Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Work 7 years for a wife... and again.

26 May 2012 Torah Study with Rabbi Marder
    • 29:15.  And Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my kinsman, should you work for me gratis? Tell me what your wages shall be."
      • Robert Alter (The Five Books of Moses, page 154) – Jacob has already been working for Lavan for a month.  Alter writes (almost sarcastically) “In a neat deployment of delayed revelation … we now learn that this ‘bone and flesh’ of Laban’s has already been put to work by his gracious host for a month’s time.”  
      • Nahum Sarna (JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis, page 203) on וַעֲבַדְתַּנִי, serve me.  Its root is דבע, servant; forms of this word occur seven times in this portion of the narrative (Sarna, page 365n) and in other places.
        • Oracle of Rebecca – older shall serve the younger brother (25:23).
        • After Isaac blesses Esau, he will serve his younger brother (27:40)
        • Two subsequent verses, 27:37, 49.
        • How ironic!  Now Jacob is a servant; Jacob gets payback (justice) through Lavan
      • Typically, the reward of mitzvah is the mitzvah itself, if not another mitzvah; the opposite is “wages,” as in this case.
    • 29:16.  Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.
      • Leah – unclear meaning; unlike Rachel, which means “ewe.”
        • Cognates in Akkadian and Arabic, meaning cow, strong woman, or mistress.
        • לאה, weary or tired; too lazy, no longer in a position to do something; powerless, incapable (Holladay, page 171); impatient, exhausted (Klein, page 291)
        • Wisdom/knowledge (M’leah).  From מלא or מלאה, fullness, accomplished, completed, confirmed, plenty (Klein, pages 347-348) as in yield of a vineyard, Holladay, page 196)
        • Midrash Rabbah 70:15 reads בָנוֹת as בּוֹנוֹת, builders because both Leah and Rachel’s similar and equal contributions to Jewish history.  The Midrash also cites Eitz Yosef as its source (Hanokh Zundel ben Yosef).

