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Jacob Goes Forth and Multiplies  

 

a.k.a. Parashat VaYetze 

On his way to his uncle Laban, Jacob dreamt of a ladder that stretched from earth to heaven. There were angels ascending and descending it. God stood behind Jacob and said, “I will give you and your ancestors the land where you are sleeping. Through you will all families of the earth be blessed.” 

The next morning Jacob put up a memorial stone and named the place Beth El (House of the Lord).  

Jacob continued his journey. He saw a well in the field and sheep lying there. Jacob said to the men gathered there, “Do you know Laban?” 

“Yes,” they answered. “His daughter, Rachel, the shepherdess, will soon be coming with her sheep.” 

When Jacob saw Rachel, he caused the rock to roll from the mouth of the well in order to water the sheep. Jacob kissed Rachel, telling her he was her kinsman, and she ran and told her father about him. Jacob ended up staying with Laban. 

Laban had two daughters, Leah the elder and Rachel the younger. Jacob loved Rachel and said to Laban, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel.” Laban agreed. So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel and then said to Laban, “My working days are complete. Give me my wife.” 

Laban threw a big feast. When it was evening, he took his eldest daughter Leah, and brought her to Jacob for their wedding night. But when morning came and Jacob saw it was Leah, he confronted Laban over the deception. 

Laban responded, “It is not our tradition to give the younger daughter before the elder. Complete the wedding week with Leah and we shall give you Rachel for another seven years of work.” 

Jacob served another seven years, and Laban gave him Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. When God saw that Leah was the hated one, God opened her womb. Leah conceived and bore a son, Reuben. She conceived another son, Shimeon. Then she had another son, Levi, saying, “Now my husband will attach himself to me for I have borne him three sons.” Next she had Judah, saying, “Now I shall give thanks to God.” Then Leah stopped conceiving children. 

When Rachel saw she had not born Jacob any children, she envied her sister. She said to him, “Give me children or else I will die.” 

But Jacob was angry with Rachel saying, “Am I in God’s place? Who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” 

So Rachel gave Jacob her maidservant, Bilhah, as a wife. Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Rachel said, “God has judged me and has heard my weeping and given me a son,” and called him Dan. Bilhah then bore Jacob another son, Naphtali. 

When Leah saw she was no longer bearing children, she gave her maidservant Zilpah to Jacob as a wife. Zilpah bore Jacob a son, Gad, followed by another, Asher. 

Then Leah conceived a fifth son for Jacob. She called him Yissakhar, saying, “God has given me my wages because I gave my maidservant to my husband.” Leah conceived a sixth son, Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah. 

Then God remembered Rachel. God opened her womb and she bore Jacob a son, saying, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph. 

 At this time, Jacob said to Laban, “I want to return home.” 

Laban answered, “I believe that God has blessed me for your sake. What shall I give you?” 

They agreed upon an arrangement where Laban’s animals were divided. God told Jacob in a dream that it was time for him to return to his homeland. 

While Laban was away from the house, Rachel stole her father’s household idols (teraphim) and Jacob left without saying goodbye. When Laban heard that Jacob had fled, he came after them. But God came to Laban in a dream saying, “Do not speak to Jacob either good or bad.” 

The next day, Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You have robbed my heart, taking my daughters like prisoners of war. Why did you flee in secret? I would have sent you away with joy and songs. It is within my power to hurt you, but your God told me not to. I can see you wanted to go home, but why did you steal my gods?” 

“I left secretly because I was afraid you might take your daughters from me by force,” said Jacob. “But with whomever you find your idol gods, he shall not remain alive.” Now, Jacob did not know that it was Rachel who had taken the idols. Rachel had them underneath her on the cushion of the camel, so when Laban searched, he could not find them. 

This rebuke made Jacob angry. He said, “What is my crime and what my sin that you pursued me? For twenty years, I have worked for you, serving fourteen years for your two daughters, six years for your flock and you changed my pay ten times. Had it not been for my God, you would now have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my misery and proved it in your dream last night.” 

Laban answered, “Now, all that is here is mine. Let us make a covenant between us. If you should cause my daughters to suffer or if you take wives besides my daughters, God is our witness.” And they took stones and raised them high as memorial stones and then had a feast. 

The next day, Laban rose early and blessed them and returned home. Jacob went upon his way and angels of God met him.  

Commentary on the seventh parsha (portion of the Torah) 

The Torah consists of the five books of Moses, the first part of the Old Testament.

 

To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism and how we got where we are. He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.

