We left Jacob being sent by Isaac to Haran to find a wife from his own people. One night along the journey, while Jacob sleeps outside the town of Luz, God comes to him in a dream and confirms the same promises that he gave to Isaac and to Abraham. Jacob awakes and is filled with awe, naming the place Beth-El (House of God). Jacob also swears to God that if God will do all he said, then Jacob will worship him and give a tenth of all God blesses him with back to God.
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Jacob continues his journey and coming to a well meets Rachel, the daughter of his uncle, Laban. When he tells her who he is, she runs back to let Laban know, who then runs out to meet Jacob and bring him into his house.
After staying with Laban for a month, Laban asks what he can do for Jacob, and Jacob says he will work 7 years as a bride price for Rachel. Laban agrees, but after 7 years he fools Jacob by sending Leah, Rachel’s older sister, into the marriage tent at night. When Jacob realizes he has been tricked, Laban explains it by saying it is a local custom to marry the older daughter first. Jacob agrees to work another 7 years for Rachel, and once the marriage week to Leah is over he immediately gets another marriage week with Rachel. Now he has 2 wives and 7 more years of working for Laban, and spends that time dropping rugrats left and right: first from Leah, then from Rachel’s handmaiden, then from Leah’s handmaiden, then from Rachel, then from Leah. The last kid, Benjamin, comes from Rachel, but we don’t read about that until later.
Jacob’s work makes Laban richer so Laban asks Jacob how he can pay him. Jacob says he will take all the spotted, speckled and dark sheep (generally considered to be less valuable) as his payment, but Laban again tries to cheat Jacob by removing them all from his flocks and giving them to his sons.
But Laban didn’t know that Jacob was the best deceiver around. So Jacob uses his knowledge of animal husbandry to have all the speckled, spotted, and dark sheep be the strongest, while the “pure” sheep Laban had become the weakest.
Soon enough, Laban’s sons are plotting against Jacob because now his flocks are the hardiest and their flocks are weak. God comes to Jacob in a dream and says it’s time to go back, so Jacob sneaks away, but before they leave Rachel steals the household gods from her father.
Laban learns of this and catches up to Jacob, but before he reaches him God tells him not to do anything to Jacob, so Laban listens to God and accuses Jacob of stealing his household gods. But when he searches for them he can’t find them because Rachel has hidden them in her saddle, which she is sitting on, and says she can’t get up because she is in her time of Nidah (menstrual period). Laban and Jacob make a pact not to cross over the boundary to do harm to each other, and Laban returns home.
There’s so much to talk about here, but I want to concentrate on one small thing, which is the taking of Laban’s teraphim by Rachel before they left (Genesis 31:19).
My Chumash says Nachmanides (the great Rabbi also known as the Ramban) explains the stealing of the teraphim, which Laban calls “his gods”, as Rachel’s way of keeping him from worshipping them, but I think this explanation is designed to paint Rachel in a good light.
The teraphim, or household gods as many Bibles describe them, were more than just a religious item. They represented the authority and rulership of the son who possessed them. The other brothers and cousins would come and pay tribute to the one holding these gods, in order to win their favor for a good harvest, for children, whatever. The fact that Laban was the possessor of these teraphim indicated his authority over the clan and was part of the inheritance of the oldest son.
I don’t think Rachel took them as a means of preventing her father from praying to idols, but rather as an inheritance for her sons.
The reason I think this is because of what she says to Jacob when he says he wants to return to Canaan. In Genesis 31:14, both Leah and Rachel tell Jacob they feel their father has treated them as strangers, selling them and that there is no inheritance for them in their father’s house.
In other words, they feel like they have been disowned and cheated out of their rightful inheritance. This is a little unusual because the daughters did not get an inheritance in those days but it seems they felt cheated, in one way or another. Rachel seems to be the better match for Jacob than Leah because Rachel is a bit of a deceiver because she lied to her father when he was searching for his teraphim.
A well-known lesson we find in this parashah is “What goes around, comes around.” Jacob slyly finagled the firstborn rights from Esau, then Laban slyly finagled Jacob into marrying Leah, and I believe he did this all the while knowing he would be able to get another 7 years from Jacob, whose efforts had been making Laban richer.
Rachel finagles mandrakes for herself by pimping her husband (it seems this is a family trait since Abraham and Isaac did the same sort of thing) to gain a chance for more children.
Finally, Rachel steals the teraphim from Laban, who now feels cheated out of his inheritance.
So Jacob does Esau, Laban does Jacob, and Rachel does Laban- what goes around, comes around.
The truth of the matter is that even the Patriarchs of Judaism, men whom God spoke to directly (which didn’t happen again until Moses) are still and all, human. They have human foibles, human weaknesses, and deceiving ways about them.
Maybe we can write it off to the fact that these things were necessary in those times, but I don’t think that really cuts it. Honesty and dishonesty have been around forever, and whether in biblical days or today, honest people are honest. Period.
God sees all that we do, and he knows our hearts. It is up to us to remember this and try to do what is right in God’s eyes, not what a godless society says is right. This may ostracize us, but in the long run, it is better to be right and alone than wrong with other wrongdoers because… what is today’s lesson?
I don’t know about you, but if what I do is eventually going to come back and bite me in the tuchas, I’m going to do my best to ensure that it will only be a love bite.
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Nu…we’re done for this week so l’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!