    Judah in Zechariah 9:7, 12:15
    Manasseh in Judges 6:15, Deuteronomy 33:15
    David from tribe of Judah
    Saul, Ish-boseth, Jeroboam, Ahab, Jehu from tribe of Ephraim
    Killers of lions
    David in I Samuel 17:36; Benaiah in I Chronicles 27:5, a Levite per II Samuel 23:20
    Samson from Tribe of Dan in Judges 14:5-6
    Moses from tribe of Levi in Exodus 6:16ff; Samuel from Levi in I Chronicles 6:8; Isaiah from tribe of Judah in Megillah 10b.
    Joshua from tribe of Ephraim in Numbers 13:8; Elijah from Tribe of Benjamin per Midrash Rabbah, 71:9
    Othiel from Tribe of Judah in I Chronicles 4:1,13; Tola from Tribe of Issachar in Judges 10:1; and others
    Ehud from Tribe of Benjamin in Judges 3:15; Gideon descendant from Manasseh in Judges 6:14; and others
    Moses and David
    Joshua and Saul
    Dividers of lands
    Above-mentioned kings
    Sacrifice of a son overrode Shabbat
    Solomon, who offered sacrifices for seven consecutive days in II Chronicles 7:9
    Tribe of Ephraim offering sacrifices on Shabbat in Numbers 7:48 and Bamidbar Rabbah 14 ¶2
    War overrode Shabbat
    David against Philistines in I Samuel 23 and Eruvin 45a
    Joshua and Jericho in Joshua 6 and Beresheis Rabbah 47 ¶10.
    Two nights of victories through miracles
    Over Pharaoh, slaying of firstborn, during Exodus credited to Moses
    Over Sennacherb as stated in II Kings 18:1, credited to prayers of King Hezekiah, a descendant of Judah
    Gideon, a descendant of Rachel, over Midian in Judges 7
    Mordechai, a Benjamite, over Haman (Esther 2:5, 6:1)
        • Luach-el: spirit of God
        • Why is Leah called הַגְּדֹלָה, elder or older?  According to Midrash Rabbah 70:15, Leah’s legacy was a line of priests (Levites), kings (David, from Judah), and Jerusalem (the land on which stood the temple belonged to Judah), all of which would exist forever, from generation to generation (Joel 4:20-21, Psalm 132:14)
      • Also, in the same Midrash, Rachel is called the הַקְּטַנָּה, the younger, because her “gifts” were temporary: Joseph ruled over Egypt for a short time; Saul was king for a short time; the tabernacle at Shiloh, in the Tribe of Joseph and once destroyed, never rebuilt, i.e., its sanctity was gone, unlike the temple in Jerusalem (Psalm 78:67) 
    • 29:17. Leah's eyes were tender, but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion.
      • Leah’s eyes were רַכּוֹת, weak/soft/tender/gentle.  Rebecca was gorgeous; just like Jacob and Esau, who are also distinguished by appearance
        • Leah’s eyes
          • Rashi on “tender”: Because she expected to fall into Esau’s lot, and she wept, because everyone was saying, “Rebecca has two sons, and Laban has two daughters. The older [daughter] for the older [son], and the younger [daughter] for the younger [son]” (Bava Basra 123a).
          • Leah prayed not to marry Esau; her wish was granted but the price was bad or tender eyes from so much crying about being matched with the “wicked Esau” (Midrash Rabbah 70:16).
          • Her eyes were too sensitive to sunlight and so she couldn’t be a shepherd [too bad sunglasses hadn’t been invented].
          • Nahum Sarna – Leah had dull eyes, lacking luster.  “Lustrous” eyes were a sign of beauty as in I Samuel 16:12, describing David’s “fair eyes and;” and in Song of Songs 4:1,9.
          • Contrary to Sarna’s view, Robert Alter writes (page 154) about the word רַךְ: “Generally the word rakh is an antonym of ‘hard’ and means ‘soft,’ ‘gentle,’ ‘tender,’ or in a few instances ‘weak.’  The claim that her it refers to dullness, or a lusterless quality, is pure translation by immediate context because rakh nowhere else has that meaning.  Still, there is no way of confidently deciding whether the word indicates some sort of impairment (‘weak’ eyes or perhaps odd-looking eyes) or rather suggests that Leah had sweet eyes that are her one asset of appearance, in contrast to her beautiful sister.”
        • Rachel was beautiful in all aspects – complexion and features (like David the shepherd).
        • That Rachel was prettier will lead to tension between the sisters.
      • Munk (The Call of the Torah, Bereishis, page 392) on female beauty
        • Munk first cites Rashi, who writes that תֹּאַר is the form [or shape] of the countenance an expression similar to Isaiah 44: 13, The carpenter stretched out a line, he beautifies it [יְתָאֲרֵהוּ] with a saw; he fixes it with planes, and with a compass he rounds it, and he made it in the likeness of a man, like the beauty of man to sit [in] the house.  Isaiah 44 is a speech on the folly and pointlessness of idolatry, showing how carving of an idol is not dissimilar to preparing wood for mundane purposes such a keeping warm and cooking [Berlin, Jewish Study Bible, pages 872-873]
        • Sarah was so gorgeous that Abraham must hide her from others.
        • Typically, Torah does not emphasize physical beauty, but is often seen as a window to the soul.  Munk writes, “The Torah praises feminine beauty … especially in connection with the Patriarchs’ wives [but] does not consider beauty a virtue in itself, and King Solomon describes it as ‘deceitful and vain’ alongside the virtue of piety (Proverbs 31:30).  Nevertheless, the Torah does esteem true beauty as the physical reflection of a beautiful soul.  A bride with beautiful eyes needs no proof of her other qualities… What is more, physical beauty, like the splendors of nature, can be considered one of the forms in which the Divinity and the sublime of the Creator are revealed.”
    Proverbs 31:30. Charm is false and beauty is futile; a God-fearing woman is to be praised. Rashi on “Charm is false:” No one praises a woman of charm or beauty; everything is futility and false, but a God-fearing woman alone is praised.
      • Physical beauty (people, plants, etc) shows the miracle of creation.  Ugliness is in human attribute and is not from God; it distracts people, not God.  “Beauty has and exalting effect on the human soul; ugliness … has a depressing effect.”
    • Women’s Commentary (pages 743-744) – essay by Shulamit Reinharz on female beauty and its consequences; a significant drive by girls to look good (plastic surgery, diets) and have the perfect body.  For most biblical figures, beauty is equated to goodness. Exceptions are in Proverbs 31:30 [above]; and Ruth, who is good but never called beautiful.
    The context of this essay is the laws of purity for priests.  According to Leviticus 21:16-24, priests must be free of any physical defects or imperfection, which was believed to impair holiness.  Without priesthood, the requirement for physical perfection is no longer applicable to Judaism.  However, its legacy lives as a desire for physical beauty, especially among women, who have few compunctions about dieting and plastic surgery as was to become attractive and become intolerant of lack of glamour.
    The result is a lucrative beauty business, which has its apparent genesis in the need for physical perfection in priests.  Sustaining this business is the concept of beauty equaling goodness, trust, intelligence, sociability, morality, which permeates most of the world’s cultures, even children’s literature.   The corollary is that ugliness is associated with the opposite traits; beautify seem to be intolerant of ugly people. The price of this perception is lowering the self-esteem of girls and women who are not “pretty.”
