Tag Archives: Bereshit

VaYeitze – And he went out

VaYeitzei Sigart by Laya Crust

VaYeitze: Bereshit/ Genesis 27:10 – 32: 3

Haftarah: Hosea 11: 17 – 14 : 10

VaYetzei is the story of Yaakov’s (Jacob’s)  journey away from his parents’ home in Be’er Sheva  to his uncle’s tribe in Padan-aram. He was sent by Rivka to avoid Esau’s anger and to find a wife from her extended family.

 At the end of  Yaakov’s first day of travelling he lay down to sleep and dreamt that a ladder reached up to heaven. Angels ascended and descended the ladder and Gd stood above it. Gd told Yaakov “I will give you  and your descendants the land on which you lie. And your seed will be like the dust of the earth. You will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south…And I am with you and will keep you in all the places you go and will bring you back to this land: for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised…” (Bereshit/ Genesis 28: 13 – 15)

Yaakov continued his journey to Padan-aram and married, but didn’t return to Be’er Sheva immediately.His father-in-law invited him to stay and manage his flocks, recognizing that Yaakov was a clever shepherd and shrewd businessman. The story continues with the trajectory his life takes, following him for 20 years. We read about his marriage to two sisters, his cousins Rachel and Leah; the birth of eleven sons and one daughter; and the shepherding for his father-in-law Lavan. Under Yaakov’s management Lavan’s flocks and wealth increased. It all seemed like a positive arrangement until Lavan noticed how much wealth Yaakov was also accruing.  He and his sons became suspicious and possibly jealous of his son-in-law. Reading the signals, and listening to Gd’s words, Yaakov realized it was time to go home- to Israel. He returned to the land of his birth.

When he left Lavan’s territory ” …angels of Gd encountered him. When he saw them Jacob said, ‘This is Gd’s camp’ and named the place Mahanaim.” (Bereshit/ Genesis 32: 2,3)

This parsha can be seen as a template for the history of the Jews.

First, there was a struggle  causing Jacob to leave to leave his place of birth- just as has happened so many times in our history. Gd told him  that his descendants would spread abroad to the west, the east, the north and the south. And it is so. Jews live in virtually every country, and in every corner of the world.

When Yaakov went to Lavan he was invited to stay and work. When Lavan recognized Yaakov’s business acumen he encouraged his son-in-law to stay. But when Yaakov’s wealth increased Lavan became suspicious and angry so Yaakov fled with his family and his own wealth. How many times has that happened throughout history? Jews were welcomed to Egypt, Spain, France,  Holland, Germany, England, Poland, Lithuania, and more where they practised medicine, were traders, and improved the mercantile system. When the population either became jealous of their success or ran into financial difficulty Jews became scapegoats and were victimized. And the Jews have had to escape unprovoked persecution time and time again.

And of course Yaakov and his wives had twelve children- each of them unique. We, today, are a people of many unique traditions and interpretations.

It is significant that angels begin and end the narrative. As Yaakov leaves his homeland he is greeted by angels and Gd. At the end of the narrative Gd warns him to leave Lavan and the angels meet him again.

Yaakov’s descendants, B’nei Yisrael, are accompanied by angels of Gd. It may not seem like it but miracles happen every day. There are horrible tragedies that can only be attributed to סינאת חנם , baseless hatred. Even so, lives in Israel are miraculously protected every day. In these times of terror and upside down morality we are accompanied by angels- but we have to keep our hearts and ears open in order to hear them.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, and keep the faith! For a wonderful look at a ladder to heaven watch this youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZguOD4hmcw

 Laya

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Sarah – שרה

VaYeira Sigart by Laya Crust

Vayeira- Genesis 18 – 22

Haftarah- Kings II, ch. 4: 1-37

This week’s parsha is an incredible series of stories and events. There are at least five incredible narratives, each worthy of detailed study. Sarah, Avraham’s wife, figures throughout the parsha, and I’d like to look at her personality this week.

Avraham is the major character in these stories of Bereshit.  Gd told Avraham to leave his homeland and that he would become the father of a great people. Avraham left, taking his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him. As I read about Sarai- whose name was changed to Sarah- I am struck by her strength, her wisdom, and her relationship with Avraham. She was 75 years old when she and her husband left their home for unknown reaches. She was described as beautiful- so beautiful that King Avimelech took her to his harem. We may wonder how a woman of 75 can be that appealing, but some have an ageless beauty that is enhanced by grace and wisdom.

P1140345drawing by Laya Crust

I think Sarah also had a spark of humour and joy of life that contributed to being timelessly attractive. Her sense of humour?- she heard the angels speak and laughed within herself- laughing at herself and the thought of becoming a mother in her nineties. Her joie de vivre? She enjoyed her relationship with Avraham, “sporting” with him (AKA fooling around) in a field!

