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Vayetze (and he went out)

Genesis 28:10 to 32:3(2), Hosea 11:7 to 14:10(9)


Why does Ya'akov make an altar out of the stone he used as a pillow (verse 28:18)? We cannot know what he was thinking, but God accepted it as a symbol of worship and devotion. Later, however, the Torah will prohobit such stone-markers (in Hebrew, matzayvot) (Leviticus 26:1, Deuteronomy 16:22) and instruct the Israelites to demolish any stone-markers other people set up (Exodus 23:24). Ya'akov declares the stone-marker will be a house of God (bayt Elohim) in verse 28:22, and we are unsure if he means a "house of worship" or if he actually thinks God will live in the altar he just built; his mentioning of tithing supports either interpretation.

When Avraham's servant went back to the family in Charan he took ten camels loaded with gifts. Ya'akov, in contrast, arrives with nothing. All he has to offer Rachel when they meet is a kiss (verse 29:11) and so she brings no display of jewelry to her family. Yet Lavan still runs out to meet Ya'akov (29:13).

After Ya'akov finishes telling Lavan about his life, Lavan says, "Surely my bone and my flesh you are!" (verse 29:14). Lavan is deceitful, and is entertained by Ya'akov's two acts of deceit.

According to tradition, Rachel was only five years when Ya'akov arrived at ther family, which explains why it was not improper for Ya'akov to kiss her when they met, and why Ya'akov picked seven years to wait before they were married. Ya'akov is much older; we have to do some work to calculate his age:

That age difference seems creepy to modern sensibilities. But realize Rachel lived almost 37 years with Ya'akov (verse 35:19), and if she had not died during childbirth she could have lived with him 64 years until he died at age 147 (47:28).

All of Ya'akov's children except for Binyamin were born during the 13 years he worked for Lavan, after he married Leah and Rachel.

In Genesis 16, Sarai gives Avram her maidservant as a concubine. The resultant child, Yishmael, was the son of a slave and thus had no inheritance. In Genesis 30, Rachel (and later Leah) gives Ya'akov their maidservants "so that she may bear on my knees and through her I too may have children". The legal situation is different: all of Ya'akov's sons are legally considered to be from his wives, not his servants, and thus all have inheritance rights.

Traditional Jewish Commentary

Bethel is the second-most mentioned city in the Tenach (after Yerushalem).

Lavan tells Ya'akov, "But/Only [ach] you are my bone and flesh". Efraim Levine suggests the ach implies Lavan is rich, and expected the son of Yitzchak to arrive with wealth to ask for one of his daughters; when Ya'akov arrives empty-handed, Lavan is disappointed but hopes the two of them can still arrange a deal.

The author of Toldos Yitzchak conjectures that Lavan offers to employ Ya'akov (verse 29:15) because Ya'akov has no training as a shepherd; the wily Lavan is hoping a disaster will happen and Yitzchak will be significantly indebted to him.

Rashi writes that Leah's eyes were tender (verse 29:17) from crying her (matched) fate as elder daughter, parallel to Esav. It was assumed that Yitzchak's sons would marry relatives, and thus it was expected that Esav would marry Leah and Ya'akov would marry Rachel. Chizkuni adds that Ya'akov asked to marry Rachel because, having taken Esav's birthright and blessing, Ya'akov did not want to further anger Esav by taking his intended wife.

The Targum explains that the lack of a "to be" verb in the phrase "The eyes of Leah were tender" means that Leah's eyes were forever beautiful; in contrast, "Rachel was beautiful" means that Rachel's beauty would one day fade. Ya'akov chose the more-encompassing but less-lasting beauty of Rachel over the specific yet enduring beauty of Leah. In light of this interpretation the Gemara encourages a man to marry a woman who has "beautiful eyes"—lasting virtues.

Rashi explaines why Ya'akov asks to marry "Rachel, your younger daughter". The redundancy is important. Lavan had already admitted his enjoyment of deceit (verse 29:14). Ya'akov did not want Lavan to find another girl named Rachel, nor have another child and also hame her Rachel, or even re-name Leah as Rachel. Thus he carefully specifies, "Rachel, your younger daughter."

Why didn't Ya'akov know about the custom Lavan mentions in verse 29:26? Because Lavan had hosted the feast the previous night, to which Ya'akov was not invited, specifically to meet with the town elders and have them institute the custom. Ya'akov cannot complain, since he previously violated an "elder before the younger" rule and is now suffering the consequences. B'eir Baso'deh supports this interpretation by noting that Lavan then says, "...and we will also give you..." showing that Lavan was acting with community approval.

The Da'as Zekeinim disagrees, and says the party was in honor of Ya'akov's wedding, but intended by Lavan to get Ya'akov so drunk that he would not be aware of Lavan's deception.

Lavan hosts no party because of Ya'akov properly marrying Rachel.

Chizuni and the author of Toldos Yitzchak write that Leah said, after having a third child, "This time my husband will accompany me" because a woman with two children can carry them both when traveling around town, but a woman with three needs her husband to travel with her and hold the third child.

Note that Levi is named by someone masculine: verse 29:34 says kara [masculine singular] sh'mo Levi, unlike the other sons who are named with the feminine verb conjugations va'teekra or harah. Perhaps Ya'akov named this son; rabbinical tradition has an angel give Leah the name.