    Film, “Killing Us Softly 4.  Advertising’s Image of Women,” by Jean Kilbourne, shows how advertising creates a “perfect” female figure.  Ads are pervasive, hard to avoid, and cumulative.  They make use of computer graphics to alter appearances, creating artificial images of “beautiful” people from pictures of many body parts. 
    Bottom line: physical beauty can attract people in the short run.  In the long run, brains and personality take over.  My (would-be) mother met my (would-be) father at a USO dance during World War II.  She was first attracted to the man who accompanied him.  He was quite handsome, but after a few dances, Mom realized that he wasn’t too bright.  Then she struck up a conversation with my father and, while he was no Cary Grant, found him quite personable.  The rest is history.
      • Other references on female beauty
        • Elaine Scarry –On Beauty and Being Just (1999).  The book’s premises are (1) defending beauty against charges that it is politically incorrect; and that (2) beauty can “press us toward a greater concern for justice.” [, accessed 28 May 2012]
        • Zadie Smith’s 2005 novel On Beauty takes its title from Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just. The story follows the lives of a mixed-race British/American family living in the United States. On Beauty addresses ethnic and cultural differences in both the U.S.A and the U.K., the nature of beauty, and the clash between liberal and conservative academic values. [, accessed 28 May 2012]
    • 29:18.  And Jacob loved Rachel … Zohar – verse 17 ends 2nd aliyah; v. 18 begins the next one; thus, beauty and sexual passion are separated from love and spiritual relationship
    • 29:18. … and he said, "I will work for you seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter. Thus, Jacob answers Lavan’s question about wages.
      • Rashi writes, “For Rachel, your younger daughter: Why were all these signs necessary? Since he (Jacob) knew that he (Laban) was a deceiver, he said to him, “I will work for you for Rachel,” and lest you say [that I meant] another Rachel from the street, Scripture states: “Your daughter.” Now, lest you say, “I will change her name to Leah, and I will name her (Leah) Rachel,” Scripture states: “[your] younger [daughter].” Nevertheless, it did not avail him, for he (Laban) deceived him. — [from Genesis Rabbah 70:17] “
    The footnotes to the Midrash point out that Jacob could not say “your younger daughter” without mentioning Rachel because then Lavan would have offered Bilhah or Zelphah, who were younger than Leah and Rachel.
      • In other words, Jacob is acting like a lawyer; he’s being very careful and specific, thinking of contingencies.  Yet Lavan still tricks him.
    • 29:19.  And Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than I should give her to another man. Stay with me."
      • Radak – marriage to kinsman is preferable to an outsider – keep wealth in the family.  Nahum Sarna writes in JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis (Page 204): “Marriage between relatives was … desirable [because] it safeguarded ‘purity of blood,’ tribal property, and the welfare of the daughter.”
      • Lavan does not actually agree to Jacob’s terms – According to Sarna, Lavan’s response is vague and might have been a stalling tactic.  Sarna (page 204) terms it, “a piece of consummate ambiguity naively taken by Jacob to be a binding commitment.”
      • The Women’s Torah Commentary (page 163) is more cynical: Lavan speaks as though Rachel is a gift to be awarded but does not state that the award is for any work done by Jacob.  Lavan is already manipulating Jacob.  What a goniff!
    • 29:20. So, Jacob worked for Rachel seven years, but they appeared to him like a few days because of his love for her.  In other words, Jacob served the seven years but it seemed like a few days.
      • He “worked for Rachel” to let it be known that he was working only to marry her, so that Lavan could not deny the deal [that Jacob thought he’d made].
      • “Few days” – recalls Rebecca’s phrase on sending Jacob away in 27:44, And you [Jacob] shall dwell with him for a few days [אֲחָדִים יָמִים, the same phrase as in 29:20] until your brother's wrath has subsided. Midrash Rabbah 70:17 states that under these circumstances, the term “few days” could mean up to seven years.  This is what Rebecca meant by staying a “few days.”  In other words, Jacob was following his mother’s instructions.  The Midrash seemingly states that אֲחָדִים יָמִים is deliberately vague.  אֲחָדִים is the plural of אהד, one, and according to dictionaries means “few,” which is also an indefinite term.
      • Seven years was worthwhile because Jacob loved Rachel so much.  According to Nahum Sarna (page 204), “grim reality mocks [Rebecca’s] careless words [“a few days” in 27:44 on the pretext of finding a wife] and the ostensible becomes the actual.  Yet the harshness of seven years’ arduous toil is mitigated y the ardor of his love for Rachel, which ultimately makes the sacrifice worthwhile.”  Does it seem that one hour spent in Torah study lasts but a few minutes? 
      • When in love, time behaves differently; see the world differently.
        • Rabbi Marder clarifies:
    Rashi cites this idea in reference to Genesis 22:3 -- the verse in which Avraham saddles his own donkey rather than having a servant do it. The phrase is השורה  מקלקלת  שהאהבה "[she-ah] ahava m'kalkelet [et] ha-shura: love disrupts (or upsets) the normal order." That is, so great was Avraham's love for God and his eagerness to perform a Divine precept that he disregarded protocol. The source is Talmud Sanhedrin 105b; it also appears in Genesis Rabbah 55:8 (the midrash on Genesis).
    • Genesis 22:3. And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he saddled his donkey …
    Rashi on “and he saddled:” He himself, and he did not command one of his servants, because love causes a disregard for the standard [of dignified conduct]. — [from Genesis Rabbah 55:8]
    • Sanhedrin 105b [Soncino online edition with footnotes in italics]: And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass [Numbers 23:21].  A Tanna taught on the authority of R. Simeon b. Eleazar: Love disregards the rule of dignified conduct. [This is deduced] from Abraham, for it is written, And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass.  [Gen. 22:3. Though the saddling of an ass is not work becoming for a great man, yet in his love to God and eagerness to carry out His commands, Abraham did it.]  Hate likewise disregards the rule of dignified conduct: [this is deduced] from Balaam, for it is written, And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass.
    • The “command” was in Genesis 22:2 - "Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, yea, Isaac, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you."
    Rashi argues that this is a request, not a command.  However, Abraham was so eager to respond that to him, there was (evidently) no difference.  I.e., Abraham's love for God was such that he willingly obeyed.
    Although Abraham’s love for God was not romantic love like that of Jacob for Rachel, the emotions must have been similar and the outcomes were the same: love is blind and results in extraordinary behavior.
    • Abraham Joshua Heschel’s great-great grandfather, Abraham Yehoshua Heschel, (1748-1825) wrote that time passes more slowly if in love; it must be agony.  This is true for physical love – can’t wait to be intimate.  In spiritual love, it’s the opposite.  It’s enough to know that Rachel is close by; their spirits are connected.  Love makes the world go ‘round.  [Check the Wikipedia article for more information.]
