Torah reading: Gen. 28:10-32:3. Haftorah: Hosea 12:13-14:10
"AND YA’AKOB WENT OUT FROM BE'ER SHEVA"
Last week’s parashat, TOLDOS, completed the story of Isaac, which concluded with Isaac's giving the blessings to Jacob and sending him away from home to find his wife. In our present parashat of VAYEITZEI, Jacob, the "perfect" or "compete" patriarch (since he incorporated the best of both Abraham and Isaac) now takes center stage, and the story of his life and that of his twelve sons occupies the remainder of the book of Genesis.
Jacob's departure from his parental home into exile in Padan Aram and his return from there with a complete family and laden with wealth are paradigmatic for the subsequent history of Jacob's descendants, Israel and the Chosen people. Historically the Israelites were repeatedly forced to leave the ancestral Land of Israel, yet always returned in increased numbers, together with the wealth acquired in exile: the souls of the proselytes and actual material wealth.
"AND HE CAME TO THE PLACE"
While Jacob's journey of exile to Padan Aram is paradigmatic of all later Chosen exile, his detour on the way there to "THE PLACE" (Gen. 28:11) -- Mount Moriah, "THE PLACE that YAH said to Abraham" (Gen. 22:9), that same FIELD where Isaac went to pray -- is paradigmatic of the GIVING OF THE TORAH. The dream of the ladder and Jacob's actions in response to YAH's promise of protection -- his laying the Temple foundation and his vow to tithe all he acquires for YAH -- are Torah. They are the very essence of the Torah, the GIVING OF THE TORAH for all Ya’akob’s descendants. Ya’akob’s eventual return to this PLACE where he "received the Torah" is paradigmatic of the return of the Chosen people after exile to build the Holy Temple. The Temple and the Giving of the Torah are one concept.
The PLACE that Yaakob "hit" (like you hit a target with an arrow or with a prayer) while on his way to Padan Aram was none other than the spot from which Adam was created: the place destined to bring atonement to all the Children of Adam in all generations through the sacrificial altar that is to stand there in the House of Prayer for all the Nations. This was the place where Noah sacrificed after the flood and this was where Abraham bound Isaac on the Altar. This was the field to which Isaac would return to pray. This place is alluded to in the opening word of the Torah, BeRAiSHIT, and the Hebrew letters of which can be rearranged to form the words BAYIS ROSH, "the House that is the Head". As discussed in connection with the parashat’s of the last two weeks, Abraham had conceived of this place as a lofty -- and almost daunting -- MOUNTAIN of spiritual achievement. Isaac had brought the idea nearer to ordinary people by conceiving of it as a FIELD of regular endeavor. It was the innovation of Yaakob, the "perfect patriarch", to bring the idea within reach of everyone (for fields, in which Yaakob was expert, are still not accessible to everyone): Yaakob conceived of the place as a HOUSE. "This is none other than the HOUSE of God" (Genesis 28:17; see Likutey Moharan I, 10).
In the words of the Talmud (Pesachim 88a): Said Rabbi Elazar: What does Isaiah mean when he says, "And many people’s will go and say, 'Come let us go up to the Mountain of EL to the HOUSE of the EL of Yaakob!'" ? Why the EL of Yaakob and not the EL of Abraham and Isaac? The answer is: Not like Abraham, who saw it as a Mountain ("as it is said this day, On the Mountain HaVaYaH is seen" -- Genesis 22:14). And not like Isaac, for whom it was a Field ("And Isaac went out to meditate in the Field" -- Genesis 24:63). But like Yaakob, who called it a House: "And he called the name of that place Beth El, the House of EL" (Genesis 28:19).
This passage comes to teach that at the consummation of human history, when "many people will go" in search of YAH's truth, the idea through which YAH will be understood by the peoples will be Ya’akob’s idea: the idea of the House -- the Holy Temple. The conception of the Temple as a House brings the idea of devotion to YAH right into the house and home. The Temple is the epitome of all houses. Thus it has a kitchen (the AZARA or central courtyard) and oven (the Altar), a "living room" (the Sanctuary), with its "lamp" (the Menorah) and table (the Showbread Table), and a "bedroom", the Holy of Holies, place of the ZIVUG of the Holy One and the Shekinah (Divine Presence).
