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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How to Read a Text

How to Read a Text

Nov 28, 2009 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Vayetzei

Michael Fishbane’s book Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology is a scholarly work that I find compelling, especially in those instances where the author places emphasis on experiencing the act of biblical interpretation, which “is understood to foster diverse modes of attention to textual details, which in turn cultivate correlative forms of attention to the world, and divine reality.” In other words, paying close attention to the details in the Torah is the path to deriving meaning from the Torah.

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Learning From a Dream

Learning From a Dream

Dec 5, 2008 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Vayetzei

This week’s Torah reading, Parashat Va-yetzei, begins with Jacob’s famous dream, in which he sees a ladder stretching all the way up to the very heavens. The dream ends with God’s promise to him that “the ground that you are lying upon I will give to you and your offspring. Your seed shall be as numerous as the dust of the earth, you shall spread out to the west, east, to the north and south . . . “

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Why Are We Called the People of Israel?

Why Are We Called the People of Israel?

Nov 17, 2007 By Edward Feld | Commentary | Vayetzei

We are called not the People Abraham, nor the People Isaac, rather we are called the People Israel, named for the third of the patriarchal family, Jacob.

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God in Our Midst

God in Our Midst

Dec 6, 2006 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayetzei

After Jacob steals Esav’s blessing, a deep rift develops between these two brothers.

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Doing the Impossible

Doing the Impossible

Dec 2, 2006 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Vayetzei

This parashah challenges us to do the impossible. Let me explain.

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A Place of Opposites

A Place of Opposites

Dec 10, 2005 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayetzei

Places are often endowed with meaning. The sites of battles, speeches, or other historical events come to mind. And often these very same places are marred by painful memories. This notion of place and meaning plays a very significant role at the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Va-yetzei . Fleeing the murderous intentions of his brother Esau, Jacob journeys back to the ‘old country’ at the prodding of his parents. The parashah opens, “Jacob left Beersheva and journeyed toward Haran” (Genesis 28:10). En route, Jacob happens upon a curious place: “Jacob happened upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was setting…” (Genesis 28:11). What is this place and why are the events in that place so significant?

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Our Hidden Needs

Our Hidden Needs

Dec 9, 2005 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Vayetzei

By Rabbi Aaron Brusso

As human beings we are often hidden from each other. Our innermost thoughts, feelings, and motivations are known only to ourselves and to those we choose to let in. A groom places the veil over the bride’s face during the bedeken ceremony and the couple thereby communally declares that they will know each other behind the veils in ways impenetrable to others. What is shared in love with one is hidden from another because of this love.

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The Evolution of Judaism’s Moral Conscience

The Evolution of Judaism’s Moral Conscience

Nov 20, 2004 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayetzei

Why does Jacob abandon the security of his parents home in Beer-sheba?

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Rachel the Victim, Rachel the Hero

Rachel the Victim, Rachel the Hero

Dec 6, 2003 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayetzei

In this week’s parashah Jacob gets his just desserts. He meets his master in the art of deception. As Jacob had denied his brother Esau the blessing to which his birthright entitled him, so, too, he is now denied the hand of Rachel, the younger daughter of Laban his uncle, with whom he is madly in love and for whom he has worked seven hard years. The counterpoint is exquisite. By substituting Leah for Rachel on Rachel’s wedding night, Laban exacts divine retribution at a moment of peak anticipation in a way that is no less intense than what Jacob did to Esau Along the way, Laban demonstratively reaffirms the sanctity of primogeniture.

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Cry Along with Me

Cry Along with Me

Dec 6, 2003 By Melissa Crespy | Commentary | Vayetzei

A parashah of deep passion, Va-Yetze often tears me apart while reading it. In it, Jacob falls in love, is deceived by his uncle/ father-in-law, marries two sisters, takes two concubines, and becomes father to eleven sons and one daughter! Though destined to become our third Patriarch, Jacob in these 20 years of his life lives with pain and deception, and causes deep pain, at the very least, to his two wives—Rachel and Leah. 

