Kohen – First Aliya – 13 p’sukim – 28:10-22
Yaakov leaves Be’er Sheva and goes to Haran.
[SDT] There are different explanations concerning the wording of this pasuk. As to why the Torah mentions Yaakov’s departure, Rashi explains that a prominent person not only influences his surroundings, but his absence from a place is also felt, in a negative way. Therefore, the Torah not only tells us that Yaakov went to Haran; it also tells us that he left Be’er Sheva, and his absence was felt – even though Yitzchak remained there. Another explanation – In leaving Be’er Sheva, Yaakov was fulfilling the wishes of his mother, Rivka, who feared that Eisav would kill Yaakov if he remained. In going to Haran, Yaakov was fulfilling the wishes of his father, Yitzchak, who sent him there to find a suitable wife. The pasuk tells us of Yaakov’s departure fromBe’er Sheva AND his journey to Haran, to show us that it was important to satisfy the wishes of BOTH his parents. He encounters “The Place” (it is unidentified in the text, but is traditionally considered to be Har Moriah, the site of the Akeida, and the location of the future Beit HaMikdash) and stays the night. He dreams of a ladder with its feet planted in the ground and whose top reaches the heavens. Angels are ascending and descending the ladder.
[SDT] The S’fat Emet points out that the ladder in Yaakov’s dream is described first as having its feet planted on the ground (representing worldliness and/or basic decency) and then its head reaching the heavens (representing spiritual pursuits). This is consistent with the maxim from Pirkei Avot – Derech Eretz Kodma laTorah, worldliness precedes Torah.
[SDT] This represents the “Changing of the Guard”. Angels that accompanied Yaakov in Eretz Yisrael are not the same as those outside Israel, just as Shabbat angels differ from those of weekdays. Our weekly counterpart to Yaakov’s dream is the Friday night song, Shalom Aleichem, which refers to the changing of the angels.
Commentaries point out that G-d was “standing watch” over Yaakov because there was a gap between the ascension of the angels and the descending of the new ones – OLIM (and then) V’YORDIM BO.
[SDT] A person should realize that wealth is not permanent; it can be lost as easily as it is gained. Therefore, if one is blessed with wealth, he should use it wisely, constructively, charitably. This idea is symbolized by the ladder, and the ups and downs that take place on it – the SULAM, with the angels OLIM V’YORDIM BO. SULAM (ladder) is numerically 60+6+30+40=136. MAMON (money) is also 40+40+6+50=136. And so is ONI (poverty) 70+6+50+10=136.
More… KOL, voice (prayer) and TZOM, fasting are also equal to 136, perhaps saying that prayer and petition of G-d can be effective in resulting in a blessing of wealth rather than one’s being poor. In the dream, G-d appears to Yaakov from the head of the ladder and reiterates to him the promises made to Avraham and Yitzchak. These oft- repeated promises have consistently included the possession of the Land and the “countless” nature of their descendants. This prophecy also includes G-d’s promise of protection for Yaakov on his sojourn. Yaakov awakens from his sleep and acknowledges the sanctity of the place. When Yaakov awakens in the morning, he takes the stone (formerly referred to in the plural) that was at his head, and erects it as a monument which he then anoints. He names the place Beit El. Yaakov vows allegiance to G-d.
[SDT] Shulchan Aruch, based on Midrash, says that a person should/can take a vow or make a pledge to increase and enhance performance of mitzvot and giving of tzedaka during troubled times. The precedent for this is Yaakov’s vows at this “low point” in his life.
[SDT] “And I will return to my father’s home and HaShem will be for me G-d.” The Ramban explains the connection between Yaakov’s return home with his “acquisition of G-d”. The Gemara in Ketuvot states that he who lives in Eretz Yisrael is like one who has G-d; he who lives outside Israel is like one without G-d. Yaakov’s return from Lavan’s house back to his father’s was a physical as well as spiritual Aliya – as is Aliya to Eretz Yisrael in our own time.
Levi – Second Aliya – 17 p’sukim – 29:1-17
Assured of G-d’s protection upon leaving the Land (something that Yaakov had reason to be unsure of), his pace quickens. Yaakov sees a well in the field, with three flocks of sheep gathered around. The well is covered by a large rock. It was the practice of the shepherds to gather at the well at the same time each day so that they would have the manpower necessary to remove the rock and then replace it after the sheep were watered. Yaakov asks the shepherds who they are and why they gather so early in the afternoon to water the sheep.
