This week’s alumni dvar torah is by Dina Kritz
The structure of the story also demonstrates that Yaacov’s departure from his parents and brother is intended to be the first step in starting his own family. Parshat Toldot ends with Esav marrying another wife, Parshat Vayeitzei opens with Yaacov heading to Charan, presumably to do the same thing. After all, Parshat Vayishlach ends with “v’ela toldot Esav,” these are the generations of Esav, and the second verse of Parshat Vayeshev begins “ela toldot Yaacov,” these are the generations of Yaacov. The two brothers seem to lead somewhat parallel lives: They fight to be born first, and after their birth, the Torah continuously compares them: Esav is a hunter, Yaacov stays in his tent. Esav is loved by Yitzchak, Yaacov is loved by Rivkah. During the twenty two years of their separation, each amasses wealth and a camp of people. Therefore, the Torah’s presentation of Esav and Yaacov’s actions in Perek 28 emphasizes that Esav is trying to find a suitable wife at home, and Yaacov is on the road to find his own partner. However, Yaacov seems to forget his future plans as time goes on in Charan.
The Torah then presents a story which sounds familiar: a man from Avraham’s household in Canaan arrives at the main well in Charan (though earlier in the sefer it is called Aram), meets a young woman descended from Betuel who rushes home to tell Lavan, and Lavan hurries out to greet the visitor and usher him inside. Here, however, the similarities end. While Eliezer immediately prays when he reaches the well that Hashem will help him find the right woman, Yaacov is more focused on finding his family, after running away from his murderous brother. We learn that Yaacov only seems to notice Rachel’s beauty a few weeks after meeting her (see verse 17). When they first meet, Rachel and her sheep make Yaacov cry because they are proof that the uncle he is coming to for security really exists. Eliezer dazzled the Betuel family with beautiful jewelry for the bride-to-be, while Yaacov arrives empty-handed. Indeed, the only thing he can do when he moves in with Lavan is offer his services as a shepherd. Lavan seats Eliezer at the table but Eliezer insists on settling the entire marriage deal before even eating, and we are given all of his words, and Yaacov says something to his uncle and then a month passes before they even speak about the future.
When Lavan suggests that he pay Yaacov for his shepherding, Yaacov, who has had a few weeks to catch his breath after running from Esav, seemingly remembers the other reason he is in Charan, and says he will work for Rachel’s hand in marriage. He then works for seven years which feel like yamim achadim, and some parshanim suggest that these are the small number of days his mother was speaking about when she sent him away.
Perhaps it made sense in Charan to work for so many years for a wife. However, after he has worked for seven and another seven years and his children have been born, Yaacov is convinced to stay in Charan for wealth. During a conversation with Lavan about his earnings, Yaacov insists he does not want to be given any money; rather, he wants to breed sheep and keep them, partly as a sign of his own G-d-given talents. He continues to amass wealth for himself until he realizes that Lavan and his sons are jealous, and begins to feel uneasy about staying in a home which is no longer welcome. He does not actually leave, however, until Hashem tells him it’s time to go home. Reish Lakish says in the name of Bar Kafra, in Bereisheet Rabbah, that Hashem came to Yaacov and told him that He and Yaacov’s parents were awaiting his return to Canaan. At this point, Yaacov hears the wake-up call. He begins speaking about Hashem and the importance of his homeland, and he packs up his family and possessions. Interestingly, he also seems to have a new attitude regarding the last two decades. Although the Torah implies that he has only recently realized Lavan’s lack of warmth, he confronts Lavan and insists that he has had to work in terrible conditions to build up his father-in-law’s herd, and he suddenly fears the man’s ability to take away his wives and children. Yaacov is able to snap out of his sheep-induced haze and stop living only in the moment. He is ready to leave the bad home he has been living in and return to Canaan. He is finally starting to be ready to be an av of the nation, and look to the future.
Life is not only about living in the moment. Certainly, we can understand that at the beginning of the parsha, Yaacov was only seeing a future in which he escaped from Esav (which explains why he is so traumatized at the beginning of next week’s parsha). When we’re not running from danger, however, it’s important to think about the real future. We must make plans, and we must also keep our goals at the forefront of our minds, whether they be acing a semester, returning to Israel, like Yaacov, or achieving a dream decades from now. Even when life takes us in another direction, we shouldn’t forget our ultimate goals. We shouldn’t concentrate so much on the sheep that we need Hashem and jealous in-laws to remind us that we don’t belong in Charan.
May this Shabbat bring the peace we’ve been craving this past week.
Dina Kritz (SBM 2015) is a senior at Brandeis University.