The readings suggest that Sarah and Avraham had a strong  partnership. They traveled together and discussed the strategy for entering Avimelech’s kingdom. Recognizing her infertility she offered her handmaid Hagar to her husband, hoping that way he would become a father. Recognizing Hagar’s behaviour Sarah handled the situation as she thought she had to. When the three angels appeared at their tent in the desert Avraham and Sarah worked as a team to create a feast for them. It appears that Sarah ran her community with wisdom and level headedness.

The situation surrounding “akeidat Yitzhak”, the binding of Isaac, doesn’t fit the picture of a strong relationship. It doesn’t seem that Avraham told Sarah that he had been commanded to sacrifice their beloved son.  A midrash (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midrash) says that Sarah heard a rumour that Isaac had been sacrificed by Avraham. According to that midrash Sarah died, never knowing that her son was alive. We don’t know what really happened, or why Avraham didn’t tell Sarah what he had been commanded to do. Maybe Avraham was trying to protect her. Maybe Avraham trusted that Gd would make things “right” and there would be no sense in alarming her. We just don’t know.

The illustration at the top of the page is from the haftarah of VaYeira. It shows the prophet Elisha with the Shunammite woman who had a room built for him for when he visited Shunem. This woman, like Sarah, was childless for many years. Her son, like Isaac, almost died. Unlike Sarah, she was able to watch her son grow to adulthood.

It is tragic that Sarah seemed to have died not knowing her son was alive, not knowing that she would be venerated as the mother of the Jewish nation.

She is a wonderful model for all women, and her strengths should never be overlooked.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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VaYishlach

VaYishlach Laya Crust 2013

As with many of our readings in the book of Bereishit this week’s reading is full of stories and adventures. The event pictured here is that of Shimon and Levi rescuing their sister Dina from a local man who abducted and raped her. In light 0f current events the brothers’ efforts seem quite progressive. (Shimon and Levi didn’t punish their sister for her misfortune and didn’t hide their revulsion of the act because they were afraid of what society would say.) That incident is sandwiched between Jacob’s encounter with Esau, and the death of Rachel at the end of the parsha.

Today I’m going to write about a different incident in the parsha, Jacob’s fight with “a man”  the night  before he was to meet Esau. Jacob was worried- frightened- to see his brother. Esau was a wealthy hunter and fighter. Jacob had wronged Esau in the past and realised that Esau may want to attack him and his family. He divided his family into four camps and put them on the far side of the river Jabok. He camped on the other side of the river so that he would be the first line of defence.

 Golden Haggadah, Barcelona Spain c. 1320

In the middle of the night a man came and wrestled with him. They were obviously well matched because the wrestling continued until dawn. By the end of the night there was still no victor.  The man, an angel,  touched and injured Jacob’s thigh then gave Jacob another name- “Yisrael”, translated as “you have striven with Gd”.

When Jacob first left his parents’ home he had a dream in which angels were climbed up and down a ladder, with Gd at the top of the ladder.

VaYeitzei Sig   Laya Crust 2013

Rashi suggested that angels accompanied Jacob in Canaan, the land promised to the Jews. When Jacob fled and lay down to sleep that set of angels left his side and another set of angels came down to accompany him to the unknown country.

Why was an angel sent to fight him on the bank of the Jabok River when Jacob was on his way back to Canaan ? If the angels were there to guide and protect him, why start a wrestling match? Who won? Jacob was given a new name describing a stronger personality but he was injured and limped for the rest of his life.

Some suggest that the fight wasn’t with an angel. Some suggest it was an inner psychological struggle.When you think of it- Jacob was an older man sleeping on the hard ground. He was having nightmares about meeting his brother. Maybe he rolled around and knocked into a sharp boulder. That could explain a pretty painful injury. In any case, the fight was cathartic. After all those years Jacob had to face himself before he saw his brother again.

To deal with our difficulties we all have to look at ourselves and our past. Jacob was a strong man, and a strong leader. He faced his fears and his “ghosts”. He didn’t have an easy life but he left the amazing legacy of b’nei Yisrael, the children of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Chayei Sarah- this land is our land

chayei sarah0040Chayeih Sarah

Bereshit 23 – 25: 18

Haftarah- I Kings 1: 1-31

This week’s parsha begins with the news that Sara Imeinu (our matriarch) has died in Qiryat Arba at the age of 127. Abraham came to mourn and weep for her and to find a fitting burial place for his beloved wife.  He insisted on paying for the cave of Machpela even though it had been offered to him as a gift.  The text reads, “And the field of Efron, which was in Machpela,which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was in it,  and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made over to Avraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Chet,…before Mamre: the same is Hevron in the land of Canaan.” ( Ch. 23 v 17 -19)

Avraham paid full price for this small piece of property, also known as Hebron, in front of witnesses so that there would never be a question of ownership.

