Torah Portion Vayetzei – “And He [Jacob] Went Out”

“Vayetzei” is the Parsha (Torah Portion) we are reading tomorrow for Shabbat.

3 December 2022 / 9 Kislev 5783 Genesis 28:10-32:3

In this parsha we see Jacob (Yaakov) flee his family home and marry two sisters— one by deceit and one by desire.

Jacob worked seven years for Laban to earn the right to marry Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel, the one that Jacob lusted after and loved. When Laban brings his oldest daughter Leah to Jacob’s marital bed instead of Rachel, Jacob learns he has been duped.

It’s a karmic example called *middah-knegged-middah in Hebrew, for Jacob is also a trickster and deceiver, who sought refuge with Laban to avoid the consequences of his actions.

When Jacob protests the trickery, Laban tells him he can marry Rachel if he contracts to work another seven years for him as his indentured servant. Jacob signs on the dotted line and a week later her marries his beloved Rachel, the maiden he was smitten with at the watering well.

We don’t hear from Rachel or Leah’s mother while all these shenanigans are taking place. It’s suggested that they had the same father but different mothers, but we aren’t privy to a maternal voice in this narrative or what her reaction may be.

Leah’s eyes are described as tender (meaning “weak”), while Rachel is described favorably as a beautiful woman with a fair complexion. (Genesis 29:17).

We can see a mirrored image here — Jacob’s physical appearance was described favorably, while his twin brother Esau’s was not.

Leah was forced to take a husband through trickery and deceit, while Rachel had to share her husband with her sister, knowing she suffered as his unwanted wife. Laban made his children pawns in his schemes. His selfishness pitted his daughters against each other in a marriage to an unscrupulous man that he exploited for his labor.

Jacob dealt unfairly with his twin brother and his uncle Laban dealt unfairly with him, but it didn’t end with them.

The bible tells us Jacob hated Leah and Leah knew that he hated her. How devastating for Leah to be hated simply for existing and a “crime” she did not commit. As a consolation prize of sorts, Leah’s womb was fertile, while Rachel was envious and distressed by her inability to conceive. We know Leah longed to earn Jacob’s love and affection from the names she gave to her sons.

As time went on, the two sister wives and their maidservants bore Jacob 13 children — 12 boys (who became the Twelve Tribes of Israel) and one girl, Dinah. Dinah is Leah’s seventh child, with an ill-fated story that ends in tragedy.

Leah’s children bore her stigma as the unfavored children of the unfavored wife.

Jacob’s son Joseph, his firstborn son with Rachel, is detested by his brothers because of the overt favoritism Jacob displays towards him. Children often blame each other, not the toxic parent pulling all the strings. Parental favoritism sabotages sibling relationships.

Jacob’s favoritism was learned behavior. His mother, Rebekah, blatantly favored him over his twin brother, Esau (Esav), culminating in a cruel betrayal that tore the two siblings apart. Jacob was seen as deserving, while Esau was not.

This Parsha is filled with lessons about favoritism and the harm it inflicts. The unfavored ones live with a painful soul-wound that influences the direction of their lives. Favoritism dehumanizes the unfavored humans of this world. Favoritism takes away a seat at the table.

Some questions to ask ourselves from this Parsha:

Are there cliques and hierarchies in my orbit that are advancing the culture of favoritism?

What can I do to level the playing field?

What can I do to bring an unheard voice to the table to be heard?

What can I do to help someone languishing on the periphery to be an essential part of the whole?

When Jacob fled his family home and stopped to rest on his way to Laban’s, he dreamt of angels ascending and descending a ladder reaching from earth to heaven. Jacob descended to some lowly earthly behaviors in his life, but he had the opportunity to ascend, as we all do. The direction we choose will not just impact us. All the lives we touch will be effected by our choice.

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*Middah-Knegged-Middah — Measure for measure/karma/what goes around comes around.

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9 thoughts on “Torah Portion Vayetzei – “And He [Jacob] Went Out”

  1. Kindness and compassion (ra-c-mah-nut) are the only things that exist in life. Everything, else is superfluous. To many social constructs exist in order to manipulate and control others. Competition is best done with one’s self. I believe in self improvement and growing . I am better today than I was yesterday.

  2. Good comment! The best thing parents can do for their children is to teach them how to succeed in life in all its aspects, including respect for others, and a good work ethic. By giving them everything, they learn the wrong message and expect everything to be handed to them. I also taught mine to treat others like you want to be treated. They know to be observant and wise and watch for those who might be trying to take advantage of them. But to begin treating them with respect. If all children were taught these principles, we would have a better world!

  3. You need a certain amount of competition for people to work to excel. I don’t approve of the attitude in today’s society eliminating competition and making everyone equal with no winners. But, I also detest unfair favoritism that is not earned. There has to be a balance. Helping children to see that not everyone excels in all things and encouraging them to find their niche! Otherwise you see all kinds of ugly results, such as antisemitism, racial prejudice, etc. and what you see in this Parsha. Great lesson!

    • I see your point and while I don’t believe in forced competitions, I agree that encouragement to give things a try, helps to define gifts and talents, likes and dislikes. You’re right, it’s important to be good sports and win or lose graciously, while playing fair and square. Favoritism is toxic and harmful, whereas teaching children to be confident and find their niche through trial and error, is a healthy message to instill.

      It’s true that we can’t always come out on top and excel at everything, but we can help each other succeed in life as unique individuals, as you said. Favoritism treats people as unequal, while support and encouragement treats people as equals with individual gifts to impart.

      It’s against Jewish law to yoke two different working animals together to plow a field, for instance, for it causes the weaker or smaller animal to suffer. The animals are not forced to compete for dominance. That law sums up Jewish thought on leveling the playing field and playing fair and square. Thanks a mil, Phil, for the thoughtful perspective and commentary.

  4. In my experience most children clamour to be heard over their siblings, vying for their parents attention. Our grandchildren used to constantly ask, “am I your favourite”. As they get older they tend to grow out of this. Favouritism and bias, unfortunately, seem to be a part of all walks of life corporate as well as family. It’s usually who you know, not what you know, that gets you the job. Favouritism does seem to be the trend these days with all that’s going on in cultural awareness, and which culture is more favoured over the other, and by whom. I think a lot of it is politics. Neighbours of all races in a given area or street get along together pretty well. But social media seems to amplify the negative aspect of racial disharmony. . Lots to think about, Abbi.

    • So true..children naturally vie and it’s up to the adults to establish a climate of fairness and equality. I’m thankful that you brought all forms of favoritism and bias into this discussion. It’s pushed in our faces by social media…polarizing communities and individuals…pitting them against each other. Social media can be manipulated as a curse or a blessing. I see the damage it does. Some are pushing an agenda that divides people and incites animosity. Your commentary always brings awarenesses to the table. Thank you, dear friend.

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