Shabbat Vayetzei 5773

Did he really think his crimes would go unpunished?

The stories of Sefer Bereshit, the Book of Genesis, are so brilliantly interconnected. That’s evident in this week’s Torah portion, Vayetzei, as Ya’akov the deceiver is himself the victim of a sibling swap. Then he cons the ultimate con-man, his uncle Lavan. No doubt CNN would refer to events as a “cycle of treachery.”

The Biblical worldview is based on the principle of middah k’neged middah–measure-for-measure justice. We’d call it “what goes around, comes around.” In weaving the narrative this way, the Torah is sure to condemn Ya’akov for his brother’s blessing, at least implicitly. But that wasn’t the only sneaky thing Ya’akov did to his brother; there was also the matter of conning Esav into selling the birthright for the simple cost of a hot meal. Does the Torah have anything to say about that episode, or was the fault entirely Esav’s?

Yair Zakovitch, a revered Professor Emeritus of Bible at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, thinks the Torah is sending a message to Ya’akov via his favored wife, Rahel, in the course of her fertility competition with sister Leah. Zakovitch reads the episode of the Dudaim, the mandrakes, as another example of quiet judgment in the Torah. Read Genesis 30:14-17 and see what parallels you can find. We’ll look at the stories of the birthright and the mandrakes on Shabbat morning, and we’ll explore the idea of middah k’neged middah and what it might mean for 21st-century Jews.

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi David Wise