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Birth

Facing Our Faults on the Other Side of the River

The stories in Genesis are heavy with human experience; they turn on every conceivable emotion, and life and relationship challenge. In this way, Torah in general, and the Book of Genesis in particular, provide a spiritual mirror that reflects back to us our best, and sometimes most disappointing selves. ...In Jacob, who, in this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, wrestled with the night messenger, we see ourselves struggling with great challenges that bring pain, but from which we might extract blessing.

D'var Torah By: 
Emerging from Our Struggles to Embrace Change
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Joseph R. Black

This week’s parashahVayishlach, so beautifully interpreted by my colleague, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, teaches us about the necessity to embrace change – even when it is difficult. Jacob/Yaakov becomes Israel/Yisrael after wrestling with a mysterious stranger. He is both wounded and empowered by his mystical encounter. Our text provides us with a glimpse into our progenitor’s ability to look deep within himself and his soul, and to find the courage to adjust to the rapidly changing world around him.

A Divine Moment When Heaven and Earth Touch

This week's Torah portion, Vayeitzeidescribes the first part of the journey of the biblical Jacob. Fleeing the wrath of his brother, whose birthright he purchased and whose blessing he stole, Jacob is “heading for the exits.” Fleeing his home, along the way he stops and dreams of angels and God. Jacob awakens from his dream with a start and declares to no one in particular: Achein yeish Adonai bamakom hazeh v’anochi lo yadati, “Surely God is in this place and I [“I” is repeated] did not know it!” (Gen. 28:16).

D'var Torah By: 
Is Jacob’s Vow to God Conditional?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Marc Saperstein

Looking at Parashat Vayeitzei, I’d like to focus on an aspect of this intriguing narrative of Jacob’s dream and its immediate aftermath: the vow that Jacob articulates in response to the stunning encounter with the divine Presence. It is a bit disturbing that the vow Jacob articulates in response to this encounter is totally conditional: “If God is with me and watches over me on this path that I am taking and gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return safely to my father’s house, then will the Eternal be my God” (Gen. 28:20-21). 

Teaching Children According to Their Own Way

My wife and I have three children, two boys and a girl. ... Each one argues that a certain rule may apply to the other two siblings, but it does not apply to him/her because he/she is our favorite. ... In this week’s Torah portion, Tol’dot, Isaac and Rebekah, the parents of twin boys Jacob and Esau  show favoritism to one child over the other. From the outset we are told that these two children are very different beings.

D'var Torah By: 
Great Growth Can Come From Great Struggle
Davar Acher By: 
Cantor Ellen Dreskin

Parashat Tol’dot rarely goes by without someone asking,“How can we receive our name (Yisrael) from someone as manipulative and easily sucked into deceit as Jacob appears to be in this week’s parashah?” And who is really to blame? In deceiving Isaac, was Rebekah only doing her part to manifest the prophecy that she heard from God? Was Isaac really deceived, or did he also knowingly give Jacob the blessing that was supposed to have been given to Esau, his firstborn? And why did Jacob, our “hero,” dive so willingly into his mother’s plan to lie to Isaac?

When Ben-Oni Becomes Benjamin: Rachel’s Midrashic Monologue

In Parashat Vayishlach, we read of the death of our matriarch, Rachel, who does not survive the birth of her second child, a boy whom she names Ben-oni. As she lay dying, the baby’s father, Jacob, renames him Benjamin (Gen. 35:16-18). The Torah does not tell us why this change is made. We imagine Rachel, in her final moments, whispering to her newborn:

D'var Torah By: 
What’s in a Name?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Rachel Kaplan Marks

Shakespeare asks rhetorically, “What’s in a name?" According to our biblical tradition there’s significant meaning in our names. In their commentary on Parashat Vayishlach, Rabbis Bearman and Kipnes present a beautiful midrash on Rachel’s thoughts and feelings about Jacob having changed their youngest son’s name (Gen. 35:18). 

How Can We Avoid Conflict Among Siblings?

