Commentary on Parashat Vayetzei, Genesis 28:10 - 32:3
On his way to his uncle Laban’s, Jacob dreams of a ladder that stretches up from earth to heaven. There are angels of God ascending and descending the ladder.
God stands behind Jacob and says, “I am God, the God of your father Abraham and the God of your father Isaac. I will give to you and your seed the land where you are sleeping. And your seed will be as dust of the earth and spread in all directions, and through you will all the families on earth be blessed. I am with you and will guard you. I will not leave you until I have accomplished what I have promised.”
Jacob and Rachel Meet
Jacob awoke from his sleep, saying, “Truly, God is in this place and I did not know it. This is a house of God. This is a gate of heaven.”
The next morning, Jacob anointed a memorial stone with oil and named the place Beth El. Then Jacob made a vow, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this path and give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I will return in peace to the house of my father, then God shall be God to me. And this memorial stone shall be a house of God, and all that God will give to me, I will tithe to God repeatedly.”
Jacob continued his journey. He saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there. There was a rock that was to be moved from the well in order to access the water. Jacob said to the men gathered there, “Do you know Laban?”
“Yes,” they answered. “He is well and his daughter, Rachel, the shepherdess, will soon be coming with her sheep.”
Soon, Rachel did come with her father’s sheep. When Jacob saw Rachel, he caused the rock to roll from the mouth of the well in order to water the sheep. Jacob kissed Rachel, then wept. Thereupon Jacob told Rachel that he was her kinsman, and she ran and told her father. Jacob ended up staying with Laban for a month.
Laban and Jacob Make a Deal
Then Laban said to Jacob, “Even if you are my kinsman, should you serve me without compensation? What shall your wages be?”
Now, Laban had two daughters. The older daughter was Leah and the younger daughter was Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel and said to Laban, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter, Rachel.” Laban agreed. So Jacob served for Rachel seven years, but they were only a few days in his eyes because of his love for her. And Jacob said to Laban, “My working days are complete. Give me my wife.”
Laban threw a big feast. When it was evening, he took his eldest daughter Leah, and brought her to Jacob for their wedding night. But when morning came and Jacob saw it was Leah, he said, “What have your done to me? Did I not serve you for Rachel? Why have you deceived me?”
Laban responded, “It is not our tradition to give the younger daughter before the elder. Complete the wedding week with Leah and we shall give you Rachel for another seven years of work.”
The Tribes are Born
Jacob served another seven years, and Laban gave him Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. When God saw that Leah was the hated one, God opened her womb. Leah conceived and bore a son, Reuben, for, “God has looked into my affliction! Now my husband will love me!” She conceived another son, Shimeon, saying, “God has heard that I am the hated one and has given me another son.” Then she had another son, Levi, saying, “Now my husband will attach himself to me for I have borne him three sons.” Next she had Judah, saying, “Now I shall give thanks to God.” Then Leah stopped conceiving children.
When Rachel saw she had not born Jacob any children, she envied her sister. She said to him, “Give me children or else I will die.”
But Jacob was angry with Rachel saying “Am I in God’s place? Who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”
So Rachel gave Jacob her maidservant, Bilhah. Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Rachel said, “God has judged me and has heard my weeping and given me a son,” and called him Dan. Bilhah then bore Jacob another son, Naphtali, for “I have fought a Divine struggle with my sister and I have prevailed.”
When Leah saw she was no longer bearing children, she gave her maidservant Zilpah to Jacob. Zilpah bore Jacob a son, Gad, saying, “Good fortune has come.” Zilpah then bore Jacob another son, Asher, for Leah said, “I am happy in my progress, for women have praised my progress.”
Then Leah conceived a fifth son for Jacob. She called him Yissakhar, saying, “God has given me my wages because I gave my maidservant to my husband.” Leah conceived a sixth son, Zebulun, for Leah said, “God has given me a good portion, now my husband will make his home with me, for I have borne him six sons.” Leah also bore Jacob a daughter, Dinah.
God Remembered Rachel
Then God remembered Rachel. God opened her womb and she bore Jacob a son, saying, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph, adding, “May God give me yet another son.”
At this time, Jacob said to Laban. “I want to go home.”
Laban answered, “I believe that God has blessed me for your sake. What shall I give you?”
They agreed upon an arrangement where Laban’s animals were divided. God tells Jacob in a dream that it is time for him to return to his homeland.
While Laban is away from the house, Rachel steals her father’s idols and Jacob leaves without saying good-bye. When Laban heard that Jacob had fled, he came after them. But God came to Laban in a dream saying, “Do not speak to Jacob either good or bad.”
The next day, Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You have robbed my heart, taking my daughters like prisoners of war. Why did you flee in secret? I would have sent you away with joy and songs. It is within my power to hurt you, but your God told me not to. I can see you wanted to go home, but why did you steal my gods?”
“I left secretly because I was afraid you might take your daughters from me by force. But with whomever you find your idol gods, he shall not remain alive.” Now, Jacob did not know that it was Rachel who had taken the idols. Rachel had them underneath her on the cushion of the camel, so when Laban searched, he could not find them.
Now this made Jacob angry. He said, “What is my crime and what my sin that you pursued me? For twenty years, I have worked for you, serving fourteen years for your two daughters, six years for your flock and you changed my pay ten times. Had it not been for my God, you would now have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my misery and proved it in your dream last night.”
Laban answered, “Now, all that is here is mine. Let us make a covenant, between us. If you should cause my daughters to suffer or if you take wives besides my daughters, God is our witness.” And they took stones and raised it high as memorial stones and then had a feast.
The next day, Laban rose early and blessed them and returned home. Jacob went upon his way and angels of God met him. Jacob then called this place, Mahanayim, “a camp of God.”
Parashat Vayetzei Discussion Questions
1. Do you believe that God determines who shall conceive children and who shall be barren? Why or why not?
2. After deceiving his father, Isaac, Jacob then becomes deceived by his mother’s brother, Laban, with his marriage. Do you believe people get what they give? If so, does it always work as clearly as with Jacob? Can you give an example of it happening in your life?
3. Why do you think Rachel stole the idols? Have you ever stolen anything? If so, why did you steal?
4. The mothers in the story are very specific with the naming of their children, with each name having meaning. What does your name mean?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!