This Week’s Torah Portion: Vayetzei

jacob's ladder

jacob's ladderName: Vayetzei

Reading: Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

Haftarah: Hosea 12:13 – 14:10

Parsha Summary – Vayetzei

Jacob’s Ladder

jacob's ladderJacob leaves Beer Sheba for Haran. When it grows dark, he finds a place to rest, takes a stone to use as a pillow, and goes to sleep. He dreams of a ladder reaching from the land into heaven, which God’s angel ascending and descending. God appears to Jacob and reaffirms His promise to Abraham and Isaac: He will give Jacob and his children the land; Jacob’s descendants will be numerous; God will stay will stay with and protect Jacob.

Jacob wakes up and realizes that he is sleeping in God’s presence at the “gate of heaven”. He sets up his stone pillow as a pillar which he consecrates with oil. He names the place Beth-El and vows that if God truly does protect him and provide him with bread and clothing then he will return and build a House for God over the stone.

Jacob Meets Rachel

Jacob continues on his journey and finds a field with a well and three flocks of sheep. He learns from the local men that he is in Haran and that Laban lives there and is well. They tell him that Rachel is approaching with her sheep and that all the shepherds wait for each other at the well as many people are needed to roll the stone which covers it. Jacob rolls the stone from the well, waters Rachel’s flock, and kisses her.

Jacob Meets Laban

Jacob tells Rachel that he is family, and Laban runs to meet and embrace his sister’s son. Jacob stays with Laban for a month, then Laban asks Jacob to negotiate a salary with him as he doesn’t want his family to work for free. Jacob loves Rachel, so offers to work for seven years in exchange for marrying beautiful Rachel.

Laban Tricks Jacob

Jacob works for seven years for Rachel, but his loves make them feel like days. Laban hosts a wedding feast but gives Jacob Leah – his older daughter and Rachel’s elder sister – instead. Jacob is outraged; Laban explains that they never give the younger before the firstborn. Laban agrees to give Rachel at the end of Leah and Jacob’s first wedding week – in exchange for another seven years of work.

Leah’s Children

God sees that Leah is the less-loved wife so opens her womb; Rachel is barren. She conceives four times and has four sons who she names Reuben, Simion, Levi, and Judah.

Bilhah and Zilpah

Rachel sees that she is barren and tells Jacob to give her children. He can’t instead, she present her handmade in her place. Bilhah has two sons, who Rachel names Dan and Naftali. Leah then gives Jacob her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob, with whom she has two sons, Gad and Asher.

Rachel trades a night with Jacob to Leah for some of Reuben’s flowers; Leah falls pregnant twice more with sons she names Issachar and Zebulun. She then has a daughter named Dinah.

God remembers Rachel. She conceives a son and calls him Joseph.

Jacob and His Family Leave Laban

Jacob tells Laban that he wants to negotiate his final wage and leave with his wives and family. Laban tells Jacob to set his wage; he asks for every spotted sheep and goat, and Laban agrees. He continues to tend to the full flock, but separates his animals from Laban’s and breeds them to create many spotted and striped animals. Jacob becomes wealthy with a full retinue of sheep, goats, servants, camels, and donkeys.

Jacob Leaves Padaan Aram

jacob, sheepJacob hears that Laban’s sons are jealous of his wealth and decides it’s time to leave. God tells Jacob to leave and return to the land of his birth, so Jacob packs up his family and the family leaves while Laban is tending to his sheep. Rachel steals Laban’s idols.

After three days, Laban chases after the family and catches up with them. He asks why they left without saying goodbye and tells Jacob that God instructed him not to hurt him. He searches the camp for his stolen idols, then tells Jacob that everything he owns his truly his (Laban’s). Jacob doesn’t know that Rachel stole the idols, and says that whoever stole them will surely die. The two men make a pact and go their separate ways.

Torah Takeaway

Vayetzei teaches us the power of our words. When Laban approaches Jacob after Jacob and his family flee from Padaan Aram, he searches the camp for his stolen idols. In Genesis 31:32, Jacob says:

With whomever you find your gods, they shall not live

It seems like a casual, throwaway comment, made to appease an older man and settle the dispute. However, we know that Rachel has the idols – she even makes excuses to her father about being stricken with illness – the “way of women” so that he won’t fully search her space.

We will soon see that Rachel died young. The sages teach that her untimely death was a direct result of her husband’s cavalier words: he predicted death for whoever stole the idols, and that death befell his beloved Rachel.

Had Jacob known the immense powers that our words carry, would he even think to utter something so callous? If he knew that a few tossed-out words would cause the untimely death of his most cherished, treasured wife Rachel, would he have said it?

Of course not.

Words are powerful. Harsh, careless words can kill a person metaphorically – and in Rachel’s case, literally. Jacob’s words teach us to guard ours and to speak only with caution so that our loved ones never have to face the consequences of our haphazard tongues.