Friday, November 12, 2010

Vayetze Notes

Understanding Rashi
In a famous comment Rashi attempts to work out the dates of various events in Jacob's life; following a midrash, he says Jacob spent 14 years in the tents of Eiver. Shem is not mentioned*. Why? Basing himself on the verse, and "Jacob sat in tents" (plural) Rashi deduces that Shem and Ever each had their own academy. Shem, who survived the flood, was an opponent of the immoral behavior that caused it; Ever who lived during the time of the Tower of Babel was an opponent of the mistaken ideas about God that made such a thing possible. Jacob, who was on his way to live with an idol worshipper, went for fortification in the tents of Eiver. This, incidently, some say is why Abraham, the champion monotheist, is called an Ivri. (They're wrong, but its an intriguing idea)

*When Rivka goes to inquire about her pregnancy, some versions of Rashi exclude Eiver, but this is likely a scribal error; older versions say she went to them both.

Two way Torah
Is the ladder a message or vision, or is it simply part of an event that Yaakov witnessed? Also, where was the ladder? Some midrashim put it in Beer Saheva, others in Jerusaelm, yet the verse say he was in Bethel. Why?

Political midrashim
Uninterpreted, the ladder story sounds for all the world like a "ringing endorsement of the Temple built [in Bethel] by Yeravam to replace the one in Jerusalem." (lurker) Its the ultimate George-Washington-slept-here-story. Not only did the famous Patriarch spend the night on the future site of Yeravam's Temple, he also erected a marker and promised to build a house of worship on that very spot. The midrshaim that seek to put Jacob at Mount Moriah instead, or, in the case of the famous contracting-land midrash, to put him at both Moriah and simultaneously, sound for all the world like interpretive dances performed to escape/erase what the verses plainly say: Yaakov slept and dreamt in Bethel. More

- Per J.P. Fokkelman stones are Jacob's personal motif. He puts one under his head (or per Rashi alongside it) rolls another away from the well, and uses a pile to mark his treaty with Lavan.

- We have another betrothal scene this week, in which Jacob echoes his mother's superhuman feat of watering ten camels by rolling away a tremendous rock on his own. Jacob appears here as the antithesis of his father, who sent a surrogate to his own well-side betrothal scene, where the woman, not the man, performed the act of strength.
- We also have the undoing of the main Genesis motif: Over and over again the younger brother is pushed, or pushes, ahead of the older. This week Leah was pushed by her father ahead of her younger sister Leah.

- Rachel's plea to Jacob has the characteristics of other annunciation scenes, but instead of beseeching God, Rachel goes to her husband who tells her pointedly"Am I instead of God?" She then falls back on Sarah's strategy.

Incomplete teaching
We all were taught the Leah had eyes that were 
rackh tender from crying; the Targum Onkeles, however, reads rackh as beautiful. [A related post and classic comment thread in the life of the blog]

Word Play
As Berashis Rabba pointed out first, Lavan deceives Yaakov, just as Yaakov deceived Yitzchak. Yaakov was deprived by the darkness of his sense of sight just as his father was deprived by blindness. The point that the deception with brides is poetic justice for the deception with the blessings is driven home by Lavan who says "It is not done in OUR place to put the younger girl before the firstborn" referring to Leah, not as the "elder", but as the "bechirah." The suggestion is that maybe in YOUR place the younger jumps ahead, but not here.

Jacob waters (וַיַּשְׁק) the sheep, then kisses (וַיִּשַּׁק) Rachel. Elsewhere, Jacob's sheep are called "rechaylim." (Mar Gavriel)
Duda'im (mandrakes) is close to dodim (lovemaking)

Rachel names her second surrogate child Naftali which plays on 
naftulim grappling, suggesting a correspondence between her relationship with her older sister and Jacob's relationship with his own older sibling. Rachel's first spoken words however (Give me children or I am a dead woman) echo the first spoken words of Esav who said he would die without food. (Alter)

The word "well" appears seven times in the story of Jacob and Rachel's meeting

During the ladder episode, is the Lord standing over Jacob, or is he at the top of the ladder (which, Alter insists, is actually a ramp)?

Jacob's promise to God is characteristic of his habit of deal making. His pledges to create a place of worship for the Lord, and to tith his wealth is contingent and will be kept only "IF the Lord guards... and brings me back to my fathers house."

How is it that a fine Torah true Jew like Yaakov married sisters? More

The mandrake puzzles on many levels and so do the verses about maternal imprinting.


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