Haftarah Parshat Vayetze
December 3, 2011
7 Kislev 5772
The haftarah sums up the events of this week’s parasha in one sentence: “Then Jacob had to flee to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, for a wife he had to guard [sheep].” (12:13) This sentence captures both Jacob’s existential insecurity and the insecurity of his situation. Hosea opens his message with this episode to indicate God’s providential protection over Jacob even at his most trying moments. Still, there is a difference between being watched over, cared for and nurtured and being aware of it and having faith in one’s caregiver. God may have been watching over Jacob, but the events in Jacob’s life often may not have indicated to him that this was the case. It takes a strong and abiding faith to overcome life’s insecurity while the “providence” in life works itself out.
The following midrash builds upon this message: Rabbi Judah ben Shimon said: When a laborer works for an employer, he generally works zealously for a couple of hours, but eventually becomes lazy in his work. Jacob, however, worked as diligently in his later years as he did in his earlier years. He was as faithful in his work for Rachel as he was in the years that he worked before his marriage to Leah. Rabbi Yochanan said: It is written: And Jacob fled into the field of Aram, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.” (Hosea 12:13) [What was Hosea’s intention when he said this?] He said to the people in his generation: You are like your ancestor Jacob. As your ancestor Jacob was made to serve before he took a wife and after he took a wife as well, so you too have been made to serve before your redeemer (the Messiah) was born and you are still made to serve after your redeemer is born. (adapted from Bereishit Rabbah 70:20 Theodore – Albeck ed. pp. 819-20)
This midrash draws a parallel between Jacob’s situation and all the generations afterward. Jacob was indentured to Laban the Aramean so that he might marry Laban’s daughter[s]. He remained indentured to Laban even after he was married. Still, Jacob never lost faith and never gave up his hope. The midrash has Hosea convey the same message to his constituents. He wants them to know that when the redemption occurs, they should not expect radical changes in their lives. The world will not change overnight. People of faith, must continue their lives with due diligence in order to make redemption happen. Faith is not a sit on your hands and “let it happen” proposition. It is one of hard work, hope and keeping the faith. Our forefather Jacob realized this. So must we.
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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