Dvar Torah delivered by Mike Garmise on 7th Kislev 5775, 29th November 2015
Yacov is leaving Padan Aram to go home, to his mother and father and to his brother Esav. But don’t we always read, you can never go home, you can never go back? Don’t we say that when we cross a river a second time it is no longer the same river and we are no longer the same person? This surely applies to Yaacov as he heads home after 21 years in exile.
Parshat Vayetze deals with this 21 year period between Yaacov’s fear-instigated flight from home and the first half of his return, condensed into a few chapters of great import to our history. These were especially tumultuous years for Yaacov, so let’s try to understand what he learned and perhaps what he became.
If we look at the structure of Yaacov’s adventures in Padan Aram, we find symmetry. It begins with God appearing to Yaacov in a dream, the famous ladder of angels zipping up and down from heaven, and at the end, one of the impetuses for Yaacov’s decision to leave Padan Aram, aside from Lavan’s coldness, is another dream, where God tells him to go home.
Yaacov’s arrival in Padan Aram is marked by two singular events. First, Yaacov the supposed yeshiva bocher (in today’s terms) is able single-handedly to roll away a huge stone that three shepherds cannot manage to move – and why? So that his love-at-first-sight cousin Rachel can water her sheep. That’s the second event: Yaacov’s in love.
At the end of the parsha, as Yaacov is leaving stealthily after having beaten Lavan at his own game (with God’s help), this same Rachel steals her father’s home idols, the little figurines – we don’t know why: whether to keep something from home, or to pay back Lavan for his meanness. Whatever the reason, it is Rachel who helps to spark a tense encounter between her husband and her father where the once-upon-a-time timid Yaacov must stand up for his rights and speak out. And he does.
Of course the greatest symmetry in the parsha is actually with last week’s parsha. We remember that Yaacov stole Esav’s blessing from Yitzhak, their father. Yitzhak says, your brother came fraudulently b’mirma and stole your blessing. And in today’s parsha, Yaacov, who has worked for seven years to earn the right to marry his beloved Rachel, is shocked to find himself married to Leah. And he cries to Lavan: why did you defraud me (lama rimitani). The defrauder has been defrauded. The manipulator has been manipulated.
This brings us back to what Yaacov learned. Obviously, he learned that there are two sides to every fraud, and he learned what it feels like to be on the receiving end.
He had 21 years of dealing with his father-in-law, Lavan, the biggest conniver in the Torah. He certainly learned how to live with that kind of person.
We was also married. He had two wives, two concubines (his wives’ maids, given to him by his wives in order to procreate even more), he had 12 boys and one girl, he had a household as abuzz with conspiracies and hatreds and vendettas as our own government today, he had a wife he loved who for many years was barren and a wife he loved less who procreated like a rabbit. He had sheep and cattle and camels and wealth galore. You have to learn how to live in such an environment, how to get along with lots of people.
What didn’t he have? Peace of mind. Serenity Why not? His squabbling family? His feeling of being cheated by Lavan? His not feeling at home and perhaps his nostalgia for his mother and father? The guilt he felt about what he had done to Esav? The list goes on and on.
So he has learned to stand up for himself and to deal with two wives who dislike each other. He has learned to bargain and he has learned, it would seem, to appreciate peace and civility in the family. To what extent we will see next week.
As we leave the parsha Yaacov is a different, better person for his experiences (can that be said for all of us?), one who is now ready for the most important encounter in his life, as we will read next week.
Join us again next week, same time, same station.