Tag Archives: Yaakov

Conflict and Strength – VaYishlach


P1140396
art by Laya Crust

Va Yeishev: Bereshit (Genesis) 32:4 – 36

Haftarah:  The Book of Ovadiah

This week’s Torah reading takes us on Yaakov’s (Jacob’s) journey through the country of Edom towards Bethlehem and Efrat. He was a successful man. He had huge flocks, 2 wives, 2 concubines, 11 sons and a daughter, yet he was nervous. He knew he had to travel through his brother’s landholdings but did not want to face his twin because of  their unresolved history. Would Esau be angry at Yaakov? Did Esau still want to kill his brother?

The narrative begins with Yaakov sending messengers to his brother, announcing his approach. The report came back that Esau was coming to meet Yaakov, accompanied by 400 men.  Yaakov, frightened and anxious, sent his messengers ahead with many expensive gifts. He sent his family to the far side of the Jabok River for safety and he himself slept on the closer side of the river, possibly to be on the alert for any attack.

A man came and wrestled with him through the night. Finally at dawn the stranger told Yaakov to let him go. Yaakov demanded that the man give him a blessing and the blessing came in the guise of a new name- Yisrael, “because you have striven with beings Divine and human” (כּי שׂרית עם אלהים ועם אנשׁים).

Image result for jacob and the angel golden haggadah
Golden Haggadah, c. 1320

Who was the man Yaakov fought with? An angel sent by Gd? An adversarial angel representing Esau? Or was it an inner battle that Yaakov was struggling within himself? At the end of the battle Yaakov had a new name and an injury that stayed with him the rest of his life.

Yaakov’s name has many meanings. It can mean follow, heel, or deceive. When he was born Yaakov followed his brother into the world, holding on to Esau’s heel. As they grew up he deceived his brother and his father, and in turn was deceived by his father-in-law.

He left Canaan to avoid confrontation with Esau and to seek a wife. Many years later he left Lavan’s estate in the night, also hoping to avoid confrontation. He may have been a successful man in terms of his career but he was afraid to face the consequences of his actions.

Yaakov couldn’t avoid wrestling with the angel and he refused to give up or give in to the aggressor. He was given a name that represented his strength and position.

Image result for jacob and the angel
by Gustave Dore, 1855

The night of struggle heralded a new beginning. He faced himself and the enemy across from him. That incident strengthened him in his role as leader of a nation. He could carry on and deal with whatever life put in front of him. The struggle with the immortal being took place between sending a message to Esau and actually facing him. Maybe the fight itself influenced Yaakov’s interaction with Esau.

These days we are facing anti-Semitic attacks- verbal and physical, hurtful and deadly, overt and covert, on a frightening level. We are witnessing anti-Semitism from the British elections to UN resolutions, to terrorist attacks in kosher grocery stores and in synagogues, and unconscionable displays of hatred against Israel and Jews on campuses. Like Yaakov we have to face our fears rather than run away from them. Strength as a people and a nation is the only way to combat the hatred.

Like Yaakov let’s struggle with the adversaries and stand firm for what is right. May we see peace soon,

Sabbat Shalom,

Laya

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VaYigash 5776

joeyart by Laya Crust

Haftarah: Ezekiel      37 15-28

Ezekiel (prophet) – c.622 BCE – 570 BCE.

The colourful story of Joseph and his brothers reaches its climax in this week’s parsha, VaYigash.  The brothers and their father, Jacob, had survived the famine in the land of Canaan but could not survive much longer. For the second time the brothers  traveled to Egypt to get food.  They went with troubled hearts. They had been warned not to come unless they brought their youngest brother, Benjamin. Their fears of something bad happening to Benjamin were realized when Benjamin was “framed” by Joseph’s attendants.

The beauty/ pathos of the story unfolds from here.  Judah stepped forward (VaYigash) and begged for understanding. He poured out his heart, recounting the family history to this great Egyptian before him. Judah hoped that by telling this leader of his father’s frailty the leader may accept Judah as a slave rather than take his youngest brother.

Joseph could carry on the charade no longer. He cleared all the Egyptian attendants from the room. It says, ” And no man stood with him while Yosef made himself known to his brothers. And his voice cried out with weeping, and Egypt heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard.”

Joseph forgave his brothers and the family was reunited. Yaakov/ Israel saw his beloved son and his mourning was alleviated. The brothers and their families traveled to Egypt and settled in Goshen where they lived comfortable lives. This message of reconciliation is echoed in the haftarah.