Why did Rachel only feel envy after Leah had four children? Bethuel had twelve sons (22:23-24). Yishmael had twelve sons (24:16). So everyone expected Ya'akov to also have twelve sons. Since Ya'akov had two wives and two concubines, with Leah's fourth child she had "more than her share". [Note: this teaching is odd, since Rachel has yet to suggest that her husband have children by his wives' maidservants.] Similarly, in verse 30:24 Rachel prays for one more son, not many more, for she knows Ya'akov will have only one more son.

Oddly, Yitzchak had successfully prayed for his wife to have children (25:21) but Ya'akov refused to pray for Rachel (30:2).

Verse 30:21 says that Dinah was born after Zevulun, but does not mention (as is the chapter's normal pattern) that Dinah was conceived. Some commentators suggest that Dinah was Zevulun's younger, twin sister.

Chizkuni proposes that Dinah was given her name (after dayan, "to judge") because Leah did not desire more than six sons, and prayed that Rachel would provide the rest of Ya'akov's sons; God heard the prayer and was pleased with Leah's new-found generosity, and in reward provided her with a daughter.

Verse 30:22 emphasizes that it was God, not some fertility flower/potion, who gave Rachel fertility. Rashi and B. Jacob translate dooda-ay not as "mandrakes" but as "jasmine", beleiving Rachel wanted not a fertility drug but flowers to give her husband.

Why did Rachel steal Lavan's idols? Rashi writes that she intended to end his idol worship. Chizuni and the author of Toldos Yitzchak add that she proved the idols were not divine and could not prevent themselves from being stolen or identify the thief. Another interpretation is that the idols symbolized family property rights, and Rachel was claiming she entitled to an inheritance.

Ya'akov declares that whoever stole the idols will die. This curse happens: Rachel dies during the journey back to Be'er Sheva.

Lavan's name for the witness-stones, "Yegar-sahadutha" ("mound of witness"), is the only Aramaic words in the Torah.

Why are there two camps of angels? Unlike God, who rules everywhere, angels are often given authority only over specific places. In particular, some angels serve God in Eretz Yisrael and some angels serve God outside the promised land. When Ya'akov left Eretz Yisrael he had the dream of the ladder to heaven, and he saw the angels that had accompanied him in Eretz Yisrael departing and those who would protect him outside the promised land descend. Now he is again being transferred from the protection of one group of angels to another, and sees both encampments of angels.

About the Names of Ya'akov's First Eleven Sons

Reuven is named after both ra-ah, "to see", and bayn, "son". Leah is declaring, "See our son!" Reuven will one day take responsibility for helping Ya'akov to once again see his missing son Yosef. (Leah also adds that the word ye-ehevanee ("will love me") sounds similar to the ven in Reuven.)

Shimon is named after shama, "to listen", because God heard Leah's prayers. The name also sounds like seem'oo, "hyena", foreshadowing Shimon's violence.

Levi is named after the verb lavah, "to accompany". Leah knew that husband now needs to accompany her when she travels around town. Prophetically, the Levites would allow God to dwell among the Israelites.

Yehudah is named after yadah, "to praise". Prophetically, the most notable psalmist, King David, will come from Yehudah. Ya'akov later blesses Yudah to become worthy of his brothers' praise, and worthy of the praise due to royalty.

Dan is named after dayan, "to judge". Rachel feels God has judged her worthy of providing a son (through Bilhah). Ya'akov blesses Dan with judges, but also prophesies that Dan will be a source of stumbing (as did happen in both the Korach rebellion and later idolatry).

Naftali is named after naftal, "to wrestle/struggle/contest". Rachel is rejoicing that, throgh Bilhah, she can provide children. The descendants of Naftali subdue their Philistine neighbors and receive tribute.

Gad means "fate" or "luck". One interpretation is that Leah was happy that her handmaid (rather than Rachel's) provided the next son. Another interpretation is tat Leah did not really want Zilpah to conceive, and had only given her to Ya'akov as a concubine in an attempt (like Rachel) to merit having more children herself. When Zilpah did conceive, Leah named the son as a declaration of "oh, well, that was fate". The name Gad is also related to g'dood, a crowd or troop; Gad's descendants get such a crowd of livestock that they settle East of the Yarden (with Reuven's descendants).

Asher is named after ashree, "fortune/happiness". Leah feels fortunate and happy, and names Zilpah's second son as a reminder. Ya'akov prays Asher will have "fat bread" and will give roayal dainties; Moshe prays that Asher will "dip his leg/foot in fat/oil" and be pleasing.

Yissachar is named after the verb sachar, "to reward". Leah sees Yissachar as her reward for providing her husband with a concubine (30:18). Ya'akov prays that Yissachar will be a hard worker and reap the reward; Moshe prays of spiritual work with blessing as reward.

Zevulun is named after l'vool, the word for "lodge". Leah hopes Ya'akov will live primarily with her, since she has provided him with six sons. The word also sounds like yeez-b'laynee, "will give me presents", perhaps hinting that Leah wants Ya'akov to still see her as a wife able to keep providing sons. The descendants of Zevulun, as both Ya'akov and Moshe prophesied, develop Israel's harbors and become the lodge of foreign merchants.

Yosef is named after asaf, "to take away", because he took away Rachel's stigma of being barren. The name is also after yosayf, "may he add", because of Rachel's wish for another son. Yosef's name is prophetically fulfilled in Egypt, where he was taken away but, then added to both Egypt's propserity and his father's number of offical sons.