    • A modern take on the seven years passing so quickly: “Seven years went by, summer heat, fall chill, winter, and spring.  The sun rose and set.  Laban’s flock grew because of Jacob’s care.  The flocks increase in numbers and the wealth of the family grew.  Perhaps for all those seven years Jacob went to sleep at night thinking of Rachel, whose voice he heard during the day, coming from one place or another, who waved to him in the morning as he left with her father for the fields, who was there in the evening when the family ate their supper, who served him his food but did not sit near him.  Perhaps he learned her smell and could tell when she was behind him.  Perhaps he learned the songs she liked to sing to herself when she worked. Possibly at night in the moonlight he would walk by her tent and hope she would wake and join him.
    “Inside her tent she may have heard him pacing the ground outside and recognized his footsteps.  It may have seemed to both Rachel and Jacob as if time had stopped moving at all.” [Roiphe, Anne.  Water from the Well.  Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah.  NY: William Morrow, 2006.  Page 184.]
      • By working seven years, Jacob pays the bride price and “mohar,” compensation to bride’s family for loss of daughter’s services.
    • 29:21.   And Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife, for my days are completed, that I may come to her."
      • Jacob seems impatient!
      • He then says something crude relating to sexual intercourse. Rashi explains, “This is what he [meant when he] said, “that I may come to her.” Now, isn’t it true that even the most degenerate person would not say this? But he (Jacob) meant [that he intended] to beget generations.”  After all, he was 84 years old and he better start begetting now [from Genesis Rabbah 70:18]  i.e., to beget the twelve tribes.
    • 29:22.  So, Laban gathered all the people of the place, and he made a feast. Feast was with wine to get Jacob drunk and deceive him later.  
    • 29:23. And it came to pass in the evening that Laban took his daughter Leah, and he brought her to him, and he came to her.  “Took” suggests that Leah didn’t want to be part of the deception.
    • 29:24. And Laban gave Zilpah his maidservant to his daughter Leah as a maidservant.
    Zilpah was younger [than Leah] and should have gone to Rachel; this was part of the deception.
    • 29:25.  And it came to pass in the morning, and behold she was Leah! So he said to Laban, "What is this that you have done to me? Did I not work with you for Rachel? Why have you deceived me?"  Jacob was surprised!
      • Before, Jacob and Rachel had secret signs; Rashi explains, “And it came to pass in the morning, and behold she was Leah: But at night, she was not Leah, because Jacob had given signs to Rachel, but when she saw that they were bringing Leah, she (Rachel) said, “Now, my sister will be put to shame. So, she readily transmitted those signs to her.” - [from Megillah 13b]
      • Jacob gets his comeuppance. He deceived his father, Isaac, in the same way [Midrash Rabbah, 70:19].  In fact, the same Hebrew word is used in both cases, here and in 27:35.
      • How did Leah fool Jacob?  Midrash Eichah Rabbah proem 24 [cited in The Torah.  A Women’s Commentary, pages 176-177] explains, “Rachel was a willing – albeit unhappy – partner to Lavan’s plan …  Aware that her father was plotting to deceive Jacob, [Rachel] warned her future husband of Lavan’s plans.  Jacob and Rachel agreed upon a sign to allow Jacob to distinguish between the sisters [as explained by Rashi above].  But then, Rachel changed her mind, realizing that if Lavan’s plan failed, Leah would be shamed.  Instead of thwarting her father’s plot, Rachel aided her sister in the deception.”
      • Leah at first pretended nothing had changed between her and Rachel.  Yet she became increasingly despondent that Rachel would be married and move out of the family tent; lost would be the sisterly bond between them.  Rachel knew in her heart the Jacob loved her, but she could not rejoice when her older sister would not marry first.  Rachel bore this burden silently.  She, too, could not imagine life without Leah, especially if she didn’t smile, sing, or eat.  
    “Rachel loved Jacob, but she also love Leah, and Leah’s pain must have spilled over into Rachel’s corner of the tent and stained everything.” [Roiphe, pages 184-185]
    • Some would comment that this was part of the divine plan [Scherman, page 151].
    “Just as Jacob’s succession to the birthright was divinely ordained irrespective of human machination, so it must be assumed that Jacob’s unwanted marriage tot Leah was understood by the narrator as part of God’s scheme of things.  For from this union issued the tribes of Levi and Judah, which shared between them the spiritual and temporal hegemony of Israel, providing the two greate and dominating institution of the biblical period, the priesthood and the Davidic monarchy.” [Sarna, Understanding Genesis …, page 195]
    • Rachel story is used as way to have God forgive Israel for idolatry.  From
    Rachel buries her desire to marry Jacob, and gives the signals to Leah.  Rachel also buries her jealousy, in order to be able to carry out her plan [not to shame Leah] with the purest intentions. Rachel asks God the following: "If I, as a flesh and blood mortal, was able to transcend my jealousy and anger, how much more so should You, an immortal King, find compassion for Your people."
    The Midrash tells us that, as soon as she says this, God responds to Rachel's tears. He promises, for her sake, that He will ultimately redeem the Jews from their exile: "Rachel recalled her own magnanimity to her sister, Leah. When Leah was fraudulently married to Jacob in place of Rachel, Rachel did not let jealous resentment lead her to protest. Why then, should God be so zealous in punishing His children for bringing idols into His Temple? God accepted her plea and promised that Israel would be redeemed eventually, in her merit."
    As it is written in Jeremiah (31:14), "Thus said Hashem: A voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping, Rachel weeps for her children; she refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are gone. Thus said Hashem: Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for there is reward for your accomplishment - the word of Hashem - and they will return from the enemy's land. There is hope for your future - the word of Hashem - and your children will return to their border."
    Rashi on Jeremiah 31:14, Rachel weeping for her children: The Midrash Aggadah states (see Lamentations Rabbah Proem 24) that the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs went to appease the Holy One blessed be He concerning the sin of Manasseh who placed an image in the Temple but He was not appeased. Rachel entered and stated before Him “O Lord of the Universe, whose mercy is greater, Your mercy or the mercy of a flesh and blood person? You must admit that Your mercy is greater. Now did I not bring my rival into my house? For all the work that Jacob worked for my father he worked only for me. When I came to enter the nuptial canopy, they brought my sister, and it was not enough that I kept my silence, but I gave her my password. You, too, if Your children have brought Your rival into Your house, keep Your silence for them.” He said to her, “You have defended them well. There is reward for your deed and for your righteousness, that you gave over your password to your sister.”