VaYigashart by Laya Crust

The haftarah’s message is unity as expressed on two branches.  One branch represented the nation of Judah and the other represented  Joseph’s lineage. Ezekiel wrote the following phrases onto the branches: “For Judah and for the children of Israel his companions” on one, and “For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and of all the house of Israel his companions” on the other. The background of my painting is made up of significant phrase from Ezekiel’s speech. You can click on the image to enlarge it.

Ezekiel then held the two branches up in front of a gathering of the exiled Jews. He showed that the two groups could be reunited and grow together as one unified nation.

It is interesting how many ways Jews can be looked at in order to create divisions- countries of origin  (Moroccan? German? Swiss? Canadian?) or  Sepharadi vs Ashkenazi or orthodox/ conservative/ reform/ resconstructionist/ humanist or  black kippah vs crocheted kippah vs kippah on an angle or politically right vs politically left.

Just as in the story of Vayigash and in Ezekiel’s pronouncement, we are all B’nei Yisrael- Jews. We can be united and in that way be true to ourselves and stronger as a nation. The haftarah says, “Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations…and bring them to their own land.” (v.21). We see it happening today. Jews from all over the world are coming to Israel. But- you don’t have to be Jewish! Come to Israel! Visit! It’s beautiful there.

May we be one people working for peace and improvement of the world.

Enjoy this holiday time,

Laya

 

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What’s in a Name? – VaYishlach


P1140396
art by Laya Crust

Va Yeishev: Bereshit (Genesis) 32:4 – 36

Haftarah:  The Book of Ovadiah

This week’s Torah reading takes us on Yaakov’s (Jacob’s) journey through the country of Edom towards Bethlehem and Efrat. He knew he had to travel through his brother’s landholdings and was nervous due to their unresolved history. Would Esau be angry at Yaakov? Did Esau still want to kill his brother?

The narrative begins with Yaakov sending messengers to his brother, announcing his approach. The report that came back was that Esau was meeting Yaakov, accompanied by 400 men.  Yaakov, frightened and anxious, sent his messengers ahead with many expensive gifts. He sent his family to the far side of the Jabok River for safety and he himself slept on the closer side of the river, possibly to be on the alert for any attack.

A man came and wrestled with him through the night. Finally at dawn the stranger told Yaakov to let him go. Yaakov demanded that the man give him a blessing and the blessing came in the guise of a new name- Yisrael, “because you have striven with beings Divine and human” (כּי שׂרית עם אלהים ועם אנשׁים).

Who was the man Yaakov fought with? Some commentators think it was an angel sent by Gd. Others think it was an angel representing opposition from Esau. Still others present the idea that it was an inner battle and that Yaakov was struggling with himself. It doesn’t really matter who exactly Yaakov wrestled with. The important element was Yaakov’s ability to face issues, establish the foundation of a nation, and understand his role.

 One of Yaakov’s weaknesses was trying to displace and be superior to his brother.

When we look at Yaakov’s life right from the beginning Yaakov tried to supplant his twin brother Esau. They fought before they were born- Rivka, their mother – complained to Gd about their fighting! Yaakov held on to Esau’s  heel trying to be the first baby to see the world. He then traded stew for Esau’s birthright and masqueraded to get Esau’s blessing from their father. Yaakov ran away from home to evade his brother’s anger- he wouldn’t face the consequences of his actions. But when he left his father-in-law Lavan to return to his home he couldn’t evade his brother any longer. He had to travel through Esau’s lands. There was no choice, no other route.

The confrontation with the immortal being took place between sending a message to Esau and actually meeting him.The night of struggle heralded a new beginning. Yaakov was given a name that represented his strength and position. He realized that his path was his own, not at risk from Esau. We can learn from Yisrael’s life that it is often a struggle to know oneself, but is a valuable struggle.

We have to face our fears rather than run away from them. Yaakov was given a new name after facing an adversary. That incident strengthened him is his role as father of a nation so he could carry on and face whatever life put in front of him. May we all have the strength to face the obstacles in front of us.

May we see peace soon,

Sabbat Shalom,

Laya

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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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Vayechi

Va'yechi Sigartwork by Laya Crust

1 Kings 2:1- 12

King David, on his deathbed, giving guidance to his son Solomon who will become King.

Today is January 1, 2015, the first day of the new year on the Gregorian calendar. (FYI: It was named the Gregorian calendar after the man who first introduced it in February 1582: Pope Gregory XIII.)

