Parshat VaYetse

Summary: VaYetse is the 7th parasha in the Book of Genesis spanning chapters 28:10-32:3. It describes the life of Jacob after being sent from Canaan to find a wife in his ancestral home. VaYetse follows Jacob from his father’s house to the home of his Uncle Laban.

During that period he experienced many wonders & challenges including; dreaming of a ladder reaching from Earth to Heaven, meeting and falling in love with Rachel at the well, working for Laban for 7 years, being tricked into marrying Leah then after a week marrying Rachel and working another 7 years, the subsequent birth of children (from 2 wives and 2 handmaidens), his last 6 years working for Laban to accumulate flocks and finally, his departure from Haran back to Canaan.

Comment: VaYetse is a chiastic-structured parasha that begins and ends with Jacobs travels, and much of what happens in between appears in parallels. Rabbi David Fohrman observes that Jacob alights on a place where he sees Angels as he’s about to leave Canaan and he arrives at a place where he sees Angels on his return (‘and he called the place Mahanayim‘ Gen. 32:2).

He takes 12 stones from under his head and consecrates them (‘and this stone which is placed as a memorial will become the house of G-d’ Gen. 28:22) and he takes stones for a monument to make a covenant between himself and Laban at the end.

The centre of this chiastic structure is the story of Rachel. Despite the embarrassment her father caused by switching Leah for Rachel on the day of her marriage,  eventually she was given a son who removed her shame (‘G-d has gathered in my shame’ Gen. 30:23).

We are exhorted in the Mussar books and elsewhere that shaming another person is like causing them death by fire – anyone who has experienced that burning sensation on the face or cheeks when embarrassed will understand. Equally, we’re charged to go through fire rather than cause shame to another.

What we learn from the story of Rachel is that by enduring her humiliation she earned G-d’s favour and, through her children, was able to establish seeds for their redemption. Rachel’s life was by no means easy; it was intensely complicated and not for reasons of her own doing.

But, the Midrash tells us, that Rachel is the matriarch who looks after the Jewish people during our exile. She is the one who, from her resting place in Bet Lehem, offered comfort and consolation during the Babylonian deportations.

Where the tendency today is to lash out at others who offend us, we might benefit from the example of Rachel in learning to be long-suffering. In the end, our efforts will kindle G-d’s mercy.