Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

She Stole the Idols? Jacob flees...

31:19-20, same verb “ganav” for “steal.” It’s also an idiom, stealing someone’s mind and soul – dishonesty and deception. This term was a springboard for discussion of business ethics [an oxymoron?]

- Meir Tamari, Bar Ilan University, on Jewish business ethics and fraudulent practices

*False advertising claims; inflated prices and deep discounts; lack of proper disclosure of defects

*Insider trading

*Accounting fraud

Summary of Tamari’s book Al Chet: Sins in the Marketplace, Jason Aronson, 1996 (from

- Reform Responsum – transferring assets to children to fake poverty and qualify for (say) financial aid to be admitted to a nursing home (NRR 92-96?).

- Plagiarism – attributing sources properly. Mishnah and Talmud always give references to the source teacher. If not, your project image is of being smart when in fact you’re not.

- Inviting someone over for a meal when you know that they won’t attend (Talmud Chullin 94a, which has other example of deceit)

- In general, the sin is manipulating someone else’s mind, disrupting the godliness of someone’s soul.

- Another verse from which this concept is derived: II Samuel, Absalom stole heart of people.

- Alter on ganav, a word that will reappear throughout this story (page 169): “the verb ganav, which suggests appropriating someone else’s property by deception or stealth, will echo throughout the denouement of the story.”

- Hirsch on Jacob’s need to be deceptive when leaving Lavan (page 641): “ לֵב גְנֵיבַת [literally, sealing the heart] is to win the good opinion of another without deserving it; to obtain the good will of another by false friendliness, by doing favors without good intentions. Our Sages call this form of deceit ‘ דַעַת גְנֵיבַת’ (see Chullin 94a, which details examples of fraudulent behavior) and they prohibit even the slightest semblance of it.

· 31:20 - “Lavan the Aramean,”

- Alter (page 169) and Sarna (page 216) comment that this reference to ethnicity foreshadows conflict between two nations; Jacob and Lavan are now alienated from another.

- Richard Elliot Friedman (Commentary on the Torah, pages 105-106) comments on the multiple puns and sound patterns of this verse.

*Repeating consonants in “Lavan”: ל, ב, נ.

* Arami, is close to word for trickster [swindler, deceiver, cheater] (רַמַּאי).

21. So he and all that were his fled, and he arose and crossed the river, and he directed his face toward Mount Gilead.

· 31:21 - “crossed the river”

- Probably the Euphrates [Me’am Lo’ez].

- basis for ee-vree, Hebrew, related to עבר, crossing over (pass over, traveled, emigrated)

22. On the third day, Laban was informed that Jacob had fled.

23. So he took his kinsmen with him, and he pursued him seven days' journey, and he overtook him at Mount Gilead.

· 31:22-23, “three days” and “seven days”

- Sarna (page 217) on the problem of Lavan’s progress - it was too fast for travel in ancient times: over 600 km from Haran to Gilead (which was east of the Jordan River between the Yarmuk River and the Dead Sea) in ten days suggests over 60 km/day. With flocks and kinsmen, the best pace would be 10 km/day. In other words, the numbers in these verses are probably symbolic, signifying a long journey over a long time period.

ü Probably like a tall tale to mean that Lavan is hotly pursuing Jacob. Perhaps a literary device, i.e., words not to be taken literally as, e.g., “three 24-hr periods.”

- Perhaps the time refers to distance traveled.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Consulting his Wives - Jacob Breaks from Laban

