This week’s portion covers 20 years in the life of Jacob, from his flight to Haran to the start of his journey home. It begins on a serious, spiritual note with his dream of angels going up and down a ladder (better, ziggurat. A ladder would be rather crowded), including a message from the Lord, like the one given years before to Abraham,concerning Jacob’s descendents and the land they will inhabit. Jacob renames the place “Beth El” (house of God) and vows (28:20-22) that, if the Lord indeed protects him as promised, through a safe return to Isaac’s home, “the Lord shall be my God…and…I will set aside a tithe for You.” Is this bargaining? Is it a manifestation of Jacob’s wariness? Or is he simply not sure it was a genuine vision and needs confirmation?
Jacob continues on his journey and meets his lovely young cousin Rachel at a well and, after performing the feat of rolling a huge stone off the mouth of the well, kisses her, weeps, and introduces himself. One might ask, what does this tell us about Rachel, since, while he knows who she is (29:5-7), she apparently lets a perfect stranger kiss her. Laban comes out to meet his nephew, no doubt expecting him to be as laden with rich gifts as Eliezer had been when Rebecca was chosen for Isaac. But Jacob is penniless (had he left home without provisions? or maybe he was robbed on the way?) and instead offers to trade 7 years of labor for marriage to Rachel. What follows can be seen as “what goes around, comes around” since now it will be Jacob who is caught up in a game of switched siblings and unfair treatment. Does anyone believe Jacob could share a bed with Rachel’s older sister Leah, even heavily veiled, and not suspect anything? Midrashic lore has it that Rachel gave a prearranged signal to Leah to allay Jacob’s suspicions (cf. mimicking Esau’s hairy arms – genetics will out in this lying, cheating, double- and triple-dealing family). Laban remarks that in his country, the younger is not given before the elder, maybe a snide reference to Jacob’s snatched precedence over Esau. But, a week later, Jacob indeed marries his beloved, after agreeing to work another 7 years, a total of 14.
The 14 years stretch into 20. We are not told why Jacob didn’t simply go home with his accumulated wives, children and goods after 14 years. Perhaps Esau was still threatening to kill him. Perhaps Rebecca had already died, weakening his ties to home. Perhaps he felt it imprudent to put a pregnant woman through a difficult journey, and during these years, almost always someone was probably pregnant. Leah has 4 sons, each time hoping in vain Jacob will now love her. Rachel is loved but barren, her infertility a source of pain for her and, probably for Jacob, despite his irritation when she begs him for children. Like Sarah, she gives Jacob a maid, Bilhah, as a concubine and surrogate, though, unlike Sarah, she doesn’t seem to mind it when Bilhah has two sons. Leah, seeming to have stopped at 4, gives Jacob her maid Zilpah as another concubine/surrogate in Leah’s name, and Zilpah gives birth to two sons. Leah has two more boys and a girl, Dina. Finally, Rachel gives birth to Joseph. These breeding contests could be seen as farcical it weren’t for our awareness of the emotional pain throughout.
Jacob, like his father and grandfather, is a success at work. He engineers a deal that Laban believes will leave Jacob only the lesser flocks, but Jacob (finally) outwits his wily uncle/father-in-law by using some interesting breeding techniques (30:32-43). and manages to strike a deal with Laban that made him rich in livestock, breeding them in such as way that the deal, which Laban thought would leave Jacob the less desirable animals but instead makes Jacob rich. Naturally, Laban and his sons are not happy. So Jacob takes his 2 wives, 2 concubines, 11 sons, 1 daughter, livestock, and wealth and slips away (if you can slip away with such a large entourage) to head back to Isaac. Rachel steals two of her father’s little household idols. Why? Was she trying to “save” Laban? did she want them herself (early “monotheists” often continued to include the old ways for comfort)? Jacob allows Laban to search the caravan for the idols, and declares that such a thief will not remain alive. When Laban fails to find them, Jacob explodes, venting 20 years’ worth of employee frustration. But we know where the idols are, and it is hard not to see a connection between this incident and Rachel’s fate, which we’ll read about next week.