 

SAS:  What an amazing story! We’ve got deception, sibling rivalry, polygamy, theft, a chase, and lots of sex. Superb stuff, Methuselah! But the morality of the narrative leaves a lot to be desired by Jewish standards. For instance, in Leviticus we read that a man may not marry sisters. But Jacob does. How can he get away with that?

MS:  These were early days, Sigmund, and people were still learning. The Jewish law eventually caught up with the kind of rivalry we see between Leah and Rachel.

SAS:  That’s too convenient an answer. Your favourite character, God, knew from the start that marrying sisters was a sin. Why didn’t he step in and prevent Jacob from doing something so heinous? No! No! Don’t tell me it was part of his providential plan relating to the 12 Tribes of Israel. God cannot shape our destiny by turning a blind eye to sinful practice.

MS: What God can and can’t do is a matter for God. We cannot understand his ways.

SAS: You’re certainly right about that. I can’t, for example, understand his effective condoning of polygamy.

MS: Polygamy was a custom of the time. It was necessary for men to have many children. 

SAS: Yes, and I am certainly impressed with how ready our forbears were to “Go forth and multiply”! So we find Jacob adding Bilpah and Zilpah to his collection of wives, joining Abraham and David as polygamists of note. And yet rabbinic Judaism expressly forbids polygamy! 

MS: You of all people should know that circumstances and customs change.

SAS: Yes, but God is not supposed to change. If what you wrote is merely provisional, and time-bound, how can we rely on it?

MS: What I’m saying to you is that things happen in time and context and you need to read with intelligence and understanding. And stop trying to penetrate the mind of God.

SAS: Let’s get away from God for the moment. Overall, I feel sorry for the women in the story, as they are clearly second-class beings whose job it is to satisfy their husbands and give them children. Your story denies them equality, and dignity, and then makes them deceivers. Leah agrees to the wedding subterfuge, and Rachel steals her father’s “household gods” when Jacob and his entourage flees. By the way, what was that incident with the idols about?  

MS: The teraphim were household gods that some people kept during those times.

SAS: And which our patriarch’s wife makes off with! Her husband is the favourite of the one true God of Israel, in whose sight no graven image can be permitted, and yet Rachel steals these gods and hides them on pain of death! She probably believed they worked – after all, her father had prospered while worshipping them. So they were taken along as extra insurance.

MS: No insurance was needed. Jacob came from a wealthy family too, and he received a promise from God in his dream that all families of the earth would be blessed through him.

SAS: And Rachel believed him? Come on, Methuselah! A dream on a rocky hillside about angels on a ladder does not make a dynasty! The way I read your piece of fiction, Rachel brought the idols along because she felt she needed them.

MS: Piece of fiction? What kind of Jew would doubt the story of Jacob?

SAS: The existence of Jacob isn’t a simple issue. Since the name Jacob-el appeared in ancient tablets in Palestine and in Hyksos scarabs, it is clear that the name was important, and that there were strong traditions associated with it. But that’s all.

MS:  It must be hard to live in a world of such vagueness. I prefer certainties and an ironclad faith.  

SAS: At the expense of rational inquiry? What kind of Jew are you?

MS: The kind who believes that in the end it is all part of God’s plan.

 

History

 

The Parsha we have just read comes from the five books of Moses, the Torah. The dialogues between Sigmund Albert Spinoza and Methuselah Solomon are about the meaning of the Parsha.

 

What we know about Jewish History, however, is based in fact, and on historical records. 

 

If you’d like to know more about the real history of our extended Jewish family, read on. 

 

Jews and the Muslim World 

 

The relationship between Jews and Muslims is extremely tense and fragile at present, but it was not always so. During two historical periods, particularly, Jewish people flourished while living under dispensations loyal to Islam.

 

Famously, there was the Golden Age in Spain in which Jewish religious, cultural and economic life flourished. This period is variously dated, with 711 given as the earliest date and 1145 as the latest. Some scholars argue that the benefits of this period to Jews and Muslims have been overstated. It is safe to say, however, that the period was one of relative prosperity and progress and deserves to be regarded as a highly fortunate time for Jewish people.

 

After 912, especially, Jews prospered under the Caliphate of Cordoba, and made important contributions to the scientific, commercial and industrial advances of the time. Many Jews flourished within the silk trade. Moses ben Enoch, a scholar of note, led the local Jewish community as rabbi of Cordoba. Al-Andalus, in the south, became the centre of Talmudic study.

