This week’s Torah portion is called VaYetzei, which means “and he went out.” It covers Genesis, Chapter 28:10 – 32:3.
As our parasha passage opens this week, we find Jacob departing from his home in Beersheba and heading to Haran, his ancestral homeland. He ends up spending the night in an open area where he sees a vision of a great ladder descending from heaven with angels going up and down the ladder. And, above the ladder was The Lord, who spoke to Jacob and again reiterated the promises He had made to both Abraham and to Isaac: That the land where Jacob was that evening was to be given to Jacob and his descendants. In addition, Jacob’s descendants were to be as the dust of the earth, and through Jacob’s descendants, the whole world would be blessed.
We can see the prophetic nature of this blessing from God, because through Jacob’s descendants, the Messiah was born, and through the Messiah, all the nations of the world have been blessed. From here on, Jacob begins to develop his relationship with God that will many years later turn him into a strong and mature believer. But at this point, as he departs from the spot where he has this vision, he tries to make a deal with God, saying, in verse 20: “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God.
In Chapter 29, Jacob arrives at Haran, the land of his ancestors, and meets Rachel, the daughter of Laban. Laban is the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s mother. Laban brings Jacob to stay in his house. At the end of one month, Jacob is very much in love with Rachel, so he tells Laban that he will work 7 years without pay if he is allowed to marry Rachel.
But at the end of 7 years, when Jacob is supposed to be allowed to marry Rachel, Laban substitutes Leah, Rachel’s sister, at the end of the wedding feast and Jacob ends up sleeping with her.
Discovering this situation, Jacob confronts Laban, who tells him that for another 7 years of work, he can also marry Rachel. But he does not have to wait for 7 years; he can get married to Rachel in just one week. So, in the span of 2 weeks, Jacob finds himself married to two women, although it is truly Rachel that he loves.
Because the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He allows her to have children, while Rachel remains barren. You can get a sense of what is going on in the relationship of Jacob and Leah by the way Leah names her sons. Reuben means, “See, a son,” because Leah says in verse 32 that surely Jacob will love her now that she has born him a son. Simeon, the second born’s name means, “heard,” and Leah says in verse 33 that the Lord has heard she was unloved so he gave her another son. Levi is the third son born to Leah and his name means, “attached, or joined.” In verse 34 Leah says that Jacob must now become attached to her since she has born him 3 sons. You can get a sense of how Leah felt about the way Jacob was treating her.
The breakdown in the family relationship continues in Chapter 30 with Leah and Rachel competing against each other for Jacob’s affection and to bear his children. The competition gets so heated that both women have their maids, Zilpah and Bilha, sleep with Joseph just so they can have more sons. Probably the lowest point in this whole situation is Chapter 30, verses 14 and 15, when Reuben finds some mandrakes, which were known in the ancient world to help with fertility, and Rachel begs Leah to let her have some. They strike a deal where Leah allows Rachel to have some of the mandrakes, while Rachel lets Leah sleep with Jacob.
After the birth of Joseph, Jacob asks Laban to let him leave, but Laban is reluctant since he sees that God has blessed and prospered Jacob and Laban is one of the main beneficiaries of that prosperity. Jacob knows that the Lord has been blessing him and he also knows that he needs to provide for his family, so he makes a deal with Laban that Jacob will take any of the spotted or speckled goats and sheep, and Laban will keep the solid colored animals. While this deal seems to benefit Laban, eventually, Jacob’s spotted and speckled goats and sheep vastly outnumber Laban’s flock.
The Word of the Lord comes to Jacob in Chapter 31, and at that point he is ready to leave, because of his gaining extensive wealth and animals, he has become much wealthier than Laban and there is anger in Laban’s household about this. Plus, Laban will not let him leave voluntarily. So, while Laban is a three-day journey away shearing sheep, Jacob takes Leah and Rachel , his children and his flocks and departs.
Laban finds out about this and pursues them, catching up in about 1 week. God warns Laban in a dream not to harm Jacob. After some back and forth regarding the reasons why Jacob left, Laban and Jacob make a treaty and set up a pillar of rocks that effectively stated that neither one would go past that point: Jacob would not go back toward Haran and Laban would not go toward Canaan. Our parasha closes with Jacob sending messengers to Esau.
What are some things we can learn from this parasha?
Unfortunately, the deception that Jacob used to receive the blessing will haunt him for much of his life. When Jacob and his mother deceived Issac, he was not as close to God as he would become. The Bible tells us that we reap what we sow. Goatskin coverings helped make Isaac think Jacob was Esau. The darkness of night allows Laban to get Jacob to think that Leah is Rachel. And later, the blood of a sheep is used on a multi-colored cloak to make Jacob think that Joseph is dead. We really need to think about the negative consequence that deception can play in our life and the lives of others.
Secondly, this parasha speaks to us about family relationships. We men need to learn that being closely involved in the development of our relationships as servant leaders is crucial. In Genesis, Chapter 2, God creates man and then woman. The man is created first and is to be at the head of the woman. Just as man was created first and then woman, men must take the initiative to love and take care of their wives. This does not mean we do this in a heavy-handed way. In Ephesians 5:25, Paul mentions the husband first, before he mentions the wife, and says: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her… And in verse 28: So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself.
Messiah reminded us that loving our neighbor like we love ourselves was the second most important commandment. But love first starts in our homes. How we can truly love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t start that love at home, with our spouses, with our children and other family members? Let’s truly build that love at home in order to spread it beyond our families.