The Give and Take of Biblical Vows

The Give and Take of Biblical Vows

Nov 12, 2021 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Vayetzei

We live in a world of give and take. Transactions involving the exchange of money for goods and services, which the rabbis explicitly call משא ומתן, “taking and giving,” are central to economic life. Successful relationships, whether professional or personal, are the result of effectively balancing the pursuit of one’s own wants and needs with acknowledging and accommodating the needs and desires of others.

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The World in God

The World in God

Nov 27, 2020 By Gordon Tucker | Commentary | Vayetzei

Our patriarch Jacob reaches a night camp on his way to Haran, a fugitive from the anger of his brother Esau. And then the text of Genesis 28:11 tells us: Vayifga bamakom. The New Jewish Version translation [JPS 1962] renders that phrase according to its straightforward, contextual meaning [peshat]: “He came upon a certain place”—a place that we learn was first called Luz, and later Bet-El. But while the peshat is the primary way of reading a biblical text, it is almost never the only way to do so. 

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The Monumental Act of Listening

The Monumental Act of Listening

Dec 6, 2019 By Jessica Fisher | Commentary | Vayetzei

Parashat Vayetzei brings us to a climactic moment of a 20-year conflict between Jacob and Laban. When Jacob came to Laban’s house after tricking his own father and brother, Laban made him work for seven years to earn the right to marry Rachel, only to be tricked into marrying Leah. So he worked seven more years and finally married Rachel. More hiding and trickery ensued, until finally Jacob decided it was time to leave this toxic dynamic and he snuck away with his family. But Laban caught up to them and, after years of deceit, they had it out with each other, putting everything on the table once and for all: Laban was hurt that Jacob had left without giving him a chance to say goodbye to his children and grandchildren; Jacob was resentful for the years of hard labor, lies, and harsh treatment. (Gen. 31:26-42)

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Why Religion?

Why Religion?

Nov 16, 2018 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Vayetzei

Big picture: What is religion trying to do in the world?

Maimonides claims that the aim of Torah is the creation of lives and communities that manifest “mercy, loving-kindness, and peace” (The Laws of Shabbat, 2:3). All of the commandments, the entirety of our wisdom tradition, seeks to create people who—through their actions—bring more love, sensitivity, and peace into the world.

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Escaping a Toxic Relationship

Escaping a Toxic Relationship

Nov 24, 2017 By Lilly Kaufman | Commentary | Vayetzei

Poor Jacob is triply triangulated in Parashat Vayetzei! His boss, Laban, is not only his uncle, Rebecca’s older brother, but also his father-in-law, Leah and Rachel’s father. Leah and Rachel are bitter rivals, Leah resenting Jacob’s love for Rachel, and Rachel wishing for children when God has blessed only Leah with fertility. Complicating this tangle of relationships is the fact that Jacob and Laban work together, and Laban is not a fair employer. 

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A Ladder to the Heavens

A Ladder to the Heavens

Dec 9, 2016 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Vayetzei

As Jacob sleeps, he sees a ladder with its base on the ground and its top touching the heavens (Gen. 28:12). The seemingly unreachable realm above the earth, Jacob discovers, is actually relatively accessible, almost within our grasp. The images from the Hubble Space Telescope—and space exploration more broadly—play a similar role for us. One might have expected that humanity’s newly found ability to discover more about space would have blunted our sense of wonder, as more and more of the universe ceases to be so mysterious.

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The Emergence of Praise

The Emergence of Praise

Dec 9, 2016 By Julia Andelman | Commentary | Vayetzei

Our parashah begins with Jacob’s profound, life-changing encounter with divinity: his dream of the ladder; his vision of God promising that his descendants will multiply and be blessed; and his vow that “if God remains with me…the Lord shall be my God” (Gen. 28:20-21). But our parashah includes another profound, life-changing moment of connecting to God—a less famous one—experienced by Leah. After giving birth to three sons and naming each of them in accordance with aspects of her life experience, Leah gives birth again and says hapa’am odeh et Adonai (Gen. 29:35)—this time I will praise/thank/acknowledge the Lord—and names her son Judah (Yehudah, from odeh).

