Shabbat Vayishlah

Friday, December 1 - Candles @ 4:10pm
December 2 - Havdalah @ 5:05pm

Jacob's life was dogged by one crisis after another. He had to escape from Esau. He fled to his uncle Laban who cheated him time and again. He had to escape from his crutches. Before he could get home, he risked an encounter with his brother. When he arrived back in Canaan he encamped near Shehem. His daughter Dina went out to visit the local women and was raped. Her two brothers Simon and Levi attacked the town in reprisal and massacred the population to the disgust of their father.

Jacob believed it had happened because his sons had been influenced by the pagan atmosphere of Laban they had grown up in. And after Shehem he moved on to Bethel where he wanted to live in his own spiritual cocoon. He insisted his sons get rid of all the trappings of idolatry they had accumulated. But it was clear he had not succeeded in entirely removing the negativity of Laban from his sons.

Rachel died. And then the Torah tells us that Reuben, his first born, slept with Jacob’s concubine Bilhaa. Some Midrashim suggest he did not actually sleep with her. Others say that this was an act of protest because as a son of Leah, he expected his father would “promote” her to the position of favored wife and instead he preferred Rachel’s maidservant.

Once again, a son of Jacob acts against his father’s wishes and tries to undermine his authority. And this explains why Reuben was demoted and Judah took his place. But it also underlines the tension between Jacob and his sons that will culminate in the Joseph affair.

All this explains the struggle Jacob had trying to contain and educate his children in an alien environment. We think we have difficulty. But the Torah reassures us that it has always been this way. Even the greatest of our forefathers had to struggle to pass on his values and educate his children to follow in his footsteps.