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

“But Jacob had gone on his way, and the angels of God met him.” (Genesis 32:2)

Parashat Vayetzei begins with Jacob’s escape from his brother Esau and ends 20+ years later with his escape from his uncle Lavan. Each journey is marked by a dream. Pinchas Peli (1930-1989; Israeli rabbi, essayist, poet, and scholar of Judaism and Jewish philosophy) uses the difference between the dreams to uncover a subtle message in the parasha, or portion.

Jacob’s first dream includes the famous imagery of angels descending and ascending a ladder (Gen. 28:12-15). It is a spiritual dream, expressing Jacob’s desire for God’s immediate presence. And that is what Jacob proclaims when he wakes: “…How awesome is this place! This is none other than beit elohim, the house of God…” (Gen. 28:17)

Jacob’s second dream is less known. He is now a wealthy man with a family entourage and many sheep and goats. This dream describes how he acquires those riches and ends with God telling him it is time to go home (Gen. 31:10-13). This is a material dream, expressing the reality of Jacob’s life in Haran. But why leave just when things finally start going his way?

Peli finds the answer in the verse, “And Jacob noticed Lavan’s face did not appear to him as it did before.” (Gen. 31:5) When Jacob arrives in Haran, Lavan’s materialism is foreign to him. Twenty years later, Jacob realizes not only has he become inured to it, but he has absorbed it himself: he dreams of material prosperity instead of spiritual fulfillment. That is why God says, “…For I have seen everything Lavan has done to you.” (Gen. 31:12) Jacob’s return to Canaan is also a spiritual return.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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