Howard's notes!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

More on Jacob-Rachel- Meeting and symbols

19 May 2012 (Howard's notes)

  • Naomi Rosenblatt [Wrestling with Angels, pages 267-268] writes about the kiss (29:11), comparing Jacob’s arrival alone with that of Eliezer and his entourage. Jacob comes as a fugitive with nothing to offer; Eliezer has camels laden with gifts of Abraham’s riches.

Rosenblatt further writes [caution, NC-17 rated], ”In the previous episode, the ladder was a phallic image of Jacob’s emerging manhood. The well represents Rachel’s virgin sexuality, which Jacob unseals by removing the stone, the portal of her body and soul. Psychologically, the well is symbolic of Jacob’s unconscious. When he pushes the stone aside, he exposes the dark undercurrent of his wounded psyche. Perhaps it is the power of love that banishes his fear. Or perhaps it is a blind mating urge. But once Jacob draws from this subterranean pool, he is destined to taste its bittersweet waters, with unforeseen consequences.” [Steamy!]

  • Love at first sight is discussed in The Social Animal by David Brooks. Much of human experience transcends human reason. Rationalization comes later. Women show no obvious signs of ovulation, as do other female animals. Consequently, men are attracted to women from observing aspects of female physical beauty, including facial gestures and body curves (hourglass figure); these criteria are remarkably similar throughout the world. Women have similar standards of physicality but have additional concerns about child rearing, companionship, and trust. Review is at Rabbi Marder read excerpts from this book amidst much laughter by the class members. Evidently, Brooks’ ideas could explain Jacob’s and Rachel’s behavior at the well. Can you imagine Mel Brooks with material like this?
  • 29:11, more on the kiss and why Jacob wept
    • Rashi
      • Jacob foresees that Rachel will die young in childbirth on the road to Bethlehem.
      • He feels bad because he has no house gifts (as did Eliezer).
      • Eliphaz (Esau’s son) cannot kill him as directed by Esau, so Jacob tells him to take all his possessions, for in Talmud Nedarim 64b, a poor person is thought of as dead; he cannot give to anyone; he can only take from others.
      • Rashi text [from ]: Since he [Jacob] foresaw with the holy spirit that she (Rachel) would not enter the grave with him. Another explanation: Since he came empty-handed, he said, “Eliezer, my grandfather’s servant, had nose rings, and bracelets and sweet fruits in his possession, and I am coming with nothing in my hands. [He had nothing] because Eliphaz the son of Esau had pursued him to kill him at his father’s orders; he (Eliphaz) overtook him, but since he had grown up in Isaac’s lap, he held back his hand. He said to him (Jacob), ”What shall I do about my father’s orders?“ Jacob replied,”Take what I have, for a poor man is counted as dead." - [from Bereishit Rabbathi by Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan]
    • Jacob may also have seen all those sheep as a substantial dowry.
    • Jacob makes restitution ...
    • Sforno – Jacob regretted not marrying Rachel in his youth, to have that many more years together.
  • 29:12 – his father’s brother, not “kinsman.”
    • Rashi pshat (plain meaning) - אָבִיהָ אִחִי can also mean kinsman, like Abraham and Lot.
    • Rashi midrash [sort of reading between or beneath the lines – a deeper interpretation]– If he (Laban) comes to deceive me, I, too, am his brother in deception, and if he is an honest man, I, too, am the son of his honest sister Rebecca [from Genesis Rabbah 70:13].
    • Talmud Megillah 13b – Jacob proposes but Rachel warns him that Lavan will try to deceive him. But Jacob counters that he is just as deceitful and shrewd (reference: The Torah Revealed: Talmudic Masters Unveil The Secrets of the Bible by Avraham Yaakov Finkel. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, c2004. BS 1225.52.F56 2004)
  • 29:12, Rachel runs to tell her father, similar to what Rebecca did in 24:28, except that Rebecca ran to her mother.
    • However, in this case, we don’t know how Rachel feels (Women’s Commentary, page 162).
    • Rashi – Rachel’s mother had died; she had no one else to tell (citing Genesis Rabbah 70:13)
    • Ramban – Rachel’s father should go and welcome his relatives since Rachel’s mother has no relationship to Jacob’s family; also, Rebecca ran to her Mother to show the jewelry.

Ramban writes that in 24:28, Rebecca ran to her mother under the same circumstance, just what would be expected. However, in this case, Rachel ran to her father. Ramban cites Rashi about the death of her mother and then offers another explanation. She “ran to her father to give him the news about his relative’s arrival, and to inform him that he should go out and show him the appropriate honor. But as for her mother, what was it to her that Jacob, who not her relative, came, and what could she do for him? Rebecca, however, showed her mother the jewelry that was given to her by Abraham’s servant, as is customary for girls,” even though Rebecca’s mother was not a blood relative of Abraham. There was no need for Rachel to run to her mother because there was no jewelry to show.

  • 29:13 – Lavan seems to warmly greet Jacob; he ran to meet Jacob.
    • Rashi – Lavan frisks him to look for money based on experience with Eliezer, further confirming the mercenary nature of Lavan

Rashi text, citing Genesis Rabbah 70:13 [Is Rashi cynical or what?]

