DESTINY, DECEIT and ROMANCE – Vayeytzey – Gen. 27:10—32:3, by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
Personal stories about our patriarchs flavor the Book of Genesis with some fascinating – and even some familiar – relationships. Last week we learned how Isaac received Rebecca as a pre-determined wife ordered by his father and brought to him by the major domo Eliezer. This week we will read a very different Shiddukh (matchmaking) story.
Jacob is no stay-at-home rancher like his father. He sets out to see his world and meet his relatives, journeying from Beer Sheva to Haran. There he finds the local shepherds gathering to water their flocks, and waiting till all of them are gathered to remove the huge rock that covers the well. They get together, move the rock and water their sheep, then put the rock back in place. Inquiring about his relatives, Laban’s family, he is told that not only do they all know Laban, but “here is his daughter Rachel with their flock.” Sure enough, a beautiful girl arrives leading a huge flock of sheep. And here comes romance! Struck with his young cousin’s looks, Jacob proceeds to roll that huge rock off the well single-handed, and then kisses Rachel.
Two questions enter the reader’s mind. First, of course, if the rock requires so many men to move it in order to water the flocks, why doesn’t Rachel get there earlier? All right, she’s late that day. And secondly, where does Jacob get the nerve to kiss a girl he never saw before? Wasn’t Jacob frum? Wasn’t he our third patriarch? Shame on you, Yankel!
Maybe this meeting forms a romantic exception to the rules. Maybe Rachel also behaved questionably by submitting to Jacob’s kiss. Didn’t she suffer plenty afterwards? Seven long years waiting for her groom while he works for her father. We will read the amazing story of her wedding night, when by her father’s deceitful trickery it is her sister Leah who winds up in Jacob’s bed, and not Rachel. And how Jacob has to agree to another seven years of virtual slavery so he can marry both sisters.
Interestingly enough, none of the classic commentators discuss that first kiss. And from the Talmud on, tradition tells us that Jacob’s 14 years of service does not mean that Rachel had to wait that long to get married. Using the Hebrew term shavua which can describe a period of seven years or seven days, we learn that when Jacob discovers Leah in his bed in the morning and challenges Laban “Why did you deceive me?” Laban agrees to give him Rachel too. Just maley sh’vua zos – “Finish out this week” of celebration, and you can marry her. Recognizing that wedding ceremonies were very different then, if not totally confined to a family party and physical intimacy, we need to realize that here was our #3 patriarch, still young and strong, with two wives and a growing family, building up his crafty father-in-law’s estate for a total of 20 long years.
What did Jacob earn? Later in the reading we will see how he prepared for his trip home, by setting the terms of his wages: all the striped and speckled animals will be his, the plain colored ones remain with Laban. And we see that Jacob is up to some trickery too. He catches the animals at the time of procreation and hypnotizes them with poplar and almond and plane-tree branches that he has peeled to make white streaks. “The flocks conceived at the sight of the peeled rods, and bore striped and speckled and spotted.”
Defeated economically, Laban can only charge Jacob to swear that he will never take any more wives “alongside my daughters.” Jacob and his family head back to Canaan. Why go there? He had built himself some wealth in Haran. Indeed, why Canaan again? Back at the beginning of his trip, the angels in his dream brought him the Divine promise that the land he slept on would be his. That land was Canaan, presently dominated by his wicked brother Esau. Esau, like their father Isaac, never got his name changed. But Jacob would soon become Israel. And that land was to be the Land of Israel.
So in this one reading, Destiny joins with Deceit and Romance to tell us an exciting story of our distant ancestor. And next week he will face his murderous brother, his rival for a homeland. News? Tune in to the Torah.