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Vayetzei – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

The Sedra this week, Vayetzei, (commonly translated as “he went out”) is the second Sedra covering the life of Jacob which will be followed in all the remaining Sedrot of Bereishit. Starting his journey as Jacob, in the next Sedra, Vayishlach, he becomes “Israel”.

We all go on journeys in our lives. The path we take is not always predictable. We may change direction either our by decisions, by events we encounter or we ourselves may change.

Jacob famously meets God and angels in dreams. Initially, at Beth El, the dream is of “Jacob’s ladder”: He acknowledges God with conditions: by making a vow.

אִם־יִֽהְיֶ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים עִמָּדִ֗י וּשְׁמָרַ֨נִי֙
If God will be with me, and He will guard me
וְשַׁבְתִּ֥י בְשָׁל֖וֹם אֶל־בֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑י וְהָיָ֧ה יְהֹוָ֛ה לִ֖י לֵֽאלֹהִֽים:
If I return in peace to my father's house… the Lord will be my God

Abravenel compares Jacob with Abraham remarking that he, Abraham, never set out such conditions despite being faced with many tests.

Later we read Leah's eyes were tender (translated as “weak” in the Hertz Chumash) but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion. (Those same words will be used later to describe her son Joseph).

Rachel steals her father’s idols. By contrast Leah becomes the mother of Judah. To quote the Eshet Chayil prayer

Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that fears the LORD, she shall be praised.

Abraham was the first to be called “Ivri”, “Hebrew”. Jacob goes on to be called Israel. The descendants of Judah became known as Jews.

Our tradition is that prayer to God and action should not be fettered with conditions. It is our deeds that matter. Where and how we go is less important than what we take with us: in our own lives, in our families and for our community.

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