“Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ”Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:16)
Parashat Vayeitzei is a real nail-biter. Jacob flees to Haran and spends 20 years working for Lavan, his uncle. Tricked into marrying Leah after seven years, he agrees to seven years of additional work to marry Rachel and then works another six years before returning home. In the closing scenes of the parasha (portion) he outwits Lavan, who attempts to cheat Jacob out of his earnings one last time.
The Torah uses language subtly to evoke memories of Toldot, last week’s parasha, creating a larger, linked narrative. When Lavan negotiates with Jacob for the first time he asks, “…Just because you are my kinsman, should you serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” (Gen. 29:15) The Hebrew word “Avad’tani” (serve me), is the critical link and its root, “avad” occurs seven time in the overall narrative. Toldot includes the original prophecy that Esau would serve Jacob and the blessing that other people would serve Jacob; that Jacob’s brothers were given him as servants, and; that Esau would serve his brother (Gen. 25:23, 27:29, 37, 40). In Vayeitzi, when Lavan uses the very same word, Jacob surely recognizes it, (as we are expected to!) and realizes the irony of his situation. He may be blessed, but now he is bound to many years of servitude.
Reversal of fortune is a pattern in the Torah. To some, that means the Torah’s central message is God moves history. A less theological reading of the text focuses on a different truth: what goes around comes around. Jacob tricked his father and now he gets tricked. Either way, it is often the small words in the text that hint at big meanings.
Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,