Thoughts on Vayetzei

This week’s parasha is Vayetzei, Genesis 28:10 – 32:3.[i]The Haftarah, according to Sephardic tradition, is Hosea 11:7 – 12:14 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 4:5-30.

This week we read the well-known narrative of Jacob’s twenty-year separation from his parents and his brother, while he works for his uncle Laban to earn his wives and his property (Genesis 31:41). Along the way, he not only built up his possessions, but he obtained two wives, Leah and Rachel, as well as two concubines Zilpah and Bilhah that eventually resulted in the birth of twelve sons.

Much could be said about Jacob and the trials he underwent. Whether his trials were of his own making or of Laban’s treachery is debatable. This much we know for sure, Jacob would return home with much more than he left with. This was according to the promise HaShem made to Jacob at the beginning of his journey.Even though Jacob was technically running away from home to escape Esau’s fury,ADONAI affirmed His blessing and His choosing of Jacob as the one who would continue his grandfatherAbraham’s heritage.

“I am ADONAI, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie,I will give it to you and to your seed. Your seed will be as the dust of the land, and you will burst forth to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed—and in your seed. 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 28:13-15)

Fo one who was fleeing for his life, this promise should have been like a“Presidential Pardon” to a convicted felon. HaShem not only confirmed Jacob as the one who would continue the promises to Abraham and Isaac, but he would also be watched over and taken care of until his return to the land he was fleeing.When he awoke, Jacob immediately recognized that he had been in the presence of the Almighty. However instead of simply acknowledging the word of the LORD, with a little bit of chutzpah he added conditions to the promises of ADONAI.

“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 ADONAIwill be my God. (Genesis 28:20-21)

It would appear that Jacob was not satisfied with HaShem’s promise to watch over him, he wanted personal provision as well. Equally, he did not want to just return to the land of his father Isaac, he wanted to come back “in shalom” with everything restored and in proper working order. These two conditions were not explicit in HaShem’s earlier promise even though one could argue that His promise of being with Jacob and watching over him would infer such blessings.The real chutzpah though came in the final phrase, “…thenADONAI will be my God.” DidJacob make God’s blessing a condition of his allegiance to Him? Rabbi Sarna suggests not at all. He posits that these verses

…are not conditional but temporal. Jacob pledges himself to a certain course of action as an expression of gratitude to God after the promises will be fulfilled. According to the natural order presupposed by our story, Jacob’s vow cannot be understood as a bargaining withGod since all he has asked has already been promised. [ii]

In other words, it wasn’t “if You do this and this then I will be Your man and You will be my God,” but rather more of a clarification of what HaShem promised him and the reality of his father’s blessing(Genesis 27:28-29). With all trials and hardships that Jacob endured, he was, in the end, living proof of Rav Shaul’s words

Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Note that Rav Shaul says all things, not just the good things or the things that happen because we are walking properly and in obedience. In his book Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis states

Every life is peppered with these sorts of tests and trials. Why is life set up this way? Certainly not so we will inevitably fail and fall, but rather so we will keep being confronted by opportunities to grow.[iii]

Jacob, when he returned to the land of his fathers, had definitely grown and matured from the young man who fled his home twenty years earlier. Equally the trials and struggles we face throughout our lives give us the opportunity to grow and mature into the individuals that ADONAI desires each of us to be. In fact, it might be said that without the struggles we would not be the man or woman that we could be. So when life’s situations bring trials and struggles, we should make the choice to see them as opportunities to grow and mature, knowing that we will not be tested beyond what we can endure (1 Corinthians10:13).

[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] Nahum M Sarna, The JPS Commentary Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the NewJPS Translation, Commentary. Philadelphia: JPS, 1989, p 200.

[iii] Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish SpiritualPath of Mussar, Kindle Edition, Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc., 2007, p.102.

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