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Family

Family

Nov 18, 2015 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Vayetzei

This week’s Torah reading, Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:2), opens and closes with flights of angels accompanying our forefather Jacob (aka Israel, though, he won’t get named that until next week), as he flees from and returns to the Promised Land. When Jacob leaves, he is running in fear for his life. For our father Jacob has cheated his macho older brother Esau once too often, so much so that he has threatened to kill him. Of course, Esau isn’t that much older, for the two brothers are twins. But as any set of twins will tell you, the one who came first, even if by mere seconds—that one is the elder. We might assume, along with the Bible, that birth-order matters. But Genesis is all about the younger supplanting the older and we are on solid ground suggesting that this sibling rivalry stuff is at the very heart of this week’s Torah lesson.

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“And Shall We Do It?”

“And Shall We Do It?”

Nov 15, 2015 By Louis Polisson | Commentary | Vayetzei

It is not in Heaven
And I did not know
I said: “Who shall go up for us to heaven?
I don’t want to, I don’t care
I don’t understand…”

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Reclaiming Our Dreams

Reclaiming Our Dreams

Nov 28, 2014 By Marc Gary | Commentary | Vayetzei

This week’s parashah, Vayetzei, covers a critical 20-year period in the life of our patriarch Jacob: the two decades that Jacob spends outside the Land of Israel, in Haran, in the house of his conniving uncle, Laban. They are years of treachery, deceit, exploitation, and fear. They are pivotal years in Jacob’s life—years in which Jacob confronts who he is and sees in Laban what he will become if he doesn’t pull back from the abyss. In the words of Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg, this is “the night of [Jacob’s] soul.” And, as if to drive this point home, the parashah begins with the setting of the sun and the onset of night, and ends with sunrise and the beginning of a new day.

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How Full of Awe Is This Place!

How Full of Awe Is This Place!

Nov 28, 2014 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Vayetzei

In 1969, as a senior pursuing a BFA at the University of Memphis, my mother, Ann Kibel Schwartz, made a series of prints, including this one on themes from Genesis, as her senior thesis. She drew the images for these prints from magazines, newspapers, and print advertisements. The images were starkly modern, but their juxtaposition in collage, drawing on the ancient themes of the Torah, created an old-new whole.

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Being in the Land

Being in the Land

Nov 6, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayetzei

Parashat Vayetzei opens with Jacob’s flight from the Land of Israel.

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Rachel Leans In

Rachel Leans In

Nov 5, 2013 By Michal Raucher | Commentary | Vayetzei

Recent conversations in popular feminism revolve around trying to capture what it means to “have it all,” and, if that’s even possible, how to achieve it.

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Breaking Routine to Encounter God

Breaking Routine to Encounter God

Nov 21, 2012 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayetzei

With the threat of fratricide hanging over his head and in light of his parents’ wish, Jacob makes a quick exit from Beersheba and heads toward Haran, where he will presumably find a loving and loyal wife.

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How Angels Make Us Better People

How Angels Make Us Better People

Nov 20, 2012 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Vayetzei

I’ve never thought much about mal’akhim (literally, angels), and I wonder if Jacob had thought about them either, before the encounter that took place when he departed the Land of Israel in flight from his brother’s wrath.

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Between Dante and Jacob

Between Dante and Jacob

Dec 3, 2011 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Vayetzei

For Parashat Va-yetzei, although the times are different, the convention is the same and, for us, the question all the more poignant: What is the role of Jacob’s romantic love for Rachel? Does romantic love set us up for an unfulfilled life?

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Honoring Teachers

Honoring Teachers

Nov 26, 2011 By David Levy | Commentary | Text Study | Vayetzei

Picking up on the surprising mention of Abraham as Jacob’s father, we learn an important lesson about the roles different people can play in our lives. Each of us who has been taught by someone is obliged to honor him/her as we would our parents. And the extension of this teaching is that each of us has the potential to play this important role in someone else’s life.

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Why Religion?

Why Religion?

Nov 12, 2010 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Vayetzei

Big picture: What is religion trying to do in the world?

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Jealousy for the Right Reasons

Jealousy for the Right Reasons

Nov 11, 2010 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Vayetzei

When I struggled with infertility, the jealousy of our barren matriarchs was a great comfort.

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Transforming Jealousy

Transforming Jealousy

Nov 10, 2010 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Vayetzei

Be it parenthood or a good job or the latest [fill-in-the-blank-of-your-heart’s desire], it is difficult, in our material culture, not to want what others have. We know we shouldn’t covet—that’s one of the Ten Commandments, after all—but we can’t control the way we feel.

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