Have you ever wanted to kill (or seriously harm) your brother (or sister, or other relative)? The Book of Genesis is replete with enough examples of intended fratricide that we ought to take notice.

D'var Torah By: 
Listening Deeply for the Voices of Our Matriarchs
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Eleanor Steinman

Each year, as we reflect on the Torah, our understanding of it is influenced by the times in which we read it. This year, our society is attuned to #MeToo stories of horrific experiences that have come to light. These stories highlight the importance of listening deeply for the voices of victims, those who are not powerful, those who tell their stories, and those who may not yet be ready to share. With this in mind, I want to explore the introduction of two of our matriarchs, Leah and Rachel in Parashat Vayeitzei. 

Isaac Remembers When He Ended It with Abraham

In Parashat Tol’dot, Isaac is described as having “weak eyes,” which is considered a metaphor for his inability to see what his twin sons Jacob and Esau needed from him (Gen. 27:1). Why was he so poorly prepared to father his boys? In this midrashic monologue, Isaac gives us a clue as he reflects upon his relationship with his own father.

D'var Torah By: 
A Space for Presence and for Love: Be’er-Lachai-Roi
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ilene Harkavy Haigh

In our Torah portion this week, Tol’dot, we learn that “Isaac had grown old and his eyesight had dimmed” (Gen. 27:1) compromising his ability to differentiate between his two sons. Does this explain how he, “inadvertently” blesses Jacob instead of Esa

Sacrifice My Son? What Was I Thinking?

Did you ever wonder what Abraham thought about in the years following his “almost-sacrifice” of his son Isaac? In this midrashic monologue based on Parashat Vayeira, we imagine Abraham’s inner struggles:

D'var Torah By: 
What Were They Thinking?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Paul Golomb

Few narratives in Torah are more intriguing and enigmatic as Abraham’s thwarted sacrifice of Isaac (the Akeidah, Genesis, Chapter 22) in Parashat Vayeira. It has been analyzed and interpreted by numerous readers from Maimonides to Woody Allen. Few (if any other) biblical stories are as challenging. Biblical scholars have wondered why the narrative was inserted in the text at all. 

Struggling With a Deceitful Heart

The inner turmoil that marked Jacob’s life of deceitfulness as well as his struggle with his father, brother, and sons are exposed in Vayishlach. After many years of separation, Jacob, about to meet his estranged brother, Esau, slept in a dream-like state of wakefulness on the shore of the Jabbok River where a man wrestled with him until the rise of dawn. 

D'var Torah By: 
Confronting Mistakes in Order to Grow
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Sarah Mack

Growth often comes from the things we wish most to avoid. In Vayishlach, that is just what Jacob discovers on that dark night on the banks of the Jabbok river. He confronts his mistakes and in the process transforms from his former self, Ya-akov, which can mean “usurper” or “birthright stealer,” to Yisrael a name meaning “one who struggles with God.” 

But Wait, There’s More!

In Vayeitzei, Jacob encounters God in a dream, thus advancing the biblical journey of our people learning from and following the instruction of God. After the biblical era, our Sages found a way to expand our understanding of the Torah and its teachings. 

D'var Torah By: 
The Awesome Presence of God
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz

In Vayeitzei, Jacob learns that he is not the center of his own universe when he encounters God in a dream. Jacob’s understanding of God in this moment is really an understanding of himself as inspirable from the divinity that is all around him and within him.

Genuine Forgiveness Despite a Grave Wrong

In Tol’dot we learn that Jacob, the homespun man, is wilier than his brother Esau, the skilled hunter. While Jewish commentators ascribed many negative traits and behaviors to Esau, a later portion reveals his positive ability to forgive.

D'var Torah By: 
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Judith L. Siegal

Jacob and Esau had different traits even in the womb. Jacob is the brother who gains the favor of the Rabbis ultimately, but in Tol’dot, he is conniving and conspiring. Esau is viewed by the biblical author as “impetuous and brash” and by later commentators as a “wild beast.” The words in Tol’dot imply that their character was inescapable.  

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