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Shabbat Vayetze 12 Kislev 5764, 6 December 2003

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Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayetze Genesis 28:10-32:3

By Shlomo Riskin  

Efrat, Israel - It is virtually impossible to hear the inspiring, engrossing and haunting stories of the Book of Genesis (Bereishit) each Sabbath without recognizing the pivotal position played by the land of Israel for the realization of our national destiny. From the very first commandments given by the Almighty in His first recorded encounter with the first Jews, "Get thee forth from thy land, thy birthplace, thy father's house, to the land which I shall show thee" (Genesis 12:1) to the request made by Joseph son of Jacob-Israel, Grand Vizier of Egypt, in the next to the last verse of Genesis, "G-d will remember, yes remember you; take up my bones (with you to Israel) from this (place - Genesis 50:25), it is clear that our mission to teach the world ethical monotheism can only be effectuated from the land of Israel, that the proper homeland for every Jew is specifically the land of Israel.

The Abrahamic blessing transmitted from generation to generation emphasizes our patrimony of the Holy Land, G-d's covenant with Abraham delimits the borders of the Land of Israel, and Grandfather Jacob - Israel's death bed blessings to his 12 sons foreshadow the tribal division of the land. This theme is continued in the subsequent Books of the Pentateuch, sinking to its nadir when the desert generation freed from Egyptian servitude tragically sinned by refusing to conquer the land (Numbers 14) and rising to its crescendo when Moses guarantees the land of Israel as our eternal inheritance despite exile and persecution: "even if you are dispersed to the ends of the heavens, from there will the Lord your G-d gather you and from there will He take you up. And the Lord your G-d will bring you to the land which your ancestors have inherited, and you shall inherit it. And He will do well by you, and make you more numerous than your ancestors" (Deuteronomy 30:4,5). There is an inextricable bond between the children of Israel and the land of Israel. To make your home in Israel you need not be a Zionist; you merely have to be a Jew!

This message is expressed in a very special way when we study the Torah portion of Vayetze from a literary perspective. Vayetze is one of only two Torah portions (the other is Miketz) which is not divided by "open or closed parshiot," new paragraphs in the parchment text which signal a new subject; hence the 148 verses in the portion tell a single, self-contained story, with each of its details fitting together into one composite whole. That story is obviously Jacob's sojourn in the galut of Labanland: it opens with Jacob leaving Be'er Sheva and dreaming of a ladder with ascending and descending angels of the Lord (Genesis 28:10-12), and it concludes with Jacob returning to Israel and being met by angels of the Lord (Genesis 32:2,3- with the unusual Hebrew root pagoa appearing in both passages).

Rav Elhanan Samet, in his masterful "Studies in the Portions of the Week" (Maaliyot, Jerusalem, 5762), points out that the very middle verse of the portion, the 74th verse out of the 148 verses of the whole of Vayetze, is Jacob's request to Laban that he allow him to return to Israel: "Give me my wives and my children. so that I may go." (Genesis 30:26). Now we would have expected to find permission granted, with the portion logically divided between Jacob's journey to and in Labanland, (the first half), and Jacob's extrication from Labanland (the second half). But this is not what happens. To our great surprise, Laban urges Jacob to remain at a real salary - for the 14 years until then he had worked gratis for his having received Laban's daughters Leah and Rachel in marriage - and Jacob agrees with alacrity. "How else will I be able to provide for my household?" says Jacob (Genesis 30:30). And the story continues with Jacob's amassing a fortune in livestock, his being forced to arrange for a secretive and stealthy escape because of the jealousy of Laban's sons and the command of an angel in a dream, a difficult final encounter with Laban, and his eventual return to Israel. Given this surprising turn of events when Jacob accepted Laban's offer in media res, how do we explain the literary division of both halves of our Torah portion?

Rav Elhanan Samet magnificently explains that the first half of the portion expresses the legitimate sojourn of Jacob to Labanland in order to find wives from among the Kinsmen of his mother Rebecca, as he is ordered to do by his father (Genesis 28:4-7) - and since he had to work for them, it took fourteen years. The second half of the portion expresses the illegitimate extension of Jacob's stay in the galut of Labanland - in order to make a fortune. Without proper wives, none of the patriarchs could have begun to realize their destiny - and in patriarchal times, apparently the only women were to be found in Aram Naharayim. But it was absolutely wrong for Jacob to delay his destiny - his return to the land of his parents and grandparents - for the sake of amassing a nest -egg.

Shabbat Shalom.


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