Parashat Vayeitze--Genesis 28:10-32:3
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Questions for Young Children

  • There are lots of examples in this parasha of hiding someone or something. Do you know any examples?  Ask some of the people at the Shabbat table if they can tell you one of the examples. (Hint to the readers--Leah is hidden behind a veil so Lavan can deceive Ya'akov into thinking he's marrying Rahel, Lavan hides his true intentions, Rahel hides the household gods...)
  • There seems to be some magic happening in this chapter with Ya'akov's poplar sticks.  Do you know any magic tricks?  How do you think a magician fools people?  Is Ya'akov trying to fool Lavan?
  • Ya'akov has a big family in this chapter. Would you like to be one of 12 children?  Would you like being the only girl with 11 brothers?  
  • Ya'akov has a dream about a ladder that reaches from the ground to the sky.  What do you think that means? Have you had dreams with interesting objects?

Questions for Older Children

  • Ya'akov seems to know right away what his dream of the ladder means.  Can you offer any other interpretation to Ya'akov?  Can you interpret your own dreams?
  • Yaakov makes a bargain with God. After he builds an altar to God he makes a solemn promise:  "If God remains with me, if God protects me on this journey that I am making, and fives me bread to eat and clothing to wear and if I return safe to my father's house--the Lord shall be my God. And this stone, which I have set up as a [o;;ar. sja;; ne God's abode; and of all thaty You give me, I will always set aside a tithe (tenth) for You."  (28:20-22)  What do you think of this bargain?
  • How does Ya'akov make sure his sheep and goats don't get mixed up with Lavan's?  What do you think of this breeding method?
  • How long in total did Ya'akov work for Lavan?  What made him want to leave?  How did his big family feel about moving to Eretz Yisrael?  Have you ever moved?  How did you feel?

Questions for Teens and Adults

  • In the previous parasha Ya'akov was the deceiver.  In this parasha he is the deceived one.  How do you feel about the payback to Ya'akov at the hands of Lavan?
  • What moral/ethical dilemmas do you see in this parasha?
  • What's the role of magic (the mandrakes, the special poplar rods) in this parasha?

 

 

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Create a Shabbat centerpiece that connects to the parasha. This week has ample choices.

  • Include a craft project or the simple removal of a ladder from a toy fire truck place on the table.
  • Decorate with pebbles to represent the stone-pillow on which Jacob slept.
  • If your children are mathematically inclined, they can count the appearance of the word even (stone) in the parasha and place the same number of stones on the table.
  • Cut out goats and sheep stencils and ask guests to color them speckled, spotted, and dark.  Cut out feeble looking goats and sheep and leave them white. How do your guests feel about this trick of Ya'akov's?  What about Lavan's deception with the flocks?
  • Replace the two hallot for Shabbat under the hallah cover with 2 pita breads to simulate how Ya'akov felt when he found Leah instead of Rahel in the wedding tent.

 

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In Parashat Vayeitze  Ya'akov returns to Avraham’s home in Haran where he is connected to his grandfather through a dream. Angels ascend and descend a ladder.  God repeats the covenant God established with Avraham and then with Yitzhak. Ya'akov acknowledges God’s presence and promises as he journeys on that the Lord will be his God as long as God protects him and brings him home safely to Eretz Yisrael

Like Eliezer, Ya'akov stops at the well when he arrives outside Haran. There he has an emotional encounter with Rahel and is led to Lavan’s home. The remainder of the story covers twenty years and chronicles Ya'akov's travails in Lavan's household. Lavan tricks Ya'akov by promising him Rahel as his wife and switching sisters on the wedding night. Ya'akov unwittingly marries Leah. After seven years of work for Lavan, Ya'akov protests his indenture but agrees to work another seven years for Rahel. Competition between the sisters for children and Jacob’s love erupts. After twenty years, two wives, two concubines, and a tent full of children, Ya'akov takes his leave of Lavan. The farewell includes accusations, oaths, more trickery and pleading.

 

Find the Food Connection...

 הַיְדַעְתֶּם אֶת-לָבָן בֶּן-נָחוֹר

Do you know Lavan the son of Nahor?

--Genesis 29: 5

 Gezer Lavan!  Literally translated as white carrots or parsnips.  (Lavan's name means white).

 

The Side Dish 

On the first night of his journey away from Rivka, Yitzhak, and Eisav, Ya'akov dreams of a ladder (sulam) ascending to the heavens.  Angels ascend and descend.  Ya'akov recognizes this as God's place and consecrates it as Beth El when he awakens. The dream offers him encouragement on his journey to his kinsmen in Paddan-Aram.  The next mention of a dream occurs when Ya'akov is trying to gather up his extensive family and flocks to return to Eretz Yisrael.  Before we hear of Ya'akov's dream, the Torah tells us that  God spoke to Ya'akov telling him to return to Eretz Yisrael with God's complete protection. Ya'akov needs to persuade Rahel and Leah to leave their home and follow him back to Eretz Yisrael.  He offers  arguments to his wives for leaving that include God's promise to guard him but center more on the unfairness of Lavan's treatment.  Then he cites a dream from the past that assures Ya'akov he's entitled to the flocks and that God is his protector, and he must leave for Eretz Yisrael. From the responses of Rahel and Leah, we know they are convinced.