      • He [Lavan] thought that he (Jacob) was laden with money, for the servant of the household (Eliezer) had come here with ten laden camels.
      • When he (Laban) did not see anything with him (Jacob), he said, “Perhaps he has brought golden coins, and they are in his bosom.”
      • He [Lavan] said, “Perhaps he has brought pearls, and they are in his mouth.”
      • The basis for Rashi’s interpretation is the Hebrew word לו, which means “for him”, i.e., there is no direct object marker (את) to “kissing him,” suggesting that Lavan was “kissing” Jacob for selfish reasons.
    • Moral growth lesson from a book, Growth through Torah by Zelig Pliskin, which unearths what’s beneath the text: Don’t allow yourself to be misled by an evil person; guard yourself against being masked from the evil in a person. Wisdom is the ability to know who is good and who is evil (Proverbs 14:15).
  • 29:13, Sarna – did Jacob really tell Lavan everything?
    • Nahum Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary Genesis, page 203) writes. “It is hardly credible that that Jacob reported that he had cheated his own brother and father. More likely, he told how his parents had sent him to find a wife from among his kinfolk and that his misadventures on the journey had brought him empty-handed.”
    • The Midrash comments that Jacob told Lavan that his wealth had been stolen by Eliphaz, Esau’s son (29:11).
  • 29:14, “bone and flesh”
    • Nahum Sarna, a recognition of kinship; Lavan has a formal obligation to take him in.
    • However, Rashi translates אַךְ as “nevertheless,” i.e., despite your lack of possessions, I’ll take you in. “In view of this, I have no reason to take you into the house, because you have nothing. Because of kinship, however, I will put up with you for a month’s time.” And so he did, but this too was not gratis, for he (Jacob) pastured his sheep.” — [from Genesis Rabbah 70:14]
    • Kli Yakar [Ephraim Solomon of Lunshitz, died 1619; lived in Lvov and Prague]– Jacob does really tell him everything; Lavan recognizes him as a fellow deceiver and welcomes him.
    • Malbim [Rav Meir Yehuda Leibish Malbim, 1809-79; lived and worked throughout eastern Europe] – from (accessed 21 May 2012)
      • Jacob loved Rachel so much that he thought that she was worth working for many more than seven years. Therefore, to work only seven years for such a wonderful person was really a bargain.
      • Jacob's love for Rachel was not simple passion. When a person feels deep passion, a day can seem like a year. Jacob loved her because of her good qualities that would make her worthy of being the mother of the future Jewish people. A person whose love is based on passion really loves himself and not the object of his love. When a person loves the good in another, he truly loves the other person and not himself. (The Torah tells us Jacob's focus was "in his love for her.") Therefore, the time seemed short because it was not a selfish love.
    • Naomi Rosenblatt on Lavan’s motives vs Jacob’s perspectives (pages 270-72). Jacob doesn’t realize Lavan’s potential treachery. He sees a loving father surrogate, in contrast to Isaac, who never showed much affection.
      • “Jacob’s emotional blindness on his wedding night mirrors Isaac’s physical blindness when bestowing his blessing on his son.” In both men are “cloaked in darkness” and rely on their physical senses, which are less reliable than emotional senses. Isaac smells stew and nothing else matters. Jacob is intoxicated by Rachel and nothing else matters.
      • Lavan’s less attractive older daughter Leah is a financial liability; he wants her out of the house. He dupes Jacob into a marriage at a “price” of fourteen years of shepherding labor.
      • Jacob feels guilty enough about his deception of his father and brother that he is in no position to object to these terms. Jacob’s physiological wounds as a child are affecting his behavior and self-image. His feels unworthy and his self-esteem is in the toilet.
      • Jacob is also an immigrant to this land. He is a total stranger living in unfamiliar surroundings. Compared to others who are settled with families, his feelings of vulnerability and melancholia should be no surprise.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Jacob Loves Rachel at First Sight!

Torah Study 5-19-12  with Rabbi Janet Marder
Genesis 29:10-18

Jacob sees Rachel…all about the relationships

Jacob rolls the stone off the well... Shows excessive strength ...
"A bit of Biblical comedy"... removing the stopper from the top of a bottle.  To show his strength.

Robert Alter..  Homeric strength is compared to his mother watering the camels before when Abraham's servant came to find a wife for Isaac.

Encountering a maiden at a well-   a forecast of a betrothal.
Jacobs narrative signature is the stone.
Symbol of the stone blocking the well and also of Rachel's infertility.
Stone is also a symbol of Laban 

First kiss ... 
Naomi Rosenblat.. The well as a portal of the soul.  Well represents Rachel virgin sexuality.  Also symbolic of Jacob's unconscious feelings.

Rare scene of love at first sight... The Social Animal(book) by  David Brooks

The kiss in v11,... Much speculation about this...

Weeping... Why?
Rashi. Saw the future that she would not be buried with him.
Also, came with empty hands.. Sorry he didn't have gifts.
Midrash about Esau's son who was supposed to kill Jacob.. Instead he took all his possessions.  A poor man is as if dead.
Sforno.  Because Jacob is not younger and she is so young.

V12.. After kisses her he tells her that she is her fathers kinsman... Wrong word.."brother". Either means a relative or specific "brother".
Another interpretation is that it reflects that Jacob can be as deceitful as Laban...

Midrash it is at this time that he asks her to marry him...she warns him that her father would deceit him... He says he can be just as deceitful.

She runs to tell her father... Parallel to the Rebecca story...
Run is the only indicator of her feelings...
Difference. Rebecca runs to mother, Rachel ran to father...
Why?  Mother had died?  Father is the relative.  

V13 Laban hears the news...ran to greet him.  Embrace kiss takes to house.
Rashi.  Why so eager? Thought he had money... Remembered the last time there was money.  Maybe he hugs to frisk him or kiss to check his mouth?...
Soon you find that Laban is greedy....

Growth through Torah. Book by Zelig Pliskin.  Don't be so trusting.
Jacobs tells Laban much...Probably the story was edited..

V14 Laban responds that he is flesh and blood ... Offers hospitality.
But not for free ... Jacob works for Laban.
Some commentators say he did tell all and Laban recognized that he is also a deceiver..  They are kindred spirits.

Naomi Rosenblat... Jacob doesn't see Laban's deception at this point... Laban sees a fellow trickster...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Jacob meets Rachel - changing