The Temple is the universal paradigm of what all of our homes should be a place for the dwelling of the Divine Presence. At the very center of the Temple vision is the "ladder" that has angels "ascending and descending" on it. This is the ladder of devotion. Our prayers, blessings and simple, everyday "homely" mitzvahs and acts of devotion send "angels" ASCENDING upwards to realms that are beyond our comprehension. The ascending angels in turn elicit angels of blessing who DESCEND into this world and into our very lives (such as the angels who accompany us from the synagogue to the home on Shabbat night and who, on seeing that we have made everything ready for Shabbat, bless our table, which is like the Temple altar.) The vow Yaakob made upon inaugurating the House of YAH is the paradigm of all the different "vows" or commitments we make involving some kind of self-restraint and sacrifice in order to elevate ourselves spiritually and elicit YAH's protection. These acts of self-sacrifice send up ascending angels, drawing down descending angels of blessing. The foundation of devotion is our COMMITMENT (but without actual vows).
ENCOUNTER WITH THE WORLD OF OLD
Given that Yaakob conceived of divine service using the metaphor of the HOUSE, it is fitting that the central focus of the story of his life is on how he built his house, namely the household of wives and children who made up the House of Yaakob, and how he faced all their subsequent domestic problems -- the kidnap of Dinah, the quarrels and hatred among the twelve brothers, the sale of Joseph and all that followed from it.
The building of Ya’akob’s House could be accomplished only through struggles of many kinds -- for truth, Ya’akob’s quality, is born out of struggle on all levels, material and spiritual. In order to build his House, Yaakob had to struggle with two major antagonists: Esau and Laban. Esau embodies the threat to the Holy House from the forces of excess and evil in the material world, ASIYAH. The encounter with Esau is a central theme in next week's parashat: VAYISHLACH. In this week's parashat of VAYEITZEI, the focus is on Ya’akob’s encounter with Laban, whose threat to the Holy House is from the forces of excess in the spiritual worlds. Thus while Esau is portrayed as a HUNTER-WARRIOR, Laban is portrayed as a PRIEST (Rashi on Gen. 24:21, Gen. 31:30ff).
To build his House, Yaakob had to rescue the sparks of holiness that were still to be find in the land of the Sons of the East (Gen. 29:19), literally the "Sons of OLD". These sparks of holiness were embodied in Rachel and Leah and their handmaidens, who were to mother the Souls of Israel. In order to rescue them, Yaakob had to struggle with Laban, the High Priest of the "Old World", the un-rectified World of TOHU (confusion) created by YAH to spawn the realm of evil with which man has to struggle in order to attain his destiny. Laban was the father of Be'or who was the father of Balaam, also called Bela. Bela the son of Be'or is the first of the Seven Kings of Edom who ruled "before there was a king in Israel" (Gen. 36:31 ff.). These "Seven Kings" allude to the seven sefirot in their "fallen" manifestation as a result of the "breaking of the vessels". Kabbalistically, Bela corresponds to DAAS of the SITRA ACHRA, the evil consciousness that is the opposite of the knowledge of YAHWEH and awareness, the root of all the other sefirot. The ARI states that Balaam-Bela was the incarnation of Laban, who is the very brain of the realm of evil, as indicated by his name, which consists of the letters Lamed (30) Beis (2) corresponding to the 32 Pathways of Wisdom, and Nun (50), corresponding to the 50 Gates of Understanding. Ya’akob’s conflict with Laban continued in Moses fight against Balaam and his pernicious spiritual influence.
Laban is the arch swindler and deceiver, symbolizing the force in creation that conceals devoutness through our quirks of false-consciousness that make evil seems like good and good seems like evil. Laban TRANSLATES one thing into another (we find an example of Laban as a translator in Gen. 31:47), distorting the entire meaning in the process. Time and time again, it turns out that Laban actually means something entirely different from what he appears on the surface to be saying. White-appearing Laban (Lavan in Hebrew = "white") is actually filthy black.
