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Parashat Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3)

“And if I return safe to my father’s house—the Lord shall be my God.” (Genesis 28:21)

Parashat Vayetzei describes Jacob’s flight from Canaan to his uncle Lavan in Haran. Following his epiphany at Beth El (the dream scene with the ladder and angels) he enters a situation new for him, but familiar to us, and that Robert Alter (1935-; Professor of Hebrew language and comparative literature at UC Berkeley) labels the betrothal “type-scene.” A type scene relies upon the repetition of a set order of specific motifs, which are known (and expected) by the audience. The slight variations between type scenes hint at deeper meaning.

The Biblical betrothal type scene requires the future bridegroom (or his agent) to travel to a foreign land, arrive at a well (symbol of fertility), where he meets his future bride. Water is drawn for the animals, the girl runs home to inform her family, a meal is eaten, and the betrothal arrangement concluded. We recognize this type scene from Eliezer’s journey to find a wife for Isaac and encounter it again when Moses escapes from Egypt to Midian.

Tamar Frankel (1951-; past editor-in-chief and CEO of The Jewish Publication Society) notices the differences between Jacob’s and Eliezer’s type scenes. Jacob approaches Rachel (rather than Rebecca approaching Eliezer), Jacob waters Rachel’s sheep (rather than Rebecca watering Eliezer’s), and Jacob cries (rather than Rebecca). These innovations in the type scene prompt Frankel to offer a striking interpretation: Rebecca shelters Jacob from typical masculine culture (read: Esau), raising him as her daughter! But those qualities that make Rebecca an ideal wife for Isaac (friendliness, generosity, and loyalty) make Jacob prey to his uncle Lavan’s manipulation.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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