Vayetze (And He (Jacob) Left) – Genesis 28:10 – 32:3
This week’s Torah portion is dedicated to the sojourn of Jacob in the house of Laban. It begins with his departure from Beersheva (Genesis 28:10) and ends with his entrance into the Land of Israel at Machanayim (Genesis 32:3). Interestingly, the portion does not end at the conclusion of chapter 31 but adds on an additional 3 verses in Chapter 32. These concluding verses actually provide appropriate “bookends” to Jacob’s time out of the Land of Israel.
As we saw in last week’s portion, Jacob is an innocent young man, quite unlike his brother Esau. Actually one interpretation of the dispute between Rebecca and Isaac as to which blessings Esau and Jacob should receive respectively is that Isaac didn’t see a need for Jacob to receive earthly blessings. He had every intention of conveying the blessing of Abraham to Jacob, which in fact he does at the end of that story, but he envisioned a division between Jacob and Esau between spiritual and earthly blessings. Rebecca, on the other hand, understood that if Jacob was going to be the father of the Nation of Israel, he would not only need righteousness and innocence, but he would need earthly blessings as well. And he would need cunning in order to deal with the enemies that would plague our nation from time immemorial.
Jacob’s subterfuge towards his father Isaac can be seen as his first exercise in cunning. His sojourn with Laban was one long lesson in survival within a hostile environment. Innocent Jacob is tricked out of his wife, his beloved Rachel, and is forced to work a total of 14 years before he can be free of his obligation to Laban. But after those 14 years, he is no longer an innocent. He devises an elaborate plan to enable him to leave Laban as a wealthy man. And in fact, Jacob escapes from Laban just in time, once he realizes, with a perception he did not have earlier, that Laban is “not with him as in previous days.” (Genesis 31:2).
Rebecca grew up in Laban’s household. She is not an innocent like Jacob and is well aware of the lessons that Jacob must learn in order to survive in a hostile world; to survive, in fact, in the face of his own brother Esau who is plotting to kill him. She sends him to her brother Laban for just that lesson.
Jacob leaves Beersheva an innocent man and is immediately met by angels as he dreams of their ascent upon a ladder to heaven. Jacob returns to the Land of Israel, still a righteous man, but one far more aware of evil and its threat to his survival. Upon his entry into the land, he is again met by angels: “And Jacob went on his way and he was met by angels of G-d. And Jacob said, when he saw them, this is a camp of G-d, and he called the place Machanayim.” (Genesis 32:2-3) The midrash records an ancient tradition that Jacob was accompanied by angels to the border of Israel, where they then switched places with angels who were to escort him and protect him throughout his visit with Laban. Hence, the meaning of the angels ascending and descending from the ladder. When Jacob returns to the Land of Israel, he is again met by the angels of Israel, welcoming him back to his land, to the place that would become the land of his children, where G-d and His angels would escort and protect the children of Israel for eternity.