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

“Shaken, he said, ’How awesome is this place! This is none other
than the abode of God and this is the gate of the heavens.’” (Genesis 28:17)

Parashat Vayetzei describes Jacob’s flight from Canaan to Haran to escape Esau’s anger. His uncle Lavan tricks him into working fourteen years to marry his two daughters, Leah and Rachel. When Jacob tries to negotiate his salary for the next six years of labor (Jacob selects the spotted and speckled flocks of sheep), Lavan tries to cheat him one more time. Jacob outwits Lavan through some clever breeding techniques and ultimately leaves Haran a wealthy man.

Vayeitzei describes the results of Jacob’s animal husbandry: “…Thus, ha-atufim, the feeble sheep, went to Lavan and hak’shurim, the sturdy sheep, to Jacob.” (Gen. 30:42) However, those two Hebrew words can be translated differently: atufim also means wrapped up and k’shurim also means connected. Ohr Hameir (Rabbi Zev Wolf of Zhitomir, ?-1800; disciple of the Maggid of Mezrich and a chassidic leader) uses those meanings to interpret the story as a commentary on human nature. He explains: one who wraps himself in another’s deeds is like Lavan, who misappropriates Jacob’s reward. Someone who is committed to their own practice and connected to their own actions is like Jacob, whose honest work leads to reward.

This may be a statement about sham piety: mimicking others, even in the performance of mitzvot, commandments, is a deception. Navigating your own path is an essential element of cleaving to God. After all, you can fool others, but God sees through the disguise. But it also is possible Ohr Hameir is making a sly comment about Jacob’s personal history of deception: only when he stops wrapping himself in another’s clothing does he succeed. Authenticity may be a 21st century buzzword, but its roots are Biblical.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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