Torah Study, 12 May 2012, Rabbi Janet Marder

  • Naomi Rosenblatt, Wrestling with Angels (she’s a therapist) on Jacob leaving home with churning emotions represents a bridge between Chapters 28 and 29: “climbing out of despair,” leading up to the ladder story. Ladder is a symbol of a bridge between Rebecca, grounded in worldly things, and Isaac, more of a dreamer. Ladders are usually lowered when we are in despair; they’re teachers, friends, or family. Ladder of hope is faith in God.
  • Rosenblatt on 29:1-11: what happens after a powerful spiritual experience such as in the previous chapter? Usually, people go back to their daily routine. Real change occurs incrementally, not abruptly; it’s trial and error, two steps forward, one step back. Jacob may have his head in the clouds, but there’s a trap door nearby.
  • 29:1, “Jacob lifted his feet/legs,” just as he and other patriarchs lifted their eyes.
    • Rashbam – a euphemism for walking easily, lightly, and briskly
    • Rashi: “As soon as he was given the good tidings that he was assured protection [from God], his heart lifted his feet, and he became fleet-footed.”
    • Sforno – feet carry the person (wanted to go) vs person carrying the feet (reluctance)
    • He goes eastward toward the ancestral territory of Abraham
  • 29:2 – Jacob is surprised to see a well.
    • Alter – a well is a recurring motif, with commonalities and differences (typically, an ancient singles bar to meet mates) – a young girl comes up to meet a man and then runs back to tell father. Abraham – as represented by Eliezer -- was wealthy; Rebecca was hospitable, heroic. This time, Jacob comes with nothing, but Jacob acts heroic by removing a stone from the well, a symbol of Rachel’s infertility.
    • What’s a stone doing on the well? It ain’t the backstroke.
      • It’s a private well for a closed clan; outsiders must pay; the stone is for security.
      • Health – prevent contamination
    • A harbinger of what happens to Jacob’s descendants. Well = temple; three flocks of sheep = three harvest festival; well =nourishment; water = Torah, which refreshes physically and spiritually.
    • The syntax suggests the size of the stone is emphasized. It can be only moved by a group of shepherds. Hebrew verb is plural, implying that a collective effort is required to move the stone. So what? Hirsch to the rescue: typically a well cover is made easy to remove. But here, Aramaeans were a suspicious lot, worried that one individual may take more than a fair share.
  • 29:4-5, Jacob calls the shepherds, “my brothers.” Radak – a congenial form of address to signal peaceful intentions. Jacob doesn’t know where he is, so he asks where are the shepherd from.
    • Jacob further asks about “Lavan, son of Nahor”. This is strange because Nahor is not Lavan’s father; Bethuel is. Nahor is Abraham’s brother, Lavan’s grandfather.
    • Talmud Yvamot 62? Grandchildren are considered as children
    • Nachmanides – could also be translated as “descendant.” Nahor is more prominent that Bethuel; Bethuel was less reputable.
    • Perhaps the purpose was to form a link with Nahor, Abraham’s brother. Jacob wants to approach Lavan and needs to figure out how.
  • 29:6, Rachel appears on the scene. Up to now, shepherds give terse answers; they then direct him to Rachel, who is better able to give gossip [!].
    • “Rachel” = ewe in Hebrew – wordplay in this verse
  • 29:7, Jacob asks, why are shepherds watering sheep and not grazing them?
    • Rashi’s answer: “Since he saw them lying down, he thought that they wished to gather the livestock to return home and that they would no longer graze. So he said to them, “The day is yet long,” i.e., if you have been hired for the day, you have not completed the day’s work, and if the animals are yours, it is, nevertheless, not the time to take in the livestock, etc. (Genesis Rabbah 70:11).” I.e., Jacob rebukes the shepherds by saying that they’re cheating your employer or you’re wasting time at the well.
    • What a change in personality! Remember, his dream tied together the polarity of his youthful experiences: physicality (from Esau) and spirituality (from Isaac)
    • Remember also that Rachel is watching. Hirsch – Jacob is reminding the shepherds of their obligation to the sheep owner.
    • Was Jacob being rude? Or assertive? Or bold? Or just foolhardy to impress Rachel? Or to have shepherds leave so he could talk to Rachel privately?
  • 29:8, the shepherds become garrulous after Jacob’s rebuke. Sarna …
  • 29:9-11 – Rebecca arrives as a shepherd; isn’t that obvious? No, it was rare in ancient Israel (Sarna), though common in Yitro’s land Midian, where Moses encounted seven sisters working s shepherds. Midrash …
    • There were no other shepherds; Leah couldn’t do it because of weak eyes. She was also older and eligible for marriage; Rachel was young enough for the shepherds not to take an interest in her.
    • Rachel was skilled at being a shepherd; but was too modest to appear in public; her natural tendency was to say home. Lavan was a cheat, no one would work for him, so his daughter got the job.
  • 29:10-11, Jacob single-handedly rolls the stone off the well! Adrenalin?
    • Sforno – waits for Rachel’s flock to be watered; an act of divine provenance, like Eliezer’s experience; Jacob is exhilarated.
    • Bachya – repeating her family background suggest that the sight of Rachel prompted by his love of Rebecca
    • Hirsch – recognized Rachel as being like his mom. Sign of his chaste?
    • Sarna – he knew Rachel was his cousin; the kiss was a natural act.
    • The sentence lacks את, suggesting (Ibn Ezra) that he kissed her not on the mouth, but on the shoulder and arm.
    • Wordplay - kiss and watering are closely related verbs, like in chapter 27, where Isaac kissed him; these verbs led to Jacob’s departing.
  • It’s like Jacob has been resurrected; he’s a new person.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Jacob meets God

5 May 2012 – Rabbi Sarah Wolf

  • 1st time God spoke to Jacob, but He adds something more to what He said to Abraham. See last week’s notes.
  • 28:15 - אִם in this context is no the conditional “if,” but “when.”
  • Avivah Zornberg [The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis] on the promise, “I am with you”
    • Jacob is no longer alone. He his a partner to God; the divine presence accompanies him.
    • Also relates to loneliness …
    • Metaphor of meeting God in darkness is apt because he is in a dark lonely place after leaving his family.
  • 28:16-17
    • וַיִּירָא – awe or fear; Jacob was afraid, had an intense reaction; no other patriarch had this type of reaction. When God tells Abraham, lech lecha, he is silent. Why does Jacob have such a “human” reaction, why does he appear shaken? Two possible reasons:
      • It was a dream. Elsewhere, God speaks to patriarchs when they are awake.
      • Not prepared for the prophecy; he laments that he should have been awake in such a sacred place (Rashi). Falling asleep is embarrassing and shameful.