The timing of Ya'akov's first dream makes sense to me.  He's very anxious--on the one hand, he has Eisav's anger at his back and, on the other hand, he faces the unknowns of a long journey to a new place where he won't have his mother Rivka to protect him. While one might expect Ya'akov's anxiety to produce a nightmare, he, instead dreams of his connection to God.  By the time Ya'akov dreams of the streaked, speckled, and mottled he goats, he is also speaking to God and God's angels outside of the dream framework. 

Dreams have always fascinated us humans.  In the upcoming parshiyot we'll encounter Yosef's dreams and his skill as a dream interpreter.  When I feel anxious I don't have dreams about angels and ladders, but I frequently dream about my grandmothers and my dad. Their voices are always clear and comforting. The messages they offer me echo what I heard when they were alive. From Dad, "Every problem has a solution."  From Grandma Rae, "The most important thing in life is family."  Most recently Grandma Myrtle told me how proud she is of her granddaughter Lisa and the life she built with her husband.  I may have lost the ability to contact my dead relatives electonically, but I'm grateful that dreams keep them forever alive for me.

 

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A Dash of Visual 

In case you don't have a visual reference for an ancient well, here's a replica at Ne'ot Kedumim.  Note how small the

opening is and how the pitcher is constructed of animal skin.  The rock that covers the well to keep the water from

rsz lisa at the well copyevaporating has been replaced at Ne'ot Kedumim by a wooden cover.

 

A Dash of Magic

Rahel is eager to get her hands on dudaim (mandrakes).  It's a desperate attempt on her part to conceive. Contemporary readers may recall the J.K. Rowlings also cited the magic powers of mandrakes in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  There's no mistaking Rahel's desperation for the mandrakes when she pleads with her sister Leah, "Please give me some of your son's mandrakes."  When Leah lets Rahel have the full force of her fury, Rahel strikes a deal and gets the mandrakes in exchange for Ya'akov sleeping with Leah on the night of their verbal tussle.  The text seems to discount the value of the mandrakes as a magical fertility aid since Leah has three more children before Rahel finally conceives and the text is clear it wasn't through mandrakes.  "Now God Rremembered Rahel and opened her womb.  She conceived and bore a son...." (30: 22-23)

Despite the Torah discounting the magical properties of mandrakes, they pop up in medieval church doctrine of signatures, in poetry and in folkore.  Another magical power attributed to the mandrake was that a demon inhabited the roots and would kill anyone attempting to uproot it.  The mandrake is also said to shriek when it's uprooted.  Although its property as an aphrodisiac or fertility drug is not proven, the root was used by ancient Greeks as an anesthetic.  Today you'd see a Mr. Yuk sticker next to the plant--it's considered poisonous.  Ancient peoples viewed the plant and saw a human form and that combined with the powerful effect of the chemicals in the plant lent mandrakes their magical aura.

Mandragoras 454 Dodoens 1583

 

A Second Dash of Magic or A Dash of Bad Science

Ya'akov uses an interesting tact to encourage his all white flocks to bear speckled and spotted offspring.  This intriguing action follows Lavan's declaration that God has spoken to him through divination and he understands he has to pay Ya'akov his wages.  Lavan even asks Ya'akov to name his wages and Ya'akov asks for the non-white animals among the sheep and goats.  Of course, Lavan then removes all but the white animals from his flocks.  In 30:35-36 Ya'akov remedies the situation by peeling fresh tree shoots and peeling white stripes in them.  He sets the tree shoots in front of the water troughs, the animals mate, and all the white animals produce offspring that are streajed, speckled, spotted, dark.  Of course, Ya'akov is wily enough not to invite the feeble animals to mate at the trough with the tree shoots.

Astute readers will notice the story is repeated in 31:7-12 with a twist.  In this version it is God who caused the white flocks to bear the non-white offspring to be accounted to Ya'akov.

Intrigued by Ya'akov's apparent magical ability to turn his flock of white sheep into speckled and spotted sheep to counter Lavan's attempt to cheat Ya'akov of his wages. Rabbinic commentators explain the phenomenon of the tree shoots with the science of the day, a scientifc theory known as maternal impressions.  The animals saw the striped tree shoots and produced striped offspring. Rabbis, of course, weren't the only adherents of this unscientific theory.  It's woven throughout ancient and medieval literature.  

A Dash of Petty Theft

While Lavan's attempt to cheat Ya'akov of his wages amount to grand larceny, the parasha ends with a petty theft.  Rahel steals t'rafim, household idols. (31:19)  There are countless examples of these t'rafim in museums today and we know they would fit in the palm of one's hand and would be easy to conceal if you sat on them.  If you believe these t'rafim to be gods, it seems you wouldn't want to sit on them even if it's to hide them from your father's rage. Commentators vary in their interpretations.  Rashi quotes Genesis Rabbah attributing only good motives to Rahel--she wanted to keep Lavan from worshipping idols. How do you and your guests understand this section and does it detract from Rahel's position as one of the four matriarchs?

 

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Roasted Parsnips (Gezer Lavan)

Pareve and vegan.  Serves 12

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs. parsnips, peeled and quartered lengthwise
  • 8 shallots, halved
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper
  • Tapenade for serving

Directions

Preheat oven to 450º/

  1. Toss parsnips and shallots with oil in a plastic bag, place on 2 baking sheets with rimmed sides.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast about 15 min. and then turn vegetables.
  4. Continue roasting another 15-20 min. until golden brown.
  5. Serve with tapenade.

You can substitute carrots for the parsnips or roast a combination of parsnips and carrots.

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