Both the haftarah and the parsha are narratives of handing over the reigns of power. In the parsha Yaakov, on his deathbed, describes each of his sons. He goes on to predict how they will lead their lives. In the haftarah King David tells Solomon to vanquish their enemies, be strong and  follow Gd’s laws. Each of these men- Yaakov and David- recognize that the end of their lives is a new beginning for their sons. The new era will hopefully be easier and better than the era being left behind.

New Year’s is seen in the same way in our Western culture. We look at our ups and downs from the past year and make “New Year’s Resolutions” in the hope of having a better and/or more successful year.  In Judaism we have a beautiful prayer we say each morning, “My Gd, the soul You placed within me  is pure. You created it. You fashioned it, You breathed it into me. You safeguard it within me and eventually you will take it from me and restore it to me in time to come. As long as the soul is within me I gratefully thank you my Gd and Gd of my forefathers, Master of all works, Lord of all souls…”

Morning Prayer0059abstraction of prayer by Laya Crust

Each day we have the opportunity to see our life as a new beginning. Each day we have the opportunity to make a change for the better, face a challenge, or make a fresh start.

In this week’s texts Yaakov and David, reflecting on their own lives, were giving their sons guidance in how to look ahead. Their sons could take the exhortations as face value reflection and advice, or could take them on a more profound level. The deeper level would be for the sons to listen to their father’s and ask themselves- “What can I change in myself in order to heed this wisdom and at the same time beome a better person using the wisdom?”

In the same way we can greet January 1, and remind ourselves we can do things we love, that make us feel good, and are beneficial to others. On the same note when we read the prayer thanking Gd and we remind ourselves that we have a fresh soul each day.We can use the newness of each day to move ourseleves towards a greater ideal.

So- Happy New Year, Happy New Day, and enjoy the readings this week! Click on the images to enlarge them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Red Lentil Stew

Esau sells his birthright to Jacob.

Last week in the Torah portion we read about Yaakov and Esau’s troubled relationship. The troubles began even before they were born, but the first detailed account we read takes place when they are out in the fields. The text doesn’t say how old the two brothers were, but they were at least young adults.

According to the text Esau had been out hunting. Naturally he was tired when he came home. When he noticed that Yaakov had been cooking lentil stew he said, “Give me now some of that red, red stuff.” (Genesis 25:30) It makes me think of some other brothers who grunt and burp at each other just to be obnoxious. Why couldn’t Esau have said, “Gee, Yaakov. You are such a great cook, and that stew smells AMAZING! Can I please have some, and I’ll share my meat stew with you tomorrow?”  And therein played out another one of our history’s famous sibling rivalries.

P1100803

I always wondered about that mystical lentil stew. It must have been filling, it probably smelled wonderful, and it would have been red. I found a recipe which fit the bill.  One note of interest- this recipe doesn’t call for red lentils. Red lentils turn yellow when they cook. Instead this recipe calls for brown lentils.  And today seemed like a perfect day to make it. Here in Toronto, Canada, we woke up to 4 degrees C (40 degrees F)temperatures, and at dinner time the temperature hovered at 7 degrees C (45 degrees F). With those temperatures this stew sounded just right.P1100786I suspect that Yaakov and Esau both cooked. When you are in the field for days at a time you have to have some way of warming up your dinner. Esau, being a hunter, probably liked lots of meat in his stews but the meat may not always have been available. Here we have a nice collection of lentils, vegetables and 10 (!) spices. Beware, the spices are pretty intense!

P1100791

The aroma of the sauteeing carrots and onions with fresh ginger and garlic filled the air.

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 The addition of 10 exotic spices made the aroma even more pungent. P1100798The tomatoes and lentils were added next.

La Voila! The finished and filling stew was ready to eat, garnished with yogurt and fresh cilantro. Just like our ancestors in Israel would have done, we scooped up our pottage with some toasty flatbreads.

P1100804

Spicy Red Lentil Stew

1 cup brown lentils

2 cups water

2 onions, diced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. ginger, minced or grated

2 Tbsp.  olive oil

1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

1/2  cup tomato paste

1 cup water or vegetable broth

Spice Blend

2 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. Hungarian paprika

1 tsp. turmeric

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1/4  tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. ground coriander

1/8 tsp. ground allspice

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Method:

Boil the lentils in the 2 c. of water for about 45 minutes, until they are tender.

In another pot, over medium heat, saute the onions and carrots for 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and spice blend. Saute 5 more minutes. Add the canned diced tomatoes (you can use 6 fresh, chopped tomatoes instead), the tomato paste and the additional 1 cup of water/ vegetable broth. Simmer until bubbling.

Serve with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of cilantro- or parsley if you prefer.

This makes 4 large servings. 

Enjoy!

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