Wheeling and Dealing
Vayetze וַיֵּצֵא (“And he went forth”) Genesis 28:10 - 32:3
The parasha for this week is named Vayetze, which means “and he went forth”. Jacob has to flee from Be’ersheva to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, and makes the long journey back to Haran (about 550 miles, “as the crow flies” but much farther in terms of passable terrain). There he’ll stay with his maternal uncle, Laban. Many years earlier Abraham had left Haran, and now Jacob returns there. It’s temporary, of course; Jacob will return to Canaan, for that land was promised to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob. Meanwhile, however, Jacob had business to transact with God and with family. As is the pattern in Genesis, a crisis brings about a God-intended separation. In the previous generation, Ishmael was sent away as God confirmed the covenant through Isaac. Now the crisis between Jacob and Esau will serve God’s purposes, as we follow the ever-narrowing focus on the family line that will eventually lead us to Messiah.
So Jacob fled for his life. But the problem is you take yourself with you wherever you go. Not long after Jacob set out, perhaps at the end of his second day of travel, he stopped to settle for the night in the town of Luz. That night, God appeared to him in a dream. Jacob saw a ladder, perhaps a stairway or bridge, spanning the gap between earth and heaven. Angels were going up and down on it. The Lord stood above it, and said to him,“ I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham… the land on which you are lying, I am giving to you and your descendants”.
Jacob was still in the midst of Canaan, so we are to understand that God was reaffirming the land promised to him. Adonai likewise reiterated all the Abrahamic blessings to Jacob. God further promised to watch over him, to bring him back to the land, and that in his descendants all the families of the earth would be blessed. Jacob woke up and was awestruck, realizing that God was in that place, and so he consecrated and renamed the place Beit-El - the House of God. He swore an oath to be faithful to God if indeed God would keep him safe and return him home. He also promised to give God a tenth of all that came his way. Jacob didn’t know it at the time, but a lot was going to come his way! He would eventually become wealthy. But he still had a lot to learn about God. God doesn’t break His promises - the problem is usually our own lack of faith. Jacob had resorted more than once to trickery. But as they say, “what goes around comes around.”
Jacob arrived in Haran, saw Rachel and was smitten. He agreed to work seven years for his uncle Laban in exchange for gaining Rachel as a wife. Seven years! But he’s in love, so the time flew by. But on that wedding night, heavily veiled and in the darkness of his tent, was not Rachel, but Leah, Laban’s older daughter. Jacob woke up the next morning to find he’d just gotten a taste of his own medicine! Furious, he confronted Laban, who offered to give him Rachel as a wife also, at the end of one week’s time, if Jacob would agree to serve him another seven years. He agreed, and one week later, Jacob was the husband of two wives.
Chapters 29 and 30 narrate the fierce competition for Jacob’s affections by Leah and Rachel, and the sons that were born to him through his wives and their maids who became his concubines. Jacob fathered eleven sons and a daughter. Of them all, only Joseph was born to Rachel directly. Some years later she will die giving birth to Benjamin. These twelve sons will be the progenitors of the tribes of Israel. In all this time, however, Leah remained unloved by her husband.
During those years Jacob’s presence brought great prosperity to Laban. Remember, God had promised to be with Jacob. The result was great increase for Laban’s flocks. At one point, Jacob sought to return home, but Laban urged him to stay, asking what it would take to keep him on. Jacob asked to be allowed to go through the flock and keep all the speckled and spotted and black sheep and the spotted and speckled goats. In ancient Syria, where all this is taking place, the sheep were predominantly white and the goats black. Through God’s blessing, and a little ingenuity in animal husbandry, Jacob caused more and more spotted, speckled and black sheep to be born. Jacob’s flocks grew while Laban’s diminished. Laban became angry and Jacob once again found himself in danger. God appeared to him and instructed him to leave right away, and he took his wives and children and flocks, and left without saying a word to Laban.
Laban caught up with Jacob, but not before God appeared to Laban in a dream and warned him to be careful how he spoke to Jacob. Remember, God had said to Abraham I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse. God graciously warned Laban to watch his words. When he caught up with Jacob he questioned him about the deception, and asked about some household idols that “coincidentally” disappeared. Jacob knows nothing of this, but we’re told that Rachel had taken them and hidden them in her tent. Laban never finds them, and eventually the two will part ways after making a covenant with each other. This agreement between Jacob and Laban was not borne of friendship, but distrust. After kissing his daughters goodbye, Laban returned home, and Jacob’s family resumed their long schlep back to Eretz Canaan, the Promised Land.
Three things I’d like to leave with you from parasha Vayetze: The dream Jacob had in Bethel – that bridge set up between earth and heaven; that was Yeshua! He said to one of His disciples, “I tell you the truth, you shall see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). Jacob was privileged to see just a tiny glimmer of the Messiah who was to come. Yeshua declared that He Himself is the One who bridges that infinite gap between fallen humanity and an infinitely holy and just God. That’s great news for those who hope to be reconciled to God.
Another lesson concerns husbands. It’s awful to see the struggle Leah went through, hoping (in vain, it seems) for a little love and affirmation from her husband. So let me echo the words of Rabbi Paul in Ephesians 5:25: Husbands, love your wives! They will either blossom like an exquisite flower or wither away; and it’s all on you. It comes down to whether you love your wife or take her for granted.
Finally, what you sow you will reap! If you practice deception and trickery, I promise you, it will come back to bite you. We need to learn to trust God to accomplish what He had promised, and not resort to trickery or manipulation. We need to be people of honesty and integrity. Messiah Yeshua would have us be no less.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Vayeitzei וַיֵּצֵא. Other transliterations: Vayetze, Vayeitzei, or Va'yeitzi