·      Jacob is breaking a way, separating himself from Mesopotamia, like Abraham, Ruth, and the matriarchs, all of whom left their ancestors’ homes for a new land and life.  Even today, we are all children of those who left from somewhere.
Poem by Marge Piercy, “Maggid,” The Telling, about immigrant grandparents and the theme of wandering.  An excerpt is in Beth Am’s Maariv/Kabbalat Shabbah Prayerbook.
The courage to let go of the door, the handle.
The courage to shed the familiar walls whose very
stains and leaks are comfortable as the little moles
of the upper arm; stains that recall a feast,
a child's naughtiness, a loud blistering storm
that slapped the roof hard, pouring through.
The courage to abandon the graves dug into the hill,
the small bones of children and the brittle bones
of the old whose marrow hunger had stolen;
the courage to desert the tree planted and only
begun to bear; the riverside where promises were 
shaped; the street where their empty pots were broken.
The courage to leave the place whose language you learned
as early as your own, whose customs however
dangerous or demeaning, bind you like a halter
you have learned to pull inside, to move your load;
the land fertile with the blood spilled on it;
the roads mapped and annotated for survival.
The courage to walk out of the pain that is known
into the pain that cannot be imagined,
mapless, walking into the wilderness, going
barefoot with a canteen into the desert;
stuffed in the stinking hold of a rotting ship
sailing off the map into dragons' mouths.
Cathay, India, Serbia, goldeneh medina,
leaving bodies by the way like abandoned treasure.
So they walked out of Egypt. So they bribed their way
out of Russia under loaves of straw; so they steamed
out of the bloody smoking charnelhouse of Europe
on overloaded freighters forbidden all ports--
out of pain into death or freedom or a different
painful dignity, into squalor and politics.
We Jews are all born of wanderers, with shoes
under our pillows and a memory of blood that is ours
raining down. We honor only those Jews who changed
tonight, those who chose the desert over bondage,
who walked into the strange and became strangers
and gave birth to children who could look down
on them standing on their shoulders for having
been slaves. We honor those who let go of everything
but freedom, who ran, who revolted, who fought,
who became other by saving themselves.