When they tell him that they work for Lavan, Yaakov asks about his well-being. The shepherds point out the approaching Rachel, daughter of Lavan. They explain to Yaakov that they must cooperate with each other in order to physically remove the stone. Just then, Yaakov sees Rachel, his cousin, and approaches the rock and single-handedly removes it from the mouth of the well in order to give drink to the sheep of his uncle. Yaakov kisses Rachel and weeps bitterly. (He weeps because he sees with Ru’ach HaKodesh that they are destined not to be buried together.) Yaakov tells Rachel who he is – what their relationship is – and she runs off to tell her father. When Lavan hears, he runs out to welcome Yaakov, and brings him home to tell “the whole story”. Lavan “offers” Yaakov a job and tells him “to name his price”. Lavan had two daughters – Leah the older one and Rachel the younger one. Leah had “weak” (sensitive) eyes and Rachel was very beautiful.
Shlishi – Third Aliya – 31 p’sukim – 29:18-30:13
Yaakov loves Rachel and offers to work for seven years in exchange for her hand in marriage. Lavan agrees and the time flies by in Yaakov’s eyes because of his great excitement. At the end of the seven years, Yaakov asks that the marriage take place.
Lavan gathers the locals for the festivities and substitutes Leah for Rachel. [SDT] Sources indicate that it was Rachel who facilitated the switch, motivated by love and compassion for her sister. Rachel gave her private “signals” to Leah to save her from a probable marriage to Eisav, Yitzchak’s biological elder. This compassion serves her descendants well many years later,when she “intercedes” before G-d following the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Tradition tells us that G-d “softened” the punishment with a promise of return, only after Rachel pleaded before Him. The Avot and Moshe had not succeeded in their pleas on behalf of the people. When Yaakov confronts Lavan about the deceit, Lavan says that it is improper to marry off the younger before the older. (minhag in many communities, despite the fact that its origin is Lavan.)
Yaakov agrees to work an additional seven years for Rachel. Zilpa and Bilha are the handmaidens of Leah and Rachel respectively (daughters of Lavan from a pilegesh). Yaakov showed his obviously greater love of Rachel. As a result, G-d made Leah fertile and Rachel barren. Next the Torah tells us, in rapid succession, of the births of Reuven, Shimon, Levi, and Yehuda. Leah names each son (Levi was named by Yaakov or perhaps by an angel) with a name that expresses her thanks to G-d and her feelings under the unusual circumstances of her life. Rachel, jealous of Leah, complains to Yaakov that she has no children. Yaakov gets angry with her, saying that it is G-d’s doing, not his. Rachel gives Bilha to Yaakov to have children whom she will raise as her own. Dan and Naftali are born. Leah, realizing that she has stopped having children, gives Zilpa to Yaakov. Gad and Asher are the results. [SDT] Notice the rapid fashion the Torah employs to tell us of the build-up of Yaakov’s family. With Avraham and Yitzchak having such a difficult time fathering children, Yaakov has fathered 10 sons in the span of 16 p’sukim! When Yaakov vows to return to his father’s house, he adds, “and HaShem will be G-d for me. Ramban says from here we learn that he who lives in Eretz Yisrael has G-d, and he who lives in Chutz LaAretz it is as if he has no G-d.
R’vi’i – Fourth Aliya – 14 p’sukim – 30:14-27
Rachel begs Reuven to give her the special (fertility) herbs (DUDA’IM, mandrake) that he had gathered for his mother, Leah. When Leah complains to her, Rachel promises that Yaakov could sleep with her that night in exchange for the herbs. When Yaakov returns from the fields, it is Leah who goes out to greet him. G-d answers Leah’s prayers of despair, and she gives birth to Yissachar and then Zevulun. Then Leah gives birth to a girl, Dina. Finally, G-d “remembers” Rachel and she too becomes pregnant. She gives birth and names her son Yosef, praying that she will have yet another son (giving her at least not fewer sons than the handmaidens had).
After Yosef is born, Yaakov asks his leave of Lavan. He desires to return to his fathers’ home. He asks for his wives, children, and compensation for all the work he has done for Lavan. Lavan acknowledges that he has been blessed because of Yaakov.
