier than the traditional explanation that this is why she died in childbirth when Benjamin is born. And then there is the little detail of the pillars and the anointing of these pillars. Again, it would have been easier not to describe things this way, since later they become prohibited when part of idolatrous worship. (We will see Moses set up twelve pillars in Exodus -- but more then).
So let's look at the phrase that describes Jacob's action in leaving Laban's house. Torah tells us "And Jacob outwitted [v'yig'nov et lev] Laban the Aramean, in that he did not tell him that he fled." The Hebrew translates into "stole Laban's heart". My guess is that both men knew a parting of the ways was going to have to happen someday. And whenever it happened, there would be hard feelings. Tradition says that Laban had no sons when he 'invited' Jacob into the household -- in fact, documentation from the biblical period talks about adoptions that sound very similar to this situation, where a kinsman is adopted and married into the family and cares for the herds and flocks and then inherits IF there are no natural sons (compare Abraham's comment about Eliezer inheriting his wealth). If, after the time of adoption, sons are born, this adoption can be terminated and the adopted son sometimes loses out to the natural son. We again, appear to have this situation developing in Laban's household. The natural sons would see Jacob as a threat to an inheritance they would like to have, and might try to drive a wedge between Laban and Jacob -- and that would not have been that hard most likely. This scenario fits both the business family arrangements of the time and the scene we see described in the parsha.
So how does Jacob steal Laban's heart? Today we might use "stealing his thunder" in a similar fashion. Jacob sets the time, the method and so on. Laban might have been able to talk Jacob out of some of his possessions as Jacob claims to Laban. But even more importantly is the ego posturing here -- Laban doesn't kick him out (power for Laban, shame for Jacob), Jacob 'escapes' (power for Jacob, 'loss of face' for Laban).
They end up after some heated discussion and Laban's search for the missing teraphim in the ceremony depicted in some detail. And then, after the appropriate sacrifices and meals and celebrating, the two households split forever. The story wraps up neatly with messengers of God as there were at the beginning. El Beyt El guarded him as He said he would at the beginning and He has sent him home again and now sends messengers to complete the welcome. Blessed be his going out and his coming in.
Side note: for those who want to know who had which children, here's the list:
Leah - Reuben; Simeon; Levi; Judah; Issachar; Zebulun; Dinah.
Bilhah (Rachel's) - Dan; Naphtali.
Zilpah (Leah's) - Gad; Asher.
Rachel - Joseph; Benjamin (not born yet in this Parsha).
1. Rocks and teraphim: Look around your house. What have you gathered over the years that future generations might call teraphim? Do they serve to witness anything? How many can you find? What does the stone we leave at a grave witness?
2. Stars: Look at the stars on a clear night. Jacob saw these stars as he travelled to Laban's house and he and his family saw them as he travelled home. (They would have seen many more than we can thanks to light pollution) Envision the ladder that Jacob saw and the messengers on the rungs. "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." Have you ever "bumped into" the Lord when you did not expect to?
3. Name: Breathe out at that very end of breath, that moment just before being, picture the yod. Feel the breath coming into you, filling your chest, your lungs, your being Hay. Hold that breath straighten up so that your spine is as straight as it can be Vav. Breathe out, giving breath back to the One who breathes life Hay. Repeat as desired. (Repeated by request -- Thanks to Rabbi Ginsburg for teaching me this exercise)
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos)
(c) 2000 Candy Lobb All rights reserved.