Student Teaching in the New Millenium

5771 Vayyetze

In Genesis on December 13, 2010 at 4:04 am

What is meant by “the place” in 28:11? Is this the wilderness? Or something else? Why this designation?

I am not sure what to do with Jacob’s ladder. “And behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” Is this a sign of the holiness of the place? Is this a sign of the significance of the inheritance? Is this a sign of the connectedness of all things? Or the mundane (earth), the holy (heaven), and the sacred (the ladder and the angels)? Is this a message to sanctify time? As the angels traverse this heavenly ladder in their service to God over time, are we supposed to build our own ladders to God in ours? Shouldn’t we always be building, and climbing, our ladders to heaven? Are these both the same thing? And isn’t this aliyah? By sanctifying time, by studying, engaging the creative tradition, and performing acts of lovingkindness, aren’t we “going up” the ladder ourselves, and those around us? Is just seeing the ladder, a personal aliyah, and elevation? What is the difference between one who sees the ladder and one who climbs it? What is the difference between one who climbs up and one who climbs down?

“And, behold, the Lord stood beside him.” Was God standing beside Jacob as an equal here? Is it significant that God does not here ask for sacrifice, but simply reassures Jacob of His promise? Was this always His intent, as referenced by Hosea in his exhortation to bring words, not bullocks? In fact, Jacob suggests the tithe in 28:22, along with making a vow to accept God as his God. Is this just idiomatic? Or is something else going on here? Does this say by implication that Jacob was not a follower of God up to this point? Did Jacob (later Israel) struggle with this belief of his ancestors? It seems to me that Jacob’s vow is less a promise and more dictating terms. Is this less a vow than personal reassurance and justification of the promise, that is, struggling with these beliefs again?

“‘How full of awe is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el…’And this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s home.” Is this forward looking to the Temple in Jerusalem?

Hosea reminds us of the benefits of following God and the dangers of idolatry. Is Laban an example of this? I think the general assumption is, being related to Abraham, that Laban was a fellow follower of God. He believed in God (“I have observed the signs, and the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.” “The God of your father spoke unto me yesternight.”) But it is revealed that Laban worshipped idols, the teraphim that Rachel stole. Why would Rachel do this? According to Hertz, the Midrash states this was to prevent Laban from worshipping them. Why? Did Jacob convert Rachel to belief in one God? Or were Rachel (and Leah, for that matter) already accustomed to worshipping God in the manner of their family? Why does Laban call the teraphim “my gods.” Does this mean that they were his gods alone, separate from the tradition of his family (i.e. the God of Nahor)? Why occasion the theft? If they were “our family gods,” perhaps out of a sense of attachment. However, the Torah states “his gods.” Also, “whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.” Not “whatsoever your God hath said unto thee, do.” It could be argued that, by this time, a conversion took place. However, Leah is referring to God since the birth of Reuben, several years earlier. Perhaps something occurred prior to this? I don’t know. There is the overriding fact, however, that Jacob was sent to Haran for the same reason as Isaac was: to marry someone of their family who would not lead the descendants of Abraham back to idolatry.

This leads us to Haran and “his gods.” Are the losses of Laban and the gains of Jacob a demonstration of Hosea’s message? Laban seems honest with Jacob from the start, then tricks Jacob into marrying Leah, then honestly gives Rachel after the second seven year term, and then constantly connives to keep Jacob in his thrall from then on. He would rely on prevailing law (“‘The daughters are my daughters, and the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, and all that thou seest is mine'”) if God didn’t put fear of retribution in him (If he wasn’t familiar with God, why not just dismiss the dream?). That still doesn’t stop him from trying to deal by fear (“It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt.”). When Laban tries to cheat Jacob of the speckled, striped, and dark livestock, Jacob responds. It can be argued that Jacob cheated Laban in his own way; Laban was the instigator and suffered consequences for his actions. Isn’t this what Hosea is warning us about? Actions have consequences, and idolatry leads to negative actions that have negative consequences?

Can the same be said of Jacob? He loves Rachel to the point of distraction. This is admirable, but scorning Leah is not, though the situation is complex. Did Jacob idolize Rachel? Was this why he was tricked into marrying Leah? Was Leah, and her good fortune childbearing, supposed to be a reminder to Jacob? Was God jealous of Rachel, and Jacob’s love for her, for His own sake?

“‘Lo, it is yet high day’…While he was yet speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep…And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.” I interpret high day to mean noon. Who did Jacob lift his voice up to? God, or Rachel? Taken with the previous paragraph, is this part of the reason why Mincha is preferably recited in the afternoon, rather than at noon? Was Jacob so overcome with joy that he briefly forgot his previous vow? I can see this as the case if Jacob “lifted up his voice” for Rachel and not God, though this challenges my ideas of God smiling on pure joy.

I think it interesting that Hosea singles out “‘They that sacrifice men kiss calves.'” The threat of wholesale disappearance, rather than suffering and punishment, is singled out for them.

Why does the English text capitalize “the God of Nahor” in the phrase “The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us.” Hertz explains that Jacob swears by “the Fear of his father Isaac” out of a refusal to swear by other gods. But, here, the “god” of Nahor is referred to as “God” in a similar fashion to Avot. In fact, the Hebrew states “Elohei Avraham, vEilohei Nahor.” What does this mean?

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