One Groom, Four Wives
Sunday, January 30th, 2011
This really happened in South Africa a couple years ago …. Milton Mbele, a traditional polygamist (South African traditionalists have been well-known to practice polygamy) exchanged vows with four brides simultaneously. His brides were Smangele Cele, Thobile Vilakazi, Zanele Langa and Happiness Mdlolo (all aged between 22 and 35 years old).
Mbele was quoted then, saying, “This is my tradition and it can’t be wrong … I have been waiting for this moment for a long time. I have had sleepless nights preparing for this. It wasn’t so difficult convincing all the wives to agree to it… each knew of the others in my life.” But he is also aware that having four wives under one roof might be a headache [Duh!], so he’s had planned to put them up in their own homes in order to avoid conflict. [I’d keep an eye on the two brides on the ends. They don’t look especially happy…IGP]
A three-year-old walked up to a pregnant lady while waiting with his mother in the doctor’s office.
He inquisitively asked the lady, “Why is your stomach so big?” She replied, “I’m having a baby.”
With big eyes, he asked, “Is the baby in your stomach?”
She answered, “He sure is.”
Then the little boy, with a puzzled look, asked, “Is it a good baby?”
She said, “Oh, yes. It’s a real good baby.”
With an even more surprised and shocked look, he asked, “Then why did you eat him?”
Here are some of the ways having a second and third child differs from having your first:
-1st baby: You pre-wash your newborn’s clothes, color-coordinate them, and fold them neatly in the baby’s little bureau.
-2nd baby: You check to make sure that the clothes are clean and discard only the ones with the darkest stains.
-3rd baby: Boys can wear pink, can’t they?
-1st baby: At the first sign of distress–a whimper, a frown–you pick up the baby.
-2nd baby: You pick the baby up when her wails threaten to wake your firstborn.
-3rd baby: You teach your 3-year-old how to rewind the mechanical swing.
-1st baby: You take your infant to Baby Gymnastics, Baby Swing, and Baby Story Hour.
-2nd baby: You take your infant to Baby Gymnastics.
-3rd baby: You take your infant to the supermarket and the dry cleaner.
-1st baby: The first time you leave your baby with a sitter, you call home 5 times.
-2nd baby: Just before you walk out the door, you remember to leave a number where you can be reached.
-3rd baby: You leave instructions for the sitter to call only if she sees blood.
-1st baby: You spend a good bit of every day just gazing at the baby.
-2nd baby: You spend a bit of every day watching to be sure your older child isn’t squeezing, poking, or hitting the baby.
-3rd baby: You spend a little bit of every day hiding from the children.
[By the way, I am a fourth child. Draw your own conclusions. IGP]
Do molecular biologists wear designer genes?
Results of the Washington Post Style Invitational, in which readers were asked to come up with intriguing questions to be considered by President Clinton’s special commission to study the moral and practical effects of cloning:
If you cloned Henry IV, would he be Henry V or Henry IV Jr. or wait, Henry IV part II?
Would there be a market for genetic “factory seconds” and “irregulars”?
Are the Pope and his clone both infallible?
What if they disagree about something?
Would there be a market for genetic “factory seconds” and “irregulars”?
Would it be ethical to dig up the remains of our founding fathers, create clones from the bone cells, and place them in a theme park called Clonial Williamsburg?
BOSS JOKES! [selected]
(no offense is intended – some of my best friends, etc.)
-Quote from a recent meeting: “We are going to continue having these meetings, everyday, until I find out why no work is getting done”
-Quote from the Boss… “I didn’t say it was your fault. I said I was going to blame it on you.”
-My Boss frequently gets lost in thought. That’s because it’s unfamiliar territory.
-My Boss said to me “What you see as a glass ceiling, I see as a protective barrier.”
-My Boss needs a surge protector. That way her mouth would be buffered from surprise spikes in her brain.
-I thought my Boss was a bastard, and quit, to work for myself. My new Boss is a bastard, too … but at least I respect him.
-He’s given automobile accident victims new hope for recovery. He walks, talks and performs rudimentary tasks, all without the benefit of a SPINE.
-Quote from the Boss after overriding the decision of a task force he created to find a solution: ” I’m sorry if I ever gave you the impression your input would have any effect on my decision for the outcome of this project!”