Haftarah Parshat Vayetze
November 13, 2010
8 Kislev 5771
Nachmanides (Spain 14th century) captured perceptively a particular rabbinic way of interpreting the stories of the lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs, when he noted: the deeds of the ancestors served as some sort of indicators or sign for that which would happen to future generations (maaseh avot siman l\’banim). It is from this perspective that the sages understood the opening verses of this week\’s haftarah: Then Jacob had to flee to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, for a wife he had to guard. But when the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt it was through a prophet; through a prophet they were guarded.\”
Hosea intent in this statement was to impress upon his listeners that Jacob\’s success had a source. Jacob had fled to Aram under trying circumstances. He had come without material possessions and his life in Lavan\’s household was not easy. All of his achievements came at a high price and none of his hard work guarantied success. His success could only be attributed to God. This message was meant to counteract the people\’s lack of gratitude to God. (See Radak)
The following midrash had a different approach to Hosea\’s message: \”Said Rabbi Yochanan: It is written: \’ Then Jacob had to flee to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, for a wife he had to guard.\’ – He (Hosea) said to them (the people of Israel): \’Your situation (the manner in which you will be redeemed) will be similar to that of Jacob your forefather. Before he married his wife, he was indentured, and even after he married his wife, he was indentured; so, too, before your redeemer is born, you will be oppressed, and even after he will be born you will still be oppressed.\” (Bereishit Rabbah 70:20)
Rabbi Yochanan\’s message in this message is that there is no such thing as a quick fix or a panacea in life. Jacob was destined to achieve greatness but at any step during his life, he had no sense that this was assured. Similarly, even after the advent of the messiah, no one will feel the effects of the redemption in the \”blink of an eye\”. In this world of immediate expectations, where we expect everything to be achieved \”yesterday\”, this interpretation is intended as a reminder that such hopes are not just unrealistic; they also represent a false picture of how God works in the world.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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