In those days, it was difficult to move away from one’s family and home; nowadays, it’s too easy.
14. And Rachel and Leah replied and said to him, "Do we still have a share or an inheritance in our father's house?
·      31:14 – Jacob wants wives’ consent and in this verse, they respond.  Although the two wives are speaking, the Hebrew verb is singular.  What gives?
Sages’ explanation: Rachel answered and Leah concurred.
Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi): Rachel answered first because she loves him and is willing to uproot herself.
They answered with one voice – they agreed.
Women’s Commentary (page 171): shift in sisters’ attitudes toward one another; they now cooperate.
Alter on “share” and “inheritance”: two words mean the same thing – a hendiadys [Online dictionary: a literary device expressing an idea by means of two words linked by "and," instead of a grammatically more complex form such as an adverb qualifying an adjective. Everyday examples of hendiadys are the expressions "nice and soft," rather than "nicely.”]
Rashi - Why should we stop you from returning? Do we still hope to inherit anything of our father’s property among the males?  I.e., he reads the passage literally; daughters have no share because Lavan had sons [male chauvinist pig!].
“Have no share” is used other places in the Bible.
-  II Samuel 20 – revolt against King David, because no one had a “share” in King David
-  I Kings 12:16 – same phrase as above
-  It’s an idiom for “I have no allegiance, no loyalty, no part, no stake.”
15. Are we not considered by him as strangers, for he sold us and also consumed our money?
·      31:15 – Rachel and Leah were treated as strangers; their father sold them and “consumed their money.”
Rashi – Even at a time when people usually give a dowry to their daughters, viz. at the time of marriage, he behaved toward us as [one behaves toward] strangers, for he sold us to you (for you served him fourteen years for us, and he gave us to you only.”  Rashi is saying that the dowry is supposed to be given to the bride.  The value of Jacob’s work should benefit the daughters.
Alter (page 168) –Lavan was selling his daughters as slaves (like Rose – the Kate Winslet role in the film Titanic -- felt).  Recall when Lavan first met Isaac’s servant and frothed at the jewelry that was displayed In this case, Lavan kept all the proceeds from Jacob’s 14 years of labor.  Rachel and Leah “saw themselves reduced to chattel … as though they were not [Lavan’s] flesh and blood.” [That greedy bastard!]
16. But all the wealth that God separated from our father is ours and our children's. So now, all that God said to you, do."
·      31:16 – Rachel and Leah claim that God has given wealth to Jacob from Lavan. That wealth is ours by right.  Lavan gave nothing to us. So, as a practical matter, sisters say, let’s go!
17. So Jacob rose, and he lifted up his sons and his wives upon the camels.
·      31:17 – mentioning camels is foreshadowing a future event.
Naomi Rosenblatt commentary (Wresting With Angels, pages 281-283) on guilt, an emotion that psychotherapists try to excise from their clients:  Is Jacob neurotic?  A product of bad parenting?  He flees in the face of conflict; he can’t cope and felt the burden of responsibility.  Yet he believed that he deserved his punishment, 14 years in Lavan’s servitude.
Rosenblatt is both a psychotherapist and Bible teacher.  The psychotherapist in her tries to help patients cope with a guilty conscience.  In her Bible teacher guise, she claims that guilt has a moral value, one that explains why we are human and know the difference between right and wrong.  Feeling “guilty” is an understanding that a moral code has been violated; we feel remorse.
There are two extremes: total denial of guilt and swimming in guilt.  The former is tantamount to criminal behavior; the latter eats away at self-esteem to be emotionally crippling. Goal is to achieve a balance between these poles.
Jacob may be an example of an individual with a guilty conscience, a borderline neurotic.  His guilt [from tricking Esau and Isaac] has followed him to his current situation.  Yet he takes full responsibility for past actions, never blaming his problems on others.  [Is this why the sages portray his as a righteous man?].  Nevertheless, those guilty feelings have been hard on his self-esteem; he cannot stand up for himself, even to the rapacious Lavan.  Thus, he repeats his adolescent actions of running away from the problem.
18. And he led all his livestock and all his possessions that he had acquired, the purchase of his acquisition, which he had acquired in Padan aram, to come to Isaac his father, to the land of Canaan.
·      31:18
Jacob packs all of his possessions, which the text emphasizes that he acquired legitimately.  Remember, Lavan will pursue him and accuse Jacob of stealing.
Fleeing the land with great wealth – foretells the exodus.
Abravanel (Spanish 15th century) – Jacob went in plain sight so no one will suspect theft.  He ought to know; he witnessed the Spanish expulsion of Jews in 1492.
Metziv [?] - Jacob wanted to go back to his father’s house and to the holy land.
19. Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and [meanwhile] Rachel stole her father's teraphim.
·      31:19
Lavan goes to shear his sheep, a huge festival in ancient times.  With everyone busy, it’s a good time for Jacob to slip away [and get a three day head start, as Rashi explains in 31:22]
Rachel stole the teraphim (JPS translation - household idols, figurines representing ancestors) – an ambiguous word use many time in bible but never explained.  Many possible Hebrew roots …
-  Teraphim are small enough to be hidden beneath a camel cushion.
-  I Samuel on David’s first wife, Michal, Saul’s daughter – Michal risks her life to save David from Saul.  She took household idols and hid them beneath a cloth and net of goat’s hair.  In this case, the teraphim were more people-sized.
-  Other places where teraphim are used to forecast the future:
Ezekiel 21
Zechariah 10
King Josiah burned them.
Why steal these items?  In addition to forecasting, they have the following uses.
-  Divination -- to prevent Lavan from finding out where Jacob went
-  Fertility – Rachel wants another child.
-  Leon Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, pages 435-436 (on 31:20) – Rachel is hedging and still has loyalty to her household idols; she’s not a confirmed monotheist yet [but has she been Bat Mitzvah?  Ba-dum-bump!]. 
-  Rashi citing Midrash - She intended to separate her father from idolatry. — [from Genesis Rabbah 74: 5]
But others such as Ibn Ezra ask, why not just bury them? 
Insights into Genesis Rabbah 74:6 (Wasserman Edition, Mesorah Publications, Ltd, 2011) asks, why would Rachel think that taking the teraphim would make Lavan turn from his idolatry?  She sought to interrupt his worship of those idols and make Lavan pause and reflect on the practice.  One who periodically engages in introspection and contemplation of his life (is there room for improvement?) is likely to be more successful than one who is always busy with lots of activities.  The opposite is also true; in Exodus 5:9, for example, Pharaoh increases the work burden on the Hebrew slaves after Moses demanded that they be released.  Pharaoh sought to keep them so busy that there would be no time to recognize their dilemma. Rachel hoped that Lavan would stop and realize the error of his ways. It didn’t work, as will be seen in Lavan’s knee-jerk reaction in 31:30,why did you steal my gods?
-  Class comments: sentimental attachment?  Revenge?
-  Women’s Commentary (page 172): Rachel is also a trickster, a good match for Jacob.  One motive for Rachel’s theft might be to possess the household gods as a symbol or token of leadership or inheritance.  This is an example of how marginalized people outmaneuver the power elite to survive or guarantee justice.
Kass (page 435) comments that both Rachel and Jacob are thieves.  Rachel steals the teraphim and Jacob steals Lavan’s “heart,” i.e., his daughters and grandchildren.
-  Book: And Rachel Stole the Idols: The Emergence of Modern Hebrew Women's Writing, by Wendy I. Zierler. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004. 368 pp. $49.95.  This book serves as an introduction to Hebrew women writers as well as an interim report on the state of the field. The works of most, if not all, of the writers the volume explores have recently become part of the revised canon, and the writers themselves subjects of study. Zierler builds on these earlier studies—generously giving credit to her predecessors—and adds to this growing body of literature.  (from; also on )
-  Anne Roiphe, Water from the Well, page 234: “Before they left, Rachel went into the tent of her father … She way his teraphim, his household gods, stone, dead eyed, on a stool.  She picked them up and stuffed them under her shawl, holding the garment tight about her body with one hand, and with the other she grasped them as if there were jewels, Jewels that belonged to her.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Jacob Splits...

