This week's Torah portion is Vayetze, from Beresheet (Genesis) 28:10-32:3. In this portion, we learn about the twenty years of Ya'akov's life spent in Haran with his uncle Lavan. We see him leave the land of Kena'an, witness the dream of "Jacob's ladder", and read of his vow to YHVH. The portion continues with his marriages to the daughters of Lavan, the births of most of his children, his amassing of great wealth, and final flight from Haran back to Kena'an. This is an action-packed epic Torah portion. I won't discuss everything that happens, but we'll hit quite a bit. Let's get started.
Ya'akov stops to sleep on his way out of the land at a place that he later names Beit-El (house of God). It is here that he dreams of a ladder to Heaven with angels ascending and descending. The sages say that this was a changing of the guard in the angelic realm. The angels that were assigned to watch over Ya'akov in the land of Kena'an could not follow him out of the land. They ascended to Heaven and a new set descended to begin watching over Ya'akov outside the land. We see when Ya'akov returns to Kena'an at the end of the portion, that he once again sees angels. This is said to be the guard changing again, back to the original set.
Ya'akov fled Kena'an to get away from the wrath of his family. His brother Esau had sworn to kill him as punishment for Ya'akov's deceptions. It seems ironic that the man who is fleeing family because of mistreating them, attempts to gain safety by running to his family in another land. What he doesn't consider, is that Lavan puts his family first above all things; including his sister's family visiting from Kena'an.
Lavan does everything he does for the sake of his family. He deceives Ya'akov into marrying Leah so that his first-born daughter is not humiliated. He makes Ya'akov work an additional seven years so that he cannot leave and take his daughters away from him. He then convinces him to stay longer and care for Lavan's sheep. He gives him a job so he will stay close with Lavan's daughters and grandchildren. He knows that Ya'akov came with nothing and has a brother who wants him dead. If Ya'akov leaves and returns to Kena'an, can he support Lavan's daughters? Can he even keep himself, his wives, and his children alive?
Now let's look at the family that Ya'akov finds in Haran. He is welcomed into the house of his uncle Lavan where he expects to be treated as family. Instead, he gets treated as a stranger in the land. Ya'akov makes a deal with Lavan to work for him seven years in exchange for the right to marry Rachel, Lavan's younger daughter. Lavan agrees to the deal and puts Ya'akov to work. Ya'akov barely notices the passage of the seven years. As it says in the Scriptures, it seemed like only a few days. This is evidence that Ya'akov accepted the work as being enjoyable. As they say, time flies when you're having fun. He did not begrudge the work or consider it tedious waiting for the day he could marry Rachel. Very soon the special day arrived. It says that Lavan gathered all the men of the community for a banquet. He then, when it was pitch dark, brought his older daughter Leah to Ya'akov instead of bringing Rachel. Ya'akov didn't notice until morning. By then, it was too late. Haran had become the Las Vegas of the Bible.
At this point, you would expect Ya'akov to demand a divorce or to file a grievance with the city council, the sheriff's department, the homeowners association. Everyone who would listen to his complaint. Well, he did file with everyone who would listen. He realized, probably for the first time, that he was truly a stranger in this land. Lavan made that clear with the statement "In our place, that isn't how it's done..." Despite being family, he had been born in Kena'an to a man born in Kena'an, to a man who chose to leave Haran and settle in Kena'an. Ya'akov was not of Haran in the eyes of those present. He also remembered that all the men of the community had come to the wedding and seen him take Leah to the tent with him. He had no choice but to agree to Lavan's new deal of working another seven years for Rachel. But this time, Lavan sweetened the deal by allowing him to marry Rachel at the beginning of the seven years instead of the end. How generous.
To be continued...