Weekly Reading Insights:
Vayeitzei 5779

Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Vayeitzei, 9 Kislev 5779/Nov. 17

Torah: Gen. 28:10-32:3; Haftorah: Hosea 11:7-14:10 (because of 12:13 "And Yaakov fled to Aram...and served for a wife... and kept sheep.")

Vayeitzei is the 7th Reading out of 12 in Genesis and it contains 7512 letters, in 2021 words, in 148 verses

On the way to Charan, Yaacov stopped to sleep. He dreamt of a ladder standing on the ground and reaching heavenward with angels ascending and descending. G-d told Yaacov that He would give him the land upon which he slept. Yaacov was awed by this vision and made the stone upon which he slept holy to G-d, and renamed the area G-d's Temple. He vowed that if G-d would protect him, he would dedicate his life to G-d and give Him a tenth of his possessions. Yaacov continued his journey, and arrived at a well near Charan. Seeing his cousin Rachel with her father's sheep, Yaacov lifted the heavy stone atop the well for her, and returned with her to Lavan's house. He made a deal to work for Lavan for seven years, and then marry Rachel. Lavan deceived Yaacov and substituted his older daughter Leah. Lavan told Yaacov that he could marry Rachel after the celebrations of the marriage to Leah, but he would have to work another seven years. The Parsha relates the birth of Yaacov's children through Leah, Rachel, and their handmaids Bilha and Zilpah. Yaacov decides to leave with his family, but then agreed to continue working for Lavan. Lavan and his sons became jealous of Yaacov's wealth. After six years, G-d told Yaacov to return to his birthplace. When they left, Rachel stole Lavan's idols. Lavan learned that they had gone, and chased after them. He sought his idols, and Yaacov, who did not know it was Rachel, said that whoever was found with them would not live. Lavan and Yaacov made a treaty, with G-d as witness.

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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We have a strange conundrum in this week’s Torah portion. On the one hand, it is an accepted fact, based on our oral tradition, that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs kept the entire Torah, even before it was given (Kiddushin 82a). In fact, Jacob said of himself, "I lived with Laban, and I observed all 613 commandments" (see Rashi on Gen 32:5). On the other hand, in this week's Torah portion, Jacob marries two sisters, something forbidden by Torah law (Lev 18:18)! Many of the commentaries provide answers; however, Rashi—who the Lubavitcher Rebbe understands to answer any questions a beginner student of Torah would ask—makes no mention of this quandary. We therefore assume that there is indeed a simple answer that is so clear we do not need Rashi to point it out.

The Rebbe takes a novel approach to understanding this paradox: Because our forefathers were never directly commanded to observe the Torah commandments, their fulfillment of them was an added optional observance, akin to extra stringencies and "beautifications" one might make in fulfilling commandments today. (For instance, today, when we wear a tallit, we want it to be a nice tallit.) The only commandments that our forefathers were obligated to keep were the seven commandments of the descendents of Noah, as well as extensions of those laws which the nations took upon themselves. Therefore, if it happened that fulfilling one of the 613 Torah laws contradicted fulfilling one of the Noahide laws, they were required to keep the Noahide law.

One rule that was universally accepted by all the nations on the level of the seven Noahide laws was to be careful not to trick their neighbors. It was a punishable offense. We see this in Jacob's claim to his father-in-law, Laban: "Why did you trick me?" We see that the offense was serious enough that Laban was forced to respond and apologize (Gen. 29:25).

It was this prohibition of trickery that forced Jacob to marry two sisters. Jacob had promised Rachel that he would marry her. Fearing trickery, he even gave her secret signs to guarantee it would be her whom he married (since she would be hidden by a veil). After all these precautions, Jacob was fooled and married Leah instead. This placed him in a dilemma. By not marrying her, Jacob would be guilty of misleading Rachel, besides the pain and embarrassment it would cause her. By marrying her, he would transgress on a mitzvah of the Torah not to marry two sisters—a mitzvah which he was not actually obligated to fulfill. Since the Torah command could not overrule the Noahide commandment not to trick, Jacob was forced to marry Rachel, even though he was already married to Leah. This is such a logical and simple explanation, Rashi did not need to mention it!

Jacob's behavior contains a potent lesson for us today. It is forbidden to engage in the beautification of a mitzvah at someone else's expense. Fulfilling a commandment in the best way you can is very important, but only if it will not do damage to another. Simply put, sometimes it is better to give up on some personal achievement and fulfillment if by doing so we can protect another person. If you are really into what Judaism is all about, you have to ask yourself: Am I better than my neighbor; do I have the luxury to work on the small details while the fellow next to me is lacking in the basics? It is important to remember that it is sometimes more important to give up on perfection in order to do a kindness for someone else. (Based on Shulchan Shabbat)

Shabbat shalom, Shaul

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


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Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Vayeitzei

one sample:

Mystical Classics
Crude Talk

From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

Jacob and Leah were on a spiritual level approaching that which existed in the Garden of Eden, when there was no feeling of shame or embarrassment attached to the act of copulation. They therefore expressed themselves in a totally unrestrained manner. Jacob also kissed Rachel the moment they met and this was not considered suggestive.

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