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Learning From Our Ancestor’s Struggles

Learning From Our Ancestor’s Struggles

Nov 22, 2002 By Melissa Crespy | Commentary | Vayetzei

I cannot read Parashat Va-Yetze dispassionately. The struggle between two sisters for the love of the same man, the back and forth attempt to win his affections by bearing more and more children, and the visible jealousy and pain that each one of them experiences, leaves me feeling angry every time I read the story. Particularly galling is Jacob’s reaction to Rachel—the wife whom he loves deeply—when she cannot become pregnant. She has seen her sister Leah bear Jacob three sons (presumably within three years), and can no longer take the pain of being the barren wife. “Give me children, or I shall die” she says to Jacob (Genesis 30:1). And the Torah records his response: “Jacob was incensed at Rachel, and said, “Can I take the place of God (‘hatahat elohim anokhi‘), who has denied you fruit of the womb?”

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Mother Rachel

Mother Rachel

Nov 16, 2002 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Vayetzei

Family stories are never objective. They are told with a point in mind. When stories are about someone who has died, the storyteller has free rein; the person is no longer around to object. Often this results in beatification. A late relative is made out to be so saintly that the person would hardly recognize him or herself. On the other hand, stories can demonize someone beyond the bounds of fairness or credibility.

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Between Rachel and Jeremiah

Between Rachel and Jeremiah

Nov 24, 2001 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayetzei

According to our parashah, the world turns on the principle of measure for measure. Our misdeeds are repaid in kind. A noble end can never be justified by ignoble means. The deception that Jacob worked on his sightless father to strip his older brother of the blessing and status of the first–born son is now wrought on him by his uncle. In Laban, Jacob has met his match; if anything, a rival who exceeds him in gall and cunning.

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Jacob’s Prayer for Lasting Peace

Jacob’s Prayer for Lasting Peace

Dec 9, 2000 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayetzei

My grandchildren call their grandparents “Sabba” and “Savta.” These ancient Aramaic words for grandfather and grandmother are firmly ensconced in the vocabulary of contemporary Hebrew. Like “Abba” and “Imma” (the Hebrew words for father and mother), they are terms of address and endearment. They ring with love and intimacy. But they also connect us to something far beyond our family circle. They bind us to the State of Israel, where the language is Hebrew, and to the history of the Jewish people, whose literary, if not spoken language was always Hebrew. To make use of such linguistic fragments in our personal lives locates us in a cultural context and continuum that resonates with deep meaning.

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Finding Comfort in Exile

Finding Comfort in Exile

Nov 20, 1999 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayetzei

I spent my birthday this month on business for the Leo Baeck Institute (devoted to the study of German-speaking Jewry) in Germany, where I had been born as the curtain came down on German Jewry. If Hitler had not seized power, how differently would my life have unfolded. To leave the place we were born (even in flight) does not end its influence on our lives. While I don’t believe that birth is destiny, our birthplace is often a crucial factor in shaping who we are. In 1910 at age 23, Marc Chagall arrived in Paris to stay for four transformative years. “I brought my objects with me from Russia,” he later reflected. “Paris shed its light on them.” In truth, Vitebsk never left Chagall. How much of my own life have I expended in recovering and appreciating the world of my ancestors!

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The Importance of Educating Our Children

The Importance of Educating Our Children

Dec 6, 1997 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayetzei

When Abraham instructed his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac back in the old country, and only there, he stipulated twice that Isaac himself was never to return. He was to stay in Canaan, but not to marry any of its native women. Yet a generation later, we find caution thrown to the winds. Jacob retraces his grandfather’s steps to Paddan-aram, from where he hailed.

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The Morality of Wealth

The Morality of Wealth

Nov 23, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayetzei

It is well known that the New Testament evinces a strong aversion to personal wealth. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declaims, “You cannot serve God and Money (Matthew 6:24).” Elsewhere he counsels a moral man of great means, “There is still one thing lacking: sell everything you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven (Luke 18:22).” When the man demurs, Jesus lets fly with a retort that has hurtled through the ages: “How hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:24-25).”

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