VAYEITZEI (Genesis, 28:10-32:3) –“To Dream the Impossible Dream”

Jacob had a tough life.  He was a studious, virtuous individual who only wanted to live a quiet life devoted to the study of Torah and the service of G-d.  His desire was to continue spreading the teachings of Abraham and Isaac and to make the world a better place.

But his efforts were frustrated every step of the way.  He was the younger brother of a hoodlum who wanted to kill him. (See “Double Trouble”.)

Jacob had received his father’s blessing that was originally intended for his older brother Esau. As a result, he lived in constant fear that he would some day be killed by his jealous brother, or forced to kill Esau in self-defense.  His mother Rebecca suggested he go to her family in Aram Naharaim (Iraq) for two reasons:  to escape from Esau, and to find a wife.

In Aram Naharaim, Jacob met his cousin Rachel, the beautiful and righteous daughter of his mother’s brother Laban.  The next twenty years were times of great difficulty.  Laban cheated him every step of the way: Jacob had offered to work for Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel – Laban placed a heavy veil over the face of his older daughter Leah and tricked him into marrying the wrong woman.  Jacob then agreed to work for ANOTHER seven years in order to marry Rachel. After 14 years of working to “pay” for his wives’ hands in marriage, Jacob negotiated a salary for future work – Laban kept changing the terms after the fact.  When Jacob and his family finally packed their bags and left, Laban pursued them, hoping to kill Jacob. (See “Watch Out for What Car?”)

Laban wasn’t the only source of Jacob’s headaches.  Rachel was unable to have children and there was friction between his two wives.  As his children grew, sibling rivalry caused additional grief.  He would eventually suffer the anguish and indignity of his daughter’s abduction and violation by a Canaanite.  Then he had to deal with the ensuing violence committed by his sons against the hometown of his daughter’s attacker.  For twenty years, he thought his beloved son Joseph was dead.  And let’s not forget about the angel with whom Jacob would someday engage in hand-to-hand combat!  In his later years, Jacob would refer to the years of his life as “few and bitter.” (Genesis 47:9)

Where does one find the strength to deal with such adversity?  How did he manage to continue his life in the face of such pain?

Another question: Did you ever notice that our Matriarchs had one problem in common  – they were all barren?! Abraham and Sarah prayed for a child and only saw their prayers answered in their old age.  Isaac and Rebecca were childless for the first twenty years of their marriage. Rachel didn’t give birth to Joseph until thirteen years after their wedding.  (Even Leah, who conceived on her wedding night, was originally supposed to have been barren.  The Midrash tells us Jacob had decided to divorce Leah for participating in her father’s bride-switching scheme. In order to save their marriage, G-d allowed her to conceive immediately.)

There are many reasons that a woman can have difficulty becoming pregnant. Medical science has made great advances in treating infertility.  Women who would never have dreamed of being able to have children had they lived 50 years ago are giving birth to “miracle babies.” But there are certain conditions that even medical science can’t cure:

and Sarah was sterile;she had no “volod” (literally, offspring) (Genesis 11:30) The Talmud (Yevomos 64b) tells us that ‘volod‘ refers to a womb. Sarah was what the Talmud calls an ‘aylonis’ – a woman who was physically incapable of having children.

Sarah’s inability to conceive was not a condition that could be addressed medically or surgically today.  She did not have short ovulation cycles or tube blockages or elevated PH.  Rather, expecting Sarah to become pregnant would be the approximate equivalent of having a baby after a total hysterectomy!  It simply cannot happen.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob married woman who were not able to have children.  Yet they never gave up hope; they prayed to G-d and looked forward to good news. It was this type of attitude that gave Jacob the faith to look to the future with confidence despite the tribulations of life.

