(Still waiting for my new webcam so no video message today)
In this reading we have the story of Jacob coming to his uncle, Laban, and of how he agreed to work 7 years to marry Rachel. Laban, on the wedding night, substituted Leah, and Jacob had to work another 7 years for Rachel, although he did marry her the week after his wedding to Leah, as the honeymoon (if we can call it that) in those days lasted 7 days.
After 14 years with Laban, and having fathered 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel between Leah, Rachel, and both of their handmaidens, Jacob now is going to earn wages, and the two men agree that Jacob will own all the spotted and mottled sheep, which were the least desirable of the flock. Laban changes the terms often, but each time Jacob manages to make sure he has the healthiest and most robust of the flock. Finally, when Jacob learns that Laban’s other sons are upset that Jacob’s flocks are so much better, accusing him of stealing their father’s best, he decides it is time to get on back home.
He secretly leaves while Laban’s sons are in the field, but Jacob doesn’t know that Rachel has stolen the household gods from her father. After learning of this, Laban catches up to him but God warns Laban in a dream not to harass or harm Jacob. When they come together, despite some rash words and Laban not finding his gods (because Rachel was hiding them), Laban and Jacob make a pact to never cross over the boundary between them to do harm to each other.
In other words, you stay on your side and I’ll stay on mine.
This is where the parashah ends: there is so much to work with and so little time to do so.
The one thing I want to point out in today’s message is that it seems, from what we have read so far in the Torah, that God is willing to work with sinners once he has decided that they are worth working with.
What the heck does that mean?
It means that we hold in high esteem the Patriarchs of Judaism, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet Abraham showed faithlessness – yes, faithlessness- when he “pimped out” Sarah (which he did twice!), and Isaac did the same thing with Rebecca, and Jacob coerced, in a somewhat underhanded way, the first born rights from his brother and then he lied to his father.
I mean, really- did they leave anything out?
Next, we read about how Laban fooled Jacob into taking as wife a woman he didn’t love or desire and how Rachel stole the household gods from her father, which I believe didn’t have anything to do with regard to Rachel’s religious beliefs, but rather did it to steal what was rightfully her father’s inheritance.
In those days, the oldest son inherited the household gods, and the other children would come to that son and pay for the privilege to pray to the gods for successful crops, healthy children, etc. The household gods were more than just idols: they represented the right to have control over the family.
Yet, despite all the subterfuge, lies, and scamming that these people did, God was still with Jacob and protecting him. Why? He lied, he was disrespectful to his father, he was disrespectful to Laban (by making sure his share of the flocks were the healthiest, leaving Laban with the weakest), and Rachel stole from her father.
Again, I ask why did God stay with Jacob?
Frankly, I am not sure, but my best guess is that God was keeping his promise to Abraham, which he repeated to Isaac, and later repeated to Jacob as Jacob was on his way to Laban (Genesis 28:10-22). In fact, Jacob made a covenant with God at that time, promising to worship Adonai, alone, and to tithe a tenth of everything he has if only God will protect him, keep him supplied with food, and bring him back to his father’s house in safety.
Perhaps that is the reason God went to Laban in a dream, to protect Jacob so he returned to his homeland in safety?
If I was to title this parashah, I would call it, “What Goes Around, Comes Around.”
Jacob fooled his father (to get the blessing), and in turn was fooled by Laban (to get Leah married), who was later fooled by Jacob (making sure he had the healthiest of the flock), who was later fooled by his daughter, Rachel (who stole the symbols of his authority over the family), who was fooled, in a way, by Jacob because as she was dying after giving birth to Benjamin, she wanted him to be named Ben-Oni (the son of my sorrow) but Jacob renamed him Ben-yimin (the son of my old age.)
So, nu? What does any of this mean to us, today?
Maybe what it means is that despite the fact we profess to love and want to obey the Lord, God, we are still human, still weak, still able to sin, yet still loved by God so much that he is willing to work with us, so long as we are trying to work with him.
And that means when you do wrong, which we all do and will always do, after you repent and ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name, you can trust God to forgive you and work with you, to continue blessing and helping you so long as you continue to work at being what he wants you to be.
We, today, have something that the Patriarchs didn’t have: we have the Torah. We have written down exactly what God expects of us, and when we add the Tanakh we also have a historic narrative of what happens when we do right, and what happens when we do wrong. This is like a guarantee, showing us that for thousands of years God has been 1000% faithful to do what he has said he will do.
This doesn’t mean you can lie, cheat, and steal without worry because we, unlike Jacob, Laban, or Rachel, have a written code to go by and, therefor no basis to say, “Gee, I didn’t know that was wrong.”
Just like they say: ignorance of the law is no excuse. And if you don’t want to find this out the hard way, I suggest you start reading the law, often and continually, so you know it. Don’t take what you are told for granted as being correct, because most of the time, it isn’t.
Hey…if the religions of the world had it right, there wouldn’t be so many different religions.
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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!