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Working for something-Vayetze

Parshat Vayetze

Genesis 28:10-32:3

In this week’s Torah portion our Patriarch Jacob learns the lesson of hard work. He learns the lesson of what it means to earn your keep; to sacrifice for something you want. As the Parasha opens Jacob is fleeing from his brother Esau. Esau, his twin, has threatened to kill him because Jacob manipulated the blessing from their father Isaac by deceiving him and negotiated with his brother for the birthright. Esau the elder by a few moments had sold his number one son position to his younger brother for a bowl of lentil stew! Esau satisfied his immediate needs by sacrificing his long term security. Jacob didn’t work hard to earn either the inheritance or his father’s blessing. Instead he played upon his brother’s weaknesses and his father’s weakness to take advantage of others. But this mode of operation doesn’t do much for family harmony. It tore the twin brothers apart from each other. It created tensions in Isaac’s family pitting Rebekkah against her husband Isaac. Jacob learns the hard way that if you really want something you must be willing to sacrifice and work hard for it. Not merely manipulate others. Jacob’s journey away from his family actually reunites him with another part of his family: his uncle, Laban. Jacob falls in love with the younger daughter Rachel. But the deal he strikes is that he must work seven years to marry her. But on his wedding night his uncle now deceives the deceiver! Laban switches brides and Jacob wakes up the morning after married to Leah, Rachel’s older sister. Did Jacob not see? Was he blind? (This echoes a theme earlier in the story when Isaac gives the blessing to Jacob- the text says his eyes were dim and he could not see) Did J not know on their wedding night that he was with Leah? Or like his brother Esau did he choose his immediate needs rather than think about what he was working toward? The Torah tells us that Jacob passionately loved Rachel and wanted to marry her so much that he agreed to work an additional seven years for his uncle. So now Jacob is in the position of really having to work hard for his future. He couldn’t just manipulate the situation. He had to follow through on his commitments. This lesson is important because it also is a lesson for Jacob’s relationship to God. Early in this week’s portion as Jacob begins his journey he has an experience of God and makes a pact with God. The commitments that he is learning to make by working 14 years for his uncle are part of the lesson of the nature of fulfilling his commitments to God. None of these are easy lessons. Not for Jacob and not for us. But we can gain some insight into the path of holiness through Jacob’s story this week. Work hard. Don’t cheat others. Live up to your commitments. Don’t take advantage of other’s weaknesses. These basic rules for living in society are the teachings we take from this week’s portion. Jacob failed in many ways this week. But he also learns valuable lessons from his failures and the way he is tested. Let us use these lessons in our own life.