It is the day after Thanksgiving, and while I have no ready excuse – my husband made the delicious feast and my visiting daughter did a lot of clean-up (thanks, Rich and Roz!), I am nevertheless distracted and behind schedule. So, here is a lightly edited version of my 2015 comments. Current asides are in italics.
This week, in Parashat Vayetze: A ladder to heaven, a meeting at a well, a devious uncle, two wives, two concubines, 11 sons, and a daughter. A 20-year rags to riches story. Jacob grows up, and what goes around, comes around in neat symmetry.
In flight from Beer Sheva to Haran, Jacob sleeps fitfully, with a stone for a pillow, dreams of angels going up and down a ladder to heaven (more likely a staircase or ziggurat), and has his first communication with the Lord, confirming the covenant. There are a variety of interpretations of the dream. Rashi thought the angels were just changing shifts. (That’s the interpretation I like.) I came across three Hasidic interpretations. Here’s one: Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev suggests that the ladder represents how human beings can be planted in this world as corporeal beings yet be capable of reaching upward to enter into a relationship with the Lord. Further, the angels’ movement shows that the heavens are affected by our actions.
Anyhow, Jacob meets his lovely cousin Rachel at a well (where else?) and is totally smitten. He uncovers the well, waters the flock, kisses her, and then (!) introduces himself. They go on to Haran. Rachel’s father Laban, now head of the family, is disappointed at his nephew’s penniless state, remembering the riches Abraham had sent for Rebecca. Jacob offers to work 7 years for Rachel’s hand, “and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.” (29:20) (sigh)
Laban tricks Jacob by switching brides, so that Jacob wakes up with her older sister, Leah. He is allowed to marry Rachel as well as long as he works another 7 years. The women are focused on childbearing, that being the path to increased status. Even though Rachel is Jacob’s true love, he has 6 sons and a daughter with Leah, 2 sons with Rachel’s maid Bilhah, and 2 sons with Leah’s maid Zilpah. At this point, Rachel has only one son, Joseph. Jacob continues to work for Laban, eventually learning how to protect himself; for example, Laban’s scheme to limit Jacob’s prosperity is foiled by Jacob’s version of genetic engineering (30:29-43). But Jacob’s prosperity is too big an irritant for Laban and his sons, and Jacob finally takes his family away. Rachel takes Laban’s household gods, Laban can’t find them in the caravan, and Jacob – feeling unjustly accused – finally gets a chance to tell off his boss.
Alan Dershowitz, in his book, The Genesis of Justice, describes how Jacob’s life shows that “he who lives by deceit shall himself be deceived” and that the deceptions are symmetrical. Jacob, the younger son, tricks the older brother out of his birthright and is tricked into marrying Leah because the older daughter should be married first. Jacob is able to deceive Isaac because he is blind and is later deceived in the darkness of his wedding tent. (You might also consider Leah’s veils on the wedding night a disguise paralleling the goat skins.) Later, as he deceived Isaac by wearing goat skins on his arms, he will be deceived by his own sons, who bring him Joseph’s torn coat dipped in a goat’s blood. However, as Dershowitz points out, there was no settled legal system to call upon. Life was dealt with by physical force or guile. Esau used force. Jacob and Rebecca used guile, guile being “the great leveler between the physically unequal.”
But the message of the story is not simply that you reap what you sow. The story is “a lesson about the symmetry of justice even in the absence of formal law.” Further, “it is precisely because justice is not the natural condition of mankind…that we are obliged to pursue it actively.\ and not take it for granted.”
Next week: wrestling, reunions, rape, birth, and deaths.
What Goes Around Comes Around – Quotes
“Rabbi Hiyya advised his wife, “When a poor man comes to the door, be quick to give him food so that the same may be done to your children.” She exclaimed, “You are cursing our children [with the suggestion that they may become beggars].” But Rabbi Hiyya replied, “There is a wheel which revolves in this world.” —Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 151b”
― Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom
“Within the realms of what goes around, resides the magnitude and severity of what comes around.”
― Sandeep N. Tripathi
A really unusual surrogate mother…
A baby hippopotamus, swept into the sea by the tsunami is finally coming out of his shell… thanks to the love of a 120-year-old tortoise.
Owen, a 300kg, one-year-old hippo, was swept down the Sabaki River, into the ocean and then back to shore when the giant waves struck the Kenyan coast.
The dehydrated hippo was found by wildlife rangers and taken to the Haller Park animal facility in the port city of Mombasa.
Pining for his lost mother, Owen quickly befriended a giant male Aldabran tortoise named Mzee – Swahili for “old man”.
“When we released Owen into the enclosure, he lumbered to the tortoise which has a dark grey colour similar to grown up hippos,” Sabine Baer, rehabilitation and ecosystems manager at the park, told Reuters on Thursday.
Haller Park ecologist Paula Kahumbu said the pair were now inseparable.
“After it was swept and lost its mother, the hippo was traumatised. It had to look for something to be a surrogate mother. Fortunately, it landed on the tortoise and established a strong bond. They swim, eat and sleep together,” the ecologist added.
“The hippo follows the tortoise exactly the way it follows its mother. If somebody approaches the tortoise, the hippo becomes aggressive, as if protecting its biological mother,” Kahumbu added. “The hippo was left at a very tender age. Hippos are social animals that like to stay with their mothers for four years.”
She said the hippo’s chances of survival in another herd were very slim, predicting that a dominant male would have killed him.
Officials are hopeful Owen will befriend a female hippo called Cleo, also a resident at the park.
Pregnancy Dictionary [selected]
Funny how words take on new meanings when you’re expecting!
AFTERBIRTH: When the hard part begins.
CRAVINGS: An excuse to gluttonize your way through pregnancy.
FIRST TRIMESTER: The first three months of pregnancy when you wonder, “Is it too late to hire a surrogate mother?”
MATERNITY CLOTHES: What a pregnant woman wears to show people there’s a reason she’s fat.
MIRACLE: 1. The birth of a baby. 2. The fact that you lived to tell about it.
OBSTETRICIAN/MIDWIFE: The person who tells you you’re doing fine when you think you’re caught in the jaws of death.
PREGNANT PAUSE: The amount of time it takes for a 9-month pregnant woman to get out of a chair. [I think that one’s my favorite. IGP]
PRENATAL: When your life was still your own.
SECOND TRIMESTER: The time when you ask the question, “Will my husband notice if I eat this gallon of ice cream and side of beef before he gets home?”
THIRD TRIMESTER: The final months of pregnancy when you wonder, “How much longer can I keep from waddling?”
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 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?