Thoughts on Vayeitzei

canstockphoto3712801This week’s Parsha is Vayeitzei (and he left) is found in Genesis 28.10 – 32.3.[i] The narrative that began with the Abrahamic blessing in Parsha Lech Lecha (Genesis 12.1-3) continues with Abraham’s grandson Jacob (Genesis 28.13-14). But the LORD adds a special amendment to Jacob’s promise:

“Behold, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I promised you.” (Genesis 28.15)

Here, Jacob was fleeing his father’s house, largely due to problems of his own making – though his mother had helped. Instead of chastising Jacob, the LORD not only blesses him with his father’s and grandfather’s heritage, but He promises protection while he is away AND restoration to the land of promise. This promise is an unconditional promise, dependent solely on Hashem.[ii] Five times the LORD says to Jacob in his dream of the angels ascending and descending the ladder, “I” will do such and such with no requirement on Jacob. The next morning Jacob awoke shocked to realize that the LORD was in that place. Then Jacob, as many have done throughout the annals of time, preceded to repeat and affirm the LORD’s promise, albeit with his own amendment.

“If God will be with me and watch over me on this way that I am going, and provide me food to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in shalom to my father’s house, then Adonai will be my God.” (Genesis 28.20-21)

As if protection and eventual restoration were not enough, Jacob added for himself sustenance and provision, as well as returning home in shalom (peace), possibly looking forward to the time when he would be harmoniously restored with his father and brother. It is likely that he foresaw the trials he was going to face as well as the discord he was leaving at home, and with this knowledge he was looking forward to the time when he could say, like the Psalmist would one day,

הִנֵּ֣ה מַה־טּ֭וֹב וּמַה־נָּעִ֑ים שֶׁ֖בֶת אַחִ֣ים גַּם־יָֽחַד

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
for brothers to dwell together in unity!
Psalm 133

Maybe, this future hope was the rock to which Jacob anchored his faith—the promise of household restoration and in that restoration, his father’s God would become his God.

Following the Sephardic tradition, this week’s Haftarah is from Hosea 11.7 – 12.12. The haftarah is “dominated by the recurrent denunciation of the religious and moral behavior of Ephraim (the northern kingdom).”[iii] Like Jacob, the tribe of Ephraim found itself in a rather deplorable situation, but instead of recognizing or seeking the presence of the LORD, “Ephraim surrounded Me (ADONAI) with lies and the house of Israel with deceit” (Hosea 12.1). Even though the LORD had no desire to punish Ephraim, as evidenced through His words “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I surrender you, Israel?” (Hosea 11.8), He had no choice as He says “My people are bent on turning from Me” (Hosea 11.7). “Bent on turning from Me” sounds a bit odd, but makes sense. JPS translates the phrase, “for My people persists in its defection from Me…” while the NET renders it, “My people are obsessed with turning away from Me…” Ephraim ardently refused to return to her God. Much earlier in Hosea, the LORD expressed His desire for Ephraim, with the same words that we accept for ourselves daily as we bind the tefillin to our hand.

Then I will betroth you to Me forever—yes, I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, covenant loyalty and compassion. I will betroth you to Me with faithfulness, and you will know ADONAI. (Hosea 2.21-22)

Sadly, it is these very words that Ephraim for the most part rejected, and consequently, this haftarah does not end on a positive note. Ephraim claimed, “How rich I have become! I found wealth by myself. I won’t be guilty of any sin with any of my property” (Hosea 12.7). Aside from ignoring the pleading of ADONAI, they would not have heeded the warning of Ben Sira either,

Do not rely on your wealth, or say, “I have the power.” Do not rely on your strength in following the desires of your heart. Do not say, “Who can prevail against me?” for the Lord will exact punishment. Do not say, “I have sinned, yet what has happened to me?” for the Lord is slow to anger! Do not be so confident of forgiveness that you add sin upon sin. (Ben Sira 5.1-5)[iv]

Finally, as Rav Shaul warned the believers in Corinth, “Therefore let the one who thinks that he stands watch out that he doesn’t fall” (I Corinthians 10.12) or as Peter ended his second letter, “be on your guard so that you are not led astray by the error of the lawless and lose your sure footing” (II Peter 3.17); let each of us keep our eyes upon the LORD and our daily lives rooted and grounded in His word.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Commentary by R. Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. JPS, Philadelphia, 1989. p198

[iii] David L. Lieber, Senior Editor. Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary. The Rabbinical Assembly, Broadway, 2001. p194

[iv] New American Bible (Revised Edition). Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington DC, 2010

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