Chamishi – Fifth Aliya – 32 p’sukim – 30:28-31:16
They make an arrangement by which Yaakov will receive his wages. Lavan repeatedly attempts to minimize the births of the goats and sheep that will be Yaakov’s. G-d has other plans and Yaakov becomes very wealthy. The details of the speckled, banded, spotted animals and how which gave birth to what, is very obscure. The bottom line is that Lavan attempts to cheat Yaakov (again) and is completely unsuccessful. Lavan’s sons feel as if Yaakov has cheated their father. G-d tells Yaakov to return to his birthplace. Yaakov calls to his wives and explains the situation to them. He tells them of being instructed by an angel as to what to do with the animals. Rachel and Leah feel as strangers in their father’s house and are prepared to do as G-d commands.
Shishi – Sixth Aliya – 26 p’sukim – 31:17-42
Yaakov prepares to leave. Meanwhile, Rachel takes her father’s terafim in his absence. When Lavan becomes aware of Yaakov’s departure, he sets out in pursuit. G-d appears to Lavan in a dream and warns him not to harm Yaakov in any way. When Lavan catches up to Yaakov, he confronts him about the unannounced departure and the missing terafim.
Yaakov answers in kind, expressing his anger at Lavan’s repeated attempts to cheat him. As to the terafim, Yaakov permits Lavan to search for them and boldly declares that the one who took them shall not live. Lavan fails to find his terafim because Rachel convinces him not to search her person or belongings. Had it not been for G-d’s protection, Yaakov tells Lavan, you would have left me with nothing.
KI VARACH… The Midrash, based on the same phrase being used, says that it was Amalek who told Lavan that Yaakov fled, and later told Par’o that Bnei Yisrael did so too.
Sh’vi’i – Seventh Aliya – 15 p’sukim – 31:43-32:3
Lavan answers that the women are his daughters, that the children are his children, and the animals are his as well. Yaakov and Lavan make a pact and form a mound of rocks as a sign of their agreement. Yaakov offers a sacrifice to G-d and swears to the covenant. In the morning, Lavan kisses his children and grandchildren, blesses them, and returns home. Yaakov continues on his journey and encounters angels (of Eretz Yisrael – the sedra thus comes full circle) on the way, Yaakov names the place Machanayim. The last 3 p’sukim are reread for the Maftir.
Haftara – 28* p’sukim -Hoshea 12:13-14:10
* S’faradim read the portion of Hoshea that preceeds the Ashkenazi reading, 11:7-12:12 (17 p’sukim). * Some suggest concluding the haftara with Yoel 2:26-27, in order to end the haftara on a better note than Hoshea ends with. (that would make 30 p’sukim)
This concluding portion of the book(let) of Hoshea begins with reference to Yaakov’s journey to Aram to find (and work on behalf of) a wife (wives) – hence its obvious connection to the sedra. The prophet points out to the People of Israel their humble origins, in an attempt to put things in perspective and restore their faith and reliance upon G-d. This haftara contains SHUVA YISRAEL… from the haftara of Shabbat Shuva. The last pasuk in Hoshea states: Whoever is wise, let him understand this… The ways of G-d are straight, and the righteous will walk on them and the wicked will stumble. The Gemara applies this contrast to two people who eat Korban Pesach, one eats it AL HA’SOVA, while satisfied but not stuffed, and the other eats K.P. but he is full from his Seder meal. It is amazing that the Gemara uses two people, both of whom fulfill mitzvot, to illustrate the pasuk. The POSHEI’A in this example is mitzva-observant! He buys a lamb, brings it as a Korban Pesach, roasts it properly – everything. Except the one little detail of AL HA’SOVA. And that brands him a sinner. There is a message in the Gemara’s choice of example for the pasuk. A person who doesn’t keep mitzvot generally knows he’s not doing the right thing, but doesn’t care. He’s convinced himself that Torah is not for him. Let’s call him a “gross poshei’a”. The one referred to in the Gemara is the “subtle sinner”. Seems so insignificant. Especially compared with others. But the proper way to eat K.P. requires serious effort throughout the meal that precedes the K.P. It requires a commitment that many “religious” people are not willing or able to make. It means limiting consumption even during a festive meal.
This is only an example of a type of sin. Take talking in shul during davening. People who do it usually develop an attitude – hey, at least I’m davening. I come to shul. So this can’t be that bad.
By choosing these examples to illustrate those who walk upright on G-d’s path and those who stumble, we are taught “how much more so a “regular” sinner. It might be even more than a KAL VACHOMER. Perhaps the Gemara is saying that the regular sin goes without saying. Of course a sinner will stumble on the G-d’s path. But the message is more subtle than that. Even a person engrossed in Torah and Mitzvot will occasionally stumble. Food for thought. Particularly appropriate in light of the fact that the Haftara speaks about T’shuva.