Rashi writes on the text of 28:16, “And Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said, "Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know [it]:"

and I did not know [it]: For had I known, I would not have slept in such a holy place. [from Bereishith Rabbathi , attributed to Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan]

  • 28:18-19
    • Jacob gets up early, like Abraham, to do God’s will; that’s how eager and righteous he is.
    • He anoints the stone and names the place Beth El. Perhaps formerly a sacred place to worship Canaanite God El.
  • 28:20 – Jacob’s weird vow
    • It’s conditional! After God gives Jacob an apparently unconditional covenant.
    • Perhaps Jacob doesn’t trust his dream and is skeptical that it was a real prophecy.
    • Challenging God is not unprecedented – Abraham did it a few times…
    • Yet Jacob asks for reasonable things: clothing, safety, and food, to help him live. If he doesn't’ survive his experience and dies , then he cannot fulfill the covenant.
    • אִם, here translated as “then” can also be interpreted as “and” (or possibly “because”).
    • Bereshit Rabbah – on order of elements in the vow – two views:
      • Vow came before Jacob’s dream.
      • Order is correct as stated.
      • However, the vow becomes invalid if Jacob sins; the “condition” is actually Jacob’s behavior.
    • I-thou relationship is for God only; Jacob is wants an I-it (transactional) relationship, because he has so little experience with the divine presence; he doesn’t know God too well. In verse 22, he states that God is in the stone.
    • Nehama Leibowitz [Studies in Bereshit] – Jacob’s own failings are represented here, recalling his experiences with Lavan and his own deceit with Isaac.
    • In verse 15, the word וַיַּחֲלֹם, and he dreamed, is close to root of other Hebrew words: bread, angel, collective memory, … - all of which are ways to make physical things happen …[?]
    • Jacob is getting ready to evolve into a tzadik. He asks for only the bare necessities; his humility shows. Later on he will get it all.
    • Robert Alter [The Five Books of Moses] – Jacob’s nature is to be suspicious; he drove a hard bargain with Esau and Laban; he’s shrewd.
  • Big picture issue: what do we ask of God? What proof do we need that God exists?
    • Micah – what God asks of you
    • God should hear us.
    • Ask us what He wants.
    • Hashkiveynu prayer - keep us safe and tell us the right thing to do
    • Wisdom to understand
    • Petitions during daily Amidah
    • Other parts of liturgy in which requests are made …

NOTE: all of the references mentioned – Bereshit Rabbah, Rashi, Zornberg, Leibowitz, Alter – are in the Beth Am Library

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Jacob's Dream the ladder & more

Torah Study 4/28

28:12 –וַיַּחֲלֹם, and he dreamed; role of dreams in bible:

Dreams in the bible usually mean prophecy, tell the future.

Previously, Avimelech had a dream about Sarah [Genesis 20:3].

Joseph was the quintessential dream interpreter. But we shouldn’t

take such interpretations seriously. See Deuteronomy 13:2-4 on false

gods and false prophets:

2. If there will arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of a dream,

and he gives you a sign or a wonder,

3. and the sign or the wonder of which he spoke to you happens, [and

he] says, "Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and

let us worship them,"

4. you shall not heed the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of a

dream; for the Lord, your God, is testing you, to know whether you

really love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your


Talmud Brachot 55a on signs in dreams seems quite Freudian [also

Jungian?]. Good dreams = prophecy; bad dream are to be ignored.

Other examples: dreams follow the mouth, i.e., favorable

interpretations can be bought for a price; no payment – bad


[Brachot 55a] There were twenty-four interpreters of dreams in

Jerusalem. Once I dreamt a dream and I went round to all of them and

they all gave different interpretations, and all were fulfilled, thus

confirming that which is said: All dreams follow the mouth.[i.e., are

subject to interpretation] Is the statement that all dreams follow

the mouth Scriptural? Yes, as stated by R. Eleazar. For R. Eleazar

said: Whence do we know that all dreams follow the mouth? Because it

says, and it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was [Genesis

41:13]. Raba said: This is only if the interpretation corresponds to

the content of the dream: for it says, to each man according to his

dream he did interpret.[ Genesis 41:12] When the chief baker saw that

the interpretation was good [Genesis 40:16] How did he know this? R.

Eleazar says: This tells us that each of them was shown his own dream

and the interpretation of the other one's dream. [All of the Genesis

citations are when Joseph was interpreting dreams]

Dreams are 1/60th of prophecy, but some are nonsense.

Modern psychological interpretation of dreams – Jung story on how

dreams can come true… [Check the podcast for details].

Some congregants told of weird dreams about future, prophetic events

(such as births and deaths).

Others called it “mishegas,” voodoo, or magic.

Jacob’s dream 28:12-15 – a defining moment in his life

It’s at night – talking to God at night is the basis of Ma’ariv prayer

סֻלָּם, ramp or ladder, word appears nowhere else in bible – seems

to connect earth to heaven.

Angels going up and down on “it”, not down and up.

Rashi - Ascending first and afterwards descending. The angels who

escorted him in the [Holy] Land do not go outside the Land, and they

ascended to heaven, and the angels of outside the Holy Land descended

to escort him [From Genesis Rabbah 68:12].

Also could be up and down on “him, meaning angels are taunting Jacob

Prophecy about history – angels are princes of the nations.

Jacob did not ascend; was this prophecy or his choice?

28:13 Abraham, your father, is incorrect; but Jacob is the spiritual

heir of Abraham. Again, Isaac gets the short shrift (the poor schlub;

no, wait, that was Esau)

28:15, God speaking to Jacob -- similar to God-Abraham and God-Isaac

conversations. But to Jacob conversation is added language on God

protecting him and being with him.

28:14 - God’s promise to Abraham was based on his people being

numerous as the stars in the sky; Jacob –descendants will be like dust

of the earth. He hears this as he is lying down horizontally, in

contrast to the vertical ladder.

Jacob has left his family – he needs God’s special message now. Did

Jacob hear this before?

28:16 – Jacob’s response suggests that he doesn’t understand the

covenant. Is this a metaphor for our own understanding (or lack

thereof) of God?

notes from Howard Selznick (thanks)