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Parshat VaYetze – One Came Out, the Other Went Out, Two Woke Up!

Posted by rabbiart on November 24, 2014

We always must pay attention to the specific words, especially the verbs, when studying the text.  In the first aliyah of our Parshah we have two words which make us think of other stories in the Torah.  One – VaYetzei – looks backward. The other – VaYikatz – looks forward.

Often we are faced with the challenge of reading the text with a fresh set of eyes; difficult to do when our practice is to read this same text each year, and more or less at the same time. Sometimes it is an advantage to know the story as well as we do; remembering what has come before, anticipating what is yet to come.

Our Parshah begins with the word VaYetze –  וַיֵּצֵא. Jacob went out from Beer’sheva.  We know, of course, that he is in full flight from the revenge that he fears his brother Esau will take upon him. He hasn’t said it out loud, but Esau has planned to slay his brother.  Their mother Rivkah, although or perhaps because she favors Jacob, can feel Esau’s anger. She directs him to flee to Haran and stay there some time, until Esau’s anger is calmed.

All this is necessary because Jacob, the younger son, has taken his elder brother’s birthright, catching him in a moment when he is weakened by hunger.  And then by guile he has – let’s call it what it is – stolen the blessing intended for him.

With its opening word – VaYetze – the text reminds us of why this is so.  When the twins are born (Breshit 25:25) there is an earlier VaYetze. Speaking of Esau, the text says “the first came out ruddy and red, covered with hair”. Had Esau not come out first, the birth order would not have needed to be reversed. Esau would not have been Jacob’s antagonist, and never thought to kill him.

We read on a bit in our story, until Jacob is dreaming and suddenly – VaYikatz – Jacob wakes up.  He immediately concludes “Without doubt YHVH is in this place, but I, I did not know this”. He is immediately afraid and full of awe, so he names it Beth-El, the House of G-d. But when we the reader come to VaYikatz Ya’akov we are immediately reminded of another antagonist – Pharoah.  Pharoah similarly wakes up suddenly from his dreams  – VaYikatz Pharoah –  not once but twice, and demands to know their interpretation.

Jacob went out, and he woke up. He took a blessing from his brother, and now Esau is coming behind him. The consequences of his own wrongful behavior (notwithstanding Rabbinic tradition which goes out of its way to justify it) pursue him. He is already estranged, and remains so, from his brother his twin. This when the almost universal report from twins is that they feel each other’s experiences and long for mutual closeness. We wonder, did Jacob ever have that feeling.

Pharoah lies waiting in Jacob’s future.  His children will encounter Pharoah first, but eventually the two men will meet. Jacob gave Pharoah a blessing, and then – Vayetze miLifnei Pharoah – He went out from the presence of Pharoah.

A D’var Torah should end with a conclusion, or a call to action, or an observation about the state of affairs in the world. Jacob mistreated his brother (again, sorry Rabbinic tradition), eventually his children became slaves, strangers in a land that was strange to them. Younger and older struggled, even in the womb. Who was the rightful owner of the inheritance? Who should live in the land? Who should own the land? Who is the rightful inheritor of HaShem’s promises to Jacob, his father, and his grandfather? Sadly, this argument continues to the present day. Do we yearn for closeness with our brother? Perhaps in our lifetime the argument will turn to a conversation, and all of Avraham Avinu’s children will learn to share, and live in peace together. I’ve paraphrased a Robert Heinlein book title, why not paraphrase a bit of Theordore Herzl.  IF we will it, we will wake up, find out it is no dream, and go out from the painful place where we are and truly enter into the House of G-d.

This drash came to me in a flash at morning minyan. As the long-time Gabbai of our shul David Gallant (alav hashalom)  used to say when he was finished giving a drash at minyan. “That’s enough for now”.

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