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In our own lives we often encounter situations that seem hopeless.  We all know of someone with an incurable disease, (Hashem Yishmoreinu – may G-d protect us). We look at the situation in the Middle East and we wonder if it will ever be safe in Eretz Yisrael.  We should never despair.  As G-d said to Abraham while discussing the future birth of Isaac by a woman who lacked the appropriate “equipment”: “Is anything too difficult for G-d?  At the designated time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:14)

Our Patriarchs and Matriarchs lived an impossibly miraculous existence. They saw G-d intercede and create supernatural solutions to seemingly unmanageable problems.  They learned to anticipate and expect it.  So must we.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

 “How to Say ‘You’re Wrong’ ” (2009)

I once saw a picture in National Geographic that struck me as strange.  The article was about life in Utah, and included a picture of a Mormon family. The father posed with his children and their four mothers.  Polygamy, although in violation of state (and currently, Mormon) law, continues to exist in Utah.

As an Ashkenazic Jew and member of Western Civilization, I find it very difficult to envision the concept of having more than one wife.  Successful polygamy requires a level of “sharing” and cooperation that goes beyond the mores of our culture. It is not a good system…

Read more.

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“Are You My Bride? … Are You SURE??”  (2006)

Jacob came to Haran  (in Iraq) in search of a bride.

Rachel was the one…  A wedding feast took place and Jacob took his veiled bride home to his tent.  It wasn’t until the next morning that Jacob discovered that he had married the wrong woman!  It was Leah!  He had been had!  His uncle had cheated him!…

…How did all of this happen?  How did an intelligent man like Jacob allow himself to be hoodwinked by his uncle?  How did Laban pull it off?  And how could Leah participate in this fraud?  And where was Rachel?  Why didn’t she step in and stop the wedding?…

Read more.

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 “Time to Pray!”  (2005)

It is well known that religious Jews pray three times a day… But it wasn’t always that way.  Although Davening Mincha (the Afternoon Service) and Maariv (the Evening Service) are very Jewish things to do, Abraham apparently didn’t do those things.  Isaac, quite a religious Jew, didn’t Daven Maariv either.  That was Jacob’s innovation… the morning, afternoon, and evening services were instituted by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob respectively.  We, their children, follow their example… each of the Patriarchs had different experiences that led to each of their prayers…

Read more.

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 “The Gift of Life” (2003)

… Jacob cried…His nephew, Eliphaz had confiscated all his possessions…. we find Jacob’s reaction surprising.  After all, isn’t spirituality more important than money?  Don’t we usually view a Tzaddik, a righteous person as one who eschews material possessions?  In fact, Jacob had asked G-d to provide him with …bread to eat and clothing to wear. (Ibid, 28:23) All Jacob desired was the barest of minimums – a shirt on his back and a simple meal.  Why suddenly the tears?…

Read more.

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“Feeling the Void – Filling the Void” (2002)

Jacob left Beer-Sheba and he went to Haran. (Genesis, 28:10)

The Torah doesn’t waste words. Rashi points out that the Torah only had to write Jacob went to Haran. The point of the story is that he was now on his way to Haran to find a wife. Obviously, he had to leave his home in Beer-Sheba in order to get there. What is the point of telling us that Jacob left Beer-Sheba?

The answer, says Rashi, is that Jacob’s departure from Beer-Sheba was a significant event…

Read more.

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“To Dream the Impossible Dream” (2000)

Jacob had a tough life.  …he lived in constant fear that he would some day be killed by his jealous brother, or forced to kill Esau in self-defense…  Laban … tricked him into marrying the wrong woman.  … Jacob negotiated a salary for future work – Laban kept changing the terms …When Jacob and his family finally packed their bags and left, Laban pursued them, hoping to kill Jacob… Rachel was unable to have children and there was friction between the two wives.  …sibling rivalry caused additional grief.  He would eventually suffer the anguish and indignity of his daughter’s abduction and violation by a Canaanite.  Then he had to deal with the ensuing violence committed by his sons against the hometown of his daughter’s attacker.  For twenty years, he thought his beloved son Joseph was dead.

…Where does one find the strength to deal with such adversity?  How did he manage to continue his life in the face of such pain? …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on December 6, 2000 at 11:25 am  Leave a Comment  

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