Friday, November 22, 2013

Being Someone's Angel

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev (Gen. 37:1 – 40:23) Jacob’s older sons are pasturing their father’s flocks at Shechem, and Jacob sends Joseph, his favored son, out to join them.  He can’t find them, and is wandering in the fields when he sees a man who asks him what he is looking for.  He says he is looking for his brothers and the man says, “I heard them say they were going to Dothan”.  Joseph went to Dothan, and we know the rest of the story.  His brothers take his coat of many colors from him, throw him in a pit to die, and he is picked up by a traveling band of traders who bring him to Egypt.  So begins the history of the Israelite people in Egypt, which will end with exodus, redemption and revelation, and the eternal covenant between God and the people of Israel.  

Without the unnamed man who Joseph met in the fields of Shechem these crucial events may never have come about.  Maimonides comments that he was no ordinary man, but an angel sent to make sure that Joseph completes his task.  Like Joseph, we don’t know where our journey will lead.  We may not recognize the angels along our path who guide our destiny. We are even less likely to recognize when we act as an angel for another person.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jacob's Wives

Torah Thoughts on Parashat Vayishlach

Last week we read of Jacob’s love for Rachel, and how he worked for her father Laban for seven years to win her hand in marriage, and that it seemed to him  as if those years were only days because of his love for her. Because of Laban’s trickery in giving him the older sister Leah instead, Jacob was then forced to work another seven years for Rachel, although he did get to marry her a week after he married Leah.   Leah turns out to be built for childbirth, and she bears Jacob son after son, and one daughter.  Her handmaid, too, bears sons for Jacob, as does Rachel’s handmaid.  But Rachel herself bears Jacob one son, Joseph, and in this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach (Gen. 32:4-36:43) she dies in childbirth with her second, who she calls Ben-Oni, and Jacob re-names Benjamin.  “Ben-Oni” can mean two things in Hebrew; either, “son of my suffering” or “son of my strength”.  “Benjamin” is “son of my right hand”.  Jacob seems to want to choose the latter meaning, giving his newly motherless son the best possible interpretation of his name.  Of all the matriarchs and patriarchs, Rachel is the only one who is not buried in the Cave of Machpelach in Hebron, but rather “on the road to Ephrat, that is, Bethlehem” (Gen. 35:20).   Rachel’s grave is still visited today, especially by women who are having trouble getting pregnant or who have difficult pregnancies.  The two sister-wives of Jacob have different destinies.  Rachel is the beloved but Leah provides most of the sons who will become the progenitors of the tribes of Israel.