The Cave of Machpelah - Vincent van Gogh

              The cave of Machpela by Vincent Van Gogh
These days Israel is constantly on my mind. The situation is tragic. The loss of innocent life, the fear, the rioting in Israeli streets and shelling of Israeli homes and communities is horrifying. Many so-called intellectuals and human rights activists question the right of Israelis and Jews to live in Israel which is historic Canaan with a modern name. The fact is that we Jews have lived in that land longer than any other people.  Jews have owned and lived in the land- Canaan, Palestine, the Turkish Empire, Israel- call it what you will-ever since Abraham bought and owned that parcel 5,000 years ago.
At the end of this week’s reading Abraham died and his two sons- Isaac and Ishmael-came together as brothers to bury their father. The two men mourned together. Isaac and Ishmael buried their father in the cave of Machpela, where Sara his wife had been buried. The two brothers met in peace and acted cooperatively. They recognized and remembered that the land belonged to Abraham, and we have to remember that too.

Over the past week there have been outstanding speeches in Toronto by  Melanie Phillips ( journalist),  Nitsana Darshan-Leitner (lawyer), and Caroline Glick (activist). All three women reminded their audiences that the Jews owned Israel before 1967, before 1948, before the Balfour Declaration, and before the Zionist movement under Herzl. We owned the land all the way back to the time of Abraham. We must remember that and not be apologetic or embarrassed.  I pray that we will see peace and cooperation in Israel very soon.

 

Shabbat Shalom,   Laya

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Joseph and His Threads

And Yisrael loved  Joseph

We read the story of Joseph every year. It’s quite a tale. There is jealousy, subversion, lust, deception, desperation and at the end there is reconciliation.  It’s a good adventure and provides inspiration for musicals and bedtime stories.

 In reading and rereading it I was struck by how often clothing is mentioned. We all think of the special coat Jacob gives Joseph, the act that seems to be the catalyst for subsequent events. Throughout the saga of Joseph and his family events are punctuated by references to clothing. Sometimes the reference is to a garment being torn in mourning.

P1090522

Often the change in an outfit announces the change in a scene or situation, as when Joseph is taken out of jail and given a set of clean clothing to wear before seeing Pharaoh. 

 Why was there this focus on clothing?

 Clothing has been mentioned in previous Torah texts. Often – not always- it is related to deception or humiliation and shame.  In the story of Adam and Eve clothing doesn’t appear until Adam and Eve have sinned and they put on fig leaves to cover themselves and hide from G-d. Noah, while drunk, is uncovered and thereby humiliated.  In the story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob dons animal skins and Esau’s clothing in order to fool his father Isaac.  Later Leah wears a veil at her wedding  to trick Jacob into believing he’s marrying Rachel.  In the next generation Joseph’s brothers grab his coat and dip it in blood to fool Jacob into thinking Joseph has died.  Tamar deceives Yehudah by wearing the garb of a harlot and  Potiphar’s wife grabs Joseph’s cloak and keeps it, fabricating (pun intended) a story,  accusing Joseph of trying to molest her. The biggest masquerade of all is that of Joseph. Wearing Pharaoh’s ring,  garments of fine linen and a gold chain, he entertains his brothers while hiding his true identity

 The story of Joseph is a saga, a twisting tale of favouritism and sibling rivalry. Joseph began his life as the chosen son and was given an exceptional coat.  He wore his fabulous coat, announcing to his brothers how wonderful he thought he was. Think of it- he wore his regal cloak- the mark of his father’s favouritism- to the fields where the brothers were working hard in the sun and he was visiting, not working. He was sold into slavery because of his arrogance. Being sold into slavery and transported to a foreign land Joseph faced huge challenges.  He used his faith, intelligence and wits, rising to the highest position available in the country. Clothing and appearance continued to be elements in the saga. Sometimes they hindered Joseph and other times benefited him.P1090525

 This story sets the scene for the next chapter of the history of B’nei Yisrael where the favoured descendants of Joseph become slaves. It’s a fascinating study. I thought about how the words wove a complicated and layered story.  The repeated reference to clothing mirrored the layering of the narrative. I looked at the words as the threads of the story line.  I wove those phrases dealing with nakedness, dress, and clothing  and created 18 images for the Joseph story line.

 It seems that much of Bereshit deals with deception and appearance. Faith in one G-d is the main message of Bereshit, but deception is another.  In Joseph’s family- in the entire Jacob family chronicle – people tampered with appearance. Instead of speaking honestly to each other they often tried to get what they wanted by masquerading.

We live in a world where we are judged not only how we behave but also by what we wear. Clothing in our daily lives announce who we are and how we want to be seen.  We live in a time and a society that is very tolerant of individuality (piercings, tattoos, dreadlocks, shaven heads, hemlines of all lengths, necklines of all depths). But we are  still judged by our appearance. We can use our appearances and garb to get ahead,  and to achieve our goals. We may be masquerading but the truth catches up with us. At the end of the day the world turns and things probably work out as they should. But- it’s probably more comfortable to wear the clothes that are real rather than dress up as someone else.

 

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