 

 Jews had relative autonomy as “protected non-Muslims”, although they had to wear identifying clothing and pay the jizya, a special tax paid as a tribute in place of the zakat that Muslims paid.

 

Things deteriorated from 976 when the Caliphate began to dissolve, and the first persecution took place in 1066 when Jews were expelled from Granada. When the Almohades took power in 1148, Jews were forced to convert to Islam. Many Jews left for Toledo, a city that remained tolerant, and became part of the School of Toledo, an important centre of Jewish learning.

 

Maimonides (a.k.a. Rambam), born in Cordoba in 1138, is a famous Jew who was born at the tail end of the Golden Age. Jews remained in Spain until 1492 when the conquering Christians issued the edict of expulsion. King Ferdinand stipulated that all Jews who did not convert to Christianity had to leave.

 

Emperor of the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan Beyazit II, welcomed these Jews from Spain, known as Sephardic Jews. Istanbul, Salonica, Izmir and Safed were the most vibrant centres of Sephardic activity.

Jews in their new home established printing presses and many Jewish doctors attended Ottoman sultans as court physicians.  A number of Jews succeeded as traders. 

The Ottoman Empire ended with World War 1 and was replaced by the Turkish Republic under President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Until his death in 1938, Ataturk introduced a raft of reforms that transformed Turkey into a modern, democratic, secular state. As early as 1933, Ataturk invited Jewish professors to flee the Nazi regime and settle in Turkey. In his book The Secret Jews, Rabbi Dr. Joachim Prinz alleged that Ataturk was a Sephardic “Crypto-Jew”. Some believe “Ataturk Pasha” was a descendant of Sabbatai Zevi (one of the false Messiahs of Jewish history) 

Ataturk died in 1938, but Jews continued to use Turkey as a refuge during World War II. In 1992, Turkish Jews celebrated 500 years of settlement in that country. Today there are 26,000 Jews in Turkey, 96% of these being Sephardic. 

Depending on circumstances, then, Muslims and Jews can coexist peacefully and productively. Scholars point out that today’s antipathy is not the culmination of years of antagonism but is a relatively new phenomenon.  

Here follows a discussion on this historical segment by the Father, Chaya and Ben. 

 

Three celebrants can read the parts of Ben, Chaya and their father 

 

CHAYA: Dad, I think it is worrying that Jewish and Arab tensions have built up over the last century. You’ve always taught Ben and me that the best way to solve conflicts is through negotiation. 

FATHER: So it is, Chaya. However, when it comes to conflicts in which religious and political issues are intermeshed, there is such depth of feeling involved that it is difficult to hammer out solutions. Neither Israel’s nor the Palestinian’s negotiators can afford to walk away from the negotiation table with any deal that smacks of appeasement or capitulation. And for a number of supporters on each side, the surrender of anything is a form of appeasement. Not everyone is interested in negotiating a two-state solution. For many ideologues and extremists, complete possession and control of Jerusalem and the so-called Holy Land remains the only goal. 

BEN: But if religion is central to the dispute, can’t the matter be settled in a spirit of religious understanding, tolerance and generosity. 

FATHER: You’re being naïve, Ben. It’s precisely the religious conflicts in the world that are the hardest to solve. When religious feelings are brought to bear, rationality and sensible compromise fly out the window. 

CHAYA: If religious conflicts are the hardest to solve, doesn’t this put a big question over religion as a way of handling important issues? 

FATHER: Some say more harm has been done in the name of religion than anything else. 

BEN: Does that mean we should stop celebrating being Jewish? Or that Muslims should set aside their religious beliefs?  

FATHER: Jews and Muslims shouldn’t stop being religious if that is their choice. However, in my opinion we should be aware of the negative aspects of religion, and not allow those aspects to dominate us. Religion exists, in theory anyway, for the benefit of humankind. We need to identify those elements of it that benefit us, and those that make us slaves, often to someone else’s ideas. 

Sayings 

Every Shabbat we read five short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and humour, insightful reflections on this life of ours. 

 

Here are tonight’s sayings: 

 

·        God, I know we are your chosen people, but couldn’t you choose somebody else for a change?  (Shalom Aleichem) 

·        In a restaurant, choose a table near a waiter. 

·        A man should live if only to satisfy his curiosity. 

·        Whoever does not try, does not learn. 

·        A table is not blessed if it has fed no scholars. 

Celebration of Great Lives 

Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around them.

 

Steven Spielberg (1946 - ) 

Steven Allan Spielberg, is the No.1 film director of his time