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Vayetze: Turnabout is Fair Play

"Laban said to [Jacob], 'Truly you are my bone and flesh.'"

The name of this parsha translates to "and he went out," or "and he left." It starts with Jacob fleeing Esau's anger at Jacob's theft of his birthright and his blessing under the guise of returning to Der Old Country to marry a nice girl unlike those Canaanite girls that are making Rivka hate being alive.

William Blake, "Jacob's Ladder"
William Blake, "Jacob's Ladder"

So Jacob heads back to Haran, which is the place where The Great Jewish Road Trip, Attempt #1 stalled out with Abraham's dad.

Along the way, he decides to use a stone for a pillow, which gives him trippy dreams. He gets a blessing (compare it to Abraham and Isaac's blessings), and then agrees to tithe if the Eternal One, awesome deity of his forebears and creator of the world, does a bunch of very specific stuff for him.

He gets to Haran, where the stone (motif) that seems to be following him around is now atop a well, and sees Rachel, which gives him super-strength. He rolls the stone off the well, starts weeping, and kisses Rachel, which is only not creepy if she was into it.

Then he tells his uncle Laban about how he tricked his brother and his father and got chased out of his home, and Laban says, "yup, we're related all right." Then he tricks him into working for him for 14 years instead of 7 with a bride bait-and-switch. Rachel and Leah get into a reproductive war, using their slaves as proxies.

But the cycle of trickery isn't done. Rachel steals her father's idols and hides them under her blanket and sits on them. When Laban comes looking for them, she says, "Sorry, Dad, can't get up, got my period." And then they all go home.

We need to have a talk about why we don't include Zilpah and Bilhah among the matriarchs, because that seems Not Cool.

Join us at 9:00 am this Saturday for coffee, donuts, and what's always a lively discussion.

Other lenses

Want to know what other Jewish thinkers are saying about this parsha?

Wikipedia has an incredible treasure trove of geekery about the weekly portion, laying out everything from the number of Hebrew letters in the parsha to summaries of classical commentaries. Prepare to go down a very deep rabbithole.

Sefaria is an amazing free resource--an ever-growing library of Jewish texts in both Hebrew and English. In addition to the Hebrew text and translation, it provides the text of most of the classical commentaries (not all of which have been translated... yet). The parsha is one of the first links on the main page.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, does a podcast called Ten Minutes of Torah--perfect for when you're time-constrained. The Union for Reform Judaism has a whole page of resources for the parsha, ranging from beginner's guides to pieces on the contemporary relevance of the portion. The Women of Reform Judaism site has a glorious archive of the entire text of The Torah: A Women's Commentary divided up by parsha.

My Jewish Learning has a summary of the portion, the parsha itself and the haftorah, and commentary.

For a Reconstructionist take, visit Reconstructing Judaism's weekly learning page.

T'ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, has a weekly d'var that looks at the parsha as a starting point for contemporary political issues.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism has a parsha commentary archive.

Keshet's Torah Queeries page provides commentary from an LGBTQ perspective (search on the portion name).

The Jewish Theological Society (the Conservative Branch seminary) provides weekly commentary at JTS Torah Online.

Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox yeshiva to ordain women, has a collection of Divrei Torah written by women and organized by parsha on its site.

Limmud, a 35-year-old grassroots Jewish learning event that started in the UK and has become an international phenomenon, maintains an archive of commentaries.

Liberal Judaism's Thought for the Week provides concise but thoughtful analysis of the portion.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi Emeritus of England, engages in profound commentary on the weekly portion in Covenant & Conversation.

InterfaithFamily puts out an animated Torahlog including contemporary reactions, poetry, folk music, and Jewish scholarship on the parsha.

The Jewish Renewal movement's site maintains an archive of commentary. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi--an author and Jewish Renewal rabbi--does commentary on her site.

The #parshachat hashtag on Twitter marks a constantly-running social media conversation on the parsha.

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