Since the devotions of Yaakob (the Children of Israel) are accomplished by using the homely objects of this world to create the House of YAH through which the Divine Presence may dwell in the world, it is essential to cleanse the world of the mental distortions (the deceptions of idolatrous Laban) that could undermine the entire message of the Holy House.
Each one of us has the personal work of using Ya’akob’s honesty to cleanse ourselves of the inner Laban’s that have us working for years chasing after phantoms, only to find ourselves sadly deceived...
THE WORK ETHIC
Yaakob followed the example of Abraham's servant Eliezer (Gen. 24:11) in going to the WELL in order to find his ZIVUG (soul-mate). As father of the people who were to bring the spiritual waters of Torah to all mankind, Yaakob expected to find the appropriate soul-mate at the place of the "water-drawers". There Yaakob saw his first love, Rachel, whose beauty was visible also on the exterior, as opposed to Leah, whose spiritual greatness was more concealed. The swindle by which Laban motivated Yaakob to work for seven years for Rachel but actually gave him Leah, forcing him to work another seven years to get Rachel too, was a harsh lesson in how life may give us what we didn't bank on.
The implicit message in Ya’akob’s deals with Laban, whereby Yaakob worked for everything he gained -- his wives, his children and his flocks -- is that honest work is good, even when swindlers lurk. The heavens and earth were made "to do" (Gen. 2:3). "For six days, work shall be done..." (Exodus 35:2): Work is a good thing! Yaakob had received rich blessings from Isaac, but that did not mean he had what he gained through sitting back and doing nothing. It was his very conscientiousness in working to earn the promised good that made him deserve the blessings.
The repeated seven-fold cycles in our parashat (seven years of work for Rachel and Leah, the seven days of the marriage celebrations) are bound up with the underlying six-day/Shabbat cycle of creation which comes to rectify the seven fallen sefirot of the world of TOHU spawned by Balaam-Laban. The holy sparks rescued by Yaakob through his "work" -- Rachel, Leah, the handmaidens, their children, and the "flocks", namely the holy souls -- are all reordered in the world of TIKUN (Rectification, the sefirot in their holy manifestation) in the House of Yaakob. Here Yaakob (corresponding to Zeir Anpin, the unity of YAH) is joined and unified with his wives, Rachel (the revealed world) and Leah (the concealed world).
Ya’akob’s main work and that of his wives was that of BREEDING -- the breeding of children and the breeding of "flocks". This comes to emphasize the centrality of family, education and good breeding in true civilization. The House about which Ya’akob’s Temple comes to teach is not a far-off concept. It is the actual house and home in which we live, where our work must be to educate ourselves and our children to see and manifest YAH in our mundane, everyday activities.
Yaakob is the archetype of the faithful employee. He starts off with nothing (according to the Midrash, Yaakob was stripped of all his possessions by Esau's son Eliphaz as he set off for Padan Aram). He works conscientiously to benefit and enrich his employer, with scrupulous honesty and devotedness (as expressed in Ya’akob’s eloquent self-defense Gen. 31:38 ff.). Yaakob is pitted against a slick liar who keeps on changing the terms of agreements, who sells his own daughters, who watches his nephew work for his wives, children and flocks for 20 years and still says, "They are all mine...."
The practical teaching about the work ethic that emerges from this section of our parashat telling of Ya’akob’s way of working applies to all mankind. It is an important aspect of the universal law against stealing:
"Just as the employer is cautioned not to steal or withhold the wages of the poor man, so the poor man (the employee) is cautioned not to steal the work of the employer by wasting a little time here and a little there so that he spends the entire day cheating his employer. The worker is obliged to be strict with him in the time he devotes to his employer's work... and he is obliged to work with all his strength. For the righteous Yaakob said 'For WITH ALL MY STRENGTH I worked for your father...'. And therefore he took the reward for this even in this world..." (Rambam, Laws of Hiring 13:7)