On his way to his uncle’s house, in the middle of the wilderness between Paran and Beersheva, Jacob prepares to sleep, a stone for a pillow under his head. He dreams of a stairway reaching from the ground to the heavens, with angels at once ascending and descending, and of God standing by his sleeping form and repeating the promise he had made to his ancestors: “Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south; all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants”. When Jacob awakes, he recognises that God had surely been present, and he had not known it. He vows that if God protects him along his way, Hashem will be his God. Jacob reaches his destination and, in the town centre, sees Rachel and rolls the stone from off the well where she has brought her flocks to be watered. Thus begins the story of their romance. Jacob works for her father, Laban, for seven years in order to marry her, but Laban substitutes his older daughter, Leah, in disguise for Rachel in the nuptial bed. Angered by the deception, Jacob nevertheless agrees to labor another seven years for Rachel. Over the years, Leah and Rachel compete with one another for children. Leah bears many sons, and one daughter, for Jacob, hoping, with each birth, that her husband will love her. Desperate for a child, too, Rachel (like Sarah before her) arranges for Jacob to sleep with her handmaid Bilhah, who, in turn thus becomes the mother first of Dan and then of Naphtali. Leah responds by having Jacob sleep with her handmaid Zilpah, who bears Asher, and then, with Rachel’s assent, sleeps with Jacob and bears him another two sons and a daughter. Finally, Rachel herself gives birth to Joseph. Later, she will bear the family’s youngest son, Benjamin. Having amassed significant wealth, Jacob wants to return home, despite Laban’s protests. As Jacob and his family are leaving, however, Rachel steals her father’s household gods. Discovering that his daughters and their family are missing and that his idols have been stolen as well, Laban pursues them, and accuses them of the theft of his gods. Having no idea at all that it is his beloved Rachel who has stolen the household gods, Jacob tells Laban that the one who has the idols, shall not live, thus tragically foreshadowing his wife’s early death. Rachel, pretending to be menstruating, hides the idols underneath her and blames her inability to rise and greet her father on her “condition”. The Parashah ends with Jacob and Laban agreeing to separate permanently, and Jacob continues on the road home. Based on The Bedside Torah by Rabbi Bradley Artson
Questions for discussion 1- How do you interpret Jacob’s famous dream? 2- Doesn’t it look as if Jacob was putting conditions to God in order to accept Him as God? How can we explain this? 3- Why didn’t Laban want Jacob to go back home?