Howard's summary notes:
Torah study Genesis 31:1-13
·      Jacob is trying to extricate himself from Lavan’s influence.
·      31:1- Jacob has become wealthy from his husbandry practices.  “Jacob spread out” is reminiscent of what happened in Egypt, where Israelites became too wealthy and prosperous for the Pharaoh.
-      Lavan’s sons express envy -- same as with Isaac and Philistine king and the expulsion from many European countries in the Middle Ages.
-      Image as a thief dogs Jacob.
-      Lavan’s sons
*  Alter comment: nonessential details up to now; revealed only when plot requires it, in this case, introducing an atmosphere of envy and jealously
*  Sforno – Jacob overheard the sons’ taunts
*  Hirsch – sons take initiative in reacting to Jacob but learned from their father.  Precedent: son usurping father in this way.  Hirsch in 19th century Germany was also reacting to introduction of secular education, sons ignoring their father’s traditions.
*  Me’Am Lo’Ez – Jacob takes over devious way of Lavan.  Jacob appropriated Lavan’s chicanery.
*  Jacob accumulated “kavod;” root means heavy; “Kaved” also means honor, glory, splendor, wealth.  See Esther 5:11 for another use of this word for physical wealth.
*  Munk – Pirke Avot 4:21 [in some non-orthodox compilations], a thirst for glory and honor removes you form the world.  ו (“Vav”) is missing from the word כָּבֹד, suggesting material wealth only, a defective form of the word.  With a ו, the word refers to honor.
·      31:2
-      Lavan’s face changed from three days before (single Hebrew word, שִׁלְשׁוֹם for the day before yesterday)
-      Alter comments on JPS translation – he disagrees and sees hostility and suspicion; something about him that seems different, cold.
-      Growth Thru Torah, Zeleg Pliskin –controlling facial expressions is a valuable skill to master.  Be sensitive to others’ facial expressions but be cautious not to misinterpret them.
·      31:3
-      וּלְמוֹלַדְתֶּךָ to land of birthplace; similar to Gen 12, לך לך.  God and forefathers will be waiting.  Now the land is truly “the land of his fathers” (he has two fathers there).
-      “I will be with you” – suggests God has been with Jacob all the time, though not specifically mentioned in the text.  Ps 121, guarding you always, even if Jacob is unaware of it. 
-      Rambam in Guide on Divine Providence:
*  Extremes: God controls everything ß- God controls nothing and everything is random.
*  None for animals and plants and some people; only in some humans -- those with an intellect; who develop their minds; and don’t rely solely on physical instincts; lift mind up to god through intellectual efforts.
-      Rashi: Return to the land of your forefathers: And there I will be with you, but as long as you are still attached to the unclean one, it is impossible to cause My presence to rest upon you. — [from Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer , ch. 36]
·      31:4
-      Rachel is mentioned before Leah, the elder daughter.  This concerns Rashi: כָּבֹד First Rachel and then Leah, because she (Rachel) was the mainstay of the household, because, on her account, Jacob had joined Laban. Even Leah’s children acknowledged this matter, for Boaz and his tribunal of the tribe of Judah say, “like Rachel and like Leah, both of whom built, etc.” (Ruth 4:11). They place Rachel before Leah. — [from Tanchuma Buber, Vayetze 15].  Implications for Reform: first Gates of Prayer had Leah first; most recently, Rachel
-      Where are Bilhah and Zilpah?  They’re in the field, already there.
·      31:5-9
-      Rashbam – Jacob emphasizes the divine role in his success.  He doesn’t mention the rods in last chapter.  This is a diplomatic way to say this; he’s sensitive to his wives’ feelings.
·      31:10-13 on the dream
-      In this chapter, God is אלוהים; in previous chapter it’s יהוה .   This suggests different authors, J and E; in the E version, the rods are not mentioned, i.e., all that happened was in a divine vision or revelation.
-      Alter – It’s a unified story now.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Jacob Laban and Spotted Animals

Torah study 7-28    Genesis 30:30-43

Negotiations ...Jacob and Laban... Spotted animals...
Growth of the flocks   Separations of the animals 

Rashi ...when Rachel gives birth to Joseph.  God took away her shame.
Creative interpretation... When woman has no son...she has no one to hang her faults..

V30 dialog between Jacob and Laban.  Jacob reminds Laban that he has flourished since Jacob has been there... Many new flocks.  
Hebrew ... God has blessed you wherever I have turned... Word is' foot.'. Jacob says because he came there that Laban has done well.  Phrase used in many places in the Torah.

New Source. Cuvée .... 
When will I do for my own household?  He says he must make money for his own family.

Jacob says you "don't have to give me anything.". 
Wage for the future work is based on these "flawed" animals.
He could rely on his own skills to make his way and build his own wealth.
Jacob will be self employed.

The scheme...
V32.  Pass through the flock today... Haser - remove abnormal animals.  Or is he asking Laban to remove them. ... Or did Jacob remove them?  Most say Laban.
Spotted.... Some odd uses of this word in other places ie. Ezekiel ...
Word that means both sheep and goat.
This will be my wages....animals taken out but the ones that are born will be his wage in the future.

V33. Reminder of Jacobs integrity...offers that his flock will be all spotted or flawed.
V35 strategy...Laban Takes out the spotted speckled and all that had white in it...Jacob is beatin Laban at his own game,,,

Distance of 3 days journey away from the other flock. -significance of 3 days throughout Torah
Takes flock away so they will not intermingle.
V37. Trees... Lifnei. Play on Laban.  Almond, poplar, plain
Takes branches. Peels off bark showing white streaks.
Sets up troughs of water.peeled rods where animals come to drink..something happened to them when they come to drink... They go into heat
   They mated.
Rashi...females saw the rods..startled. When moves backward males couple with them and the result is the offspring color of the rods...spotted.

Animals result spotted, speckled  and also banded with stripes.
Eli Munk... Lesson...the imagination relates to the results...
Therefore when people have sex the thoughts should stay pure and not of others...
Thought at conception effect the child.

Jacob separates them out...
Sheep face the other speckled animals.
V 41 ... Mikusharot...other animals no rods ...  Manipulating the breeding of the animals.
Autfim... The weak

Jacob now becomes prosperous.

Overall... Sensory impressions at conception effect the outcome...
Using selective breeding.
Recessive genes ...animals are more vigorous..heterosis. 
Diversity making hybrids. Stronger but ther will be a % of the spotted animals

Rods may be a ruse...
What is the trickery here? 
Many attempts to show no trickery...
Is this how Jews survives?  Is this how humans survive?  Through our wits and intelligence.

How much of this is Jacob and how much is God? A bit ambiguous. 
Poem...Pied Beauty. by Gerard Hopkins
Glory be to God for dappled things— 
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; 
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough; 
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. 
All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) 
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.