Vayeitzei in a Nutshell
Jacob leaves his hometown of Beersheba and journeys to Charan. On the way, he encounters “the place” and sleeps there, dreaming of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, with angels climbing and descending on it; G‑d appears and promises that the land upon which he lies will be given to his descendants. In the morning, Jacob raises the stone on which he laid his head as an altar and monument, pledging that it will be made the house of G‑d.
In Haran, Jacob stays with and works for his uncle Laban, tending Laban’s sheep. Laban agrees to give him his younger daughter, Rachel—whom Jacob loves—in marriage, in return for seven years’ labor. But on the wedding night, Laban gives him his elder daughter, Leah, instead—a deception Jacob discovers only in the morning. Jacob marries Rachel, too, a week later, after agreeing to work another seven years for Laban.
Leah gives birth to six sons—Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun—and a daughter, Dinah, while Rachel remains barren. Rachel gives Jacob her handmaid, Bilhah, as a wife to bear children in her stead, and two more sons, Dan and Naphtali, are born. Leah does the same with her handmaid, Zilpah, who gives birth to Gad and Asher. Finally, Rachel’s prayers are answered and she gives birth to Joseph.
Jacob has now been in Charan for fourteen years, and wishes to return home. But Laban persuades him to remain, now offering him sheep in return for his labor. Jacob prospers, despite Laban’s repeated attempts to swindle him. After six years, Jacob leaves Charan in stealth, fearing that Laban would prevent him from leaving with the family and property for which he labored. Laban pursues Jacob, but is warned by G‑d in a dream not to harm him. Laban and Jacob make a pact on Mount Gal-Ed, attested to by a pile of stones, and Jacob proceeds to the Holy Land, where he is met by angels.
Said Rabbi Elazar: What does Isaiah mean when he says, “And many peoples will go and say, ‘Come let us go up to the Mountain of G-d to the HOUSE of the G-d of Jacob!'” ? Why the G-d of Jacob and not the G-d of Abraham and Isaac? The answer is: Not like Abraham, who saw it as a Mountain (“as it is said this day, On the Mountain HaVaYaH is seen” — Genesis 22:14). And not like Isaac, for whom it was a Field (“And Isaac went out to meditate in the Field” — Genesis 24:63). But like Jacob, who called it a House: “And he called the name of that place Beth El, the House of G-d” (Genesis 28:19).
This passage comes to teach that at the consummation of human history, when “many peoples will go” in search of G-d’s truth, the idea through which G-d will be understood by the peoples will be Jacob’s idea: the idea of the House — the Holy Temple. The conception of the Temple as a House brings the idea of devotion to G-d right into the house and home. The Temple is the epitome of all houses. Thus it has a kitchen (the AZARA or central courtyard) and oven (the Altar), a “living room” (the Sanctuary), with its “lamp” (the Menorah) and table (the Showbread Table), and a “bedroom”, the Holy of Holies, place of the ZIVUG of the Holy One and the Shechinah (Divine Presence).
The Temple is the universal paradigm of what all of our homes should be, a place for the dwelling of the Divine Presence. At the very center of the Temple vision is the “ladder” that has angels “ascending and descending” on it. This is the ladder of devotion. Our prayers, blessings and simple, everyday “homely” mitzvos and acts of devotion send “angels” ASCENDING upwards to realms that are beyond our comprehension. The ascending angels in turn elicit angels of blessing who DESCEND into this world and into our very lives (such as the angels who accompany us from the synagogue to the home on Shabbos night and who, on seeing that we have made everything ready for Shabbos, bless our table, which is like the Temple altar.) The vow Jacob made upon inaugurating the House of G-d is the paradigm of all the different “vows” or commitments we make involving some kind of self-restraint and sacrifice in order to elevate ourselves spiritually and elicit G-d’s protection. These acts of self-sacrifice send up ascending angels, drawing down descending angels of blessing. The foundation of devotion is our COMMITMENT (but without actual vows).
Lessons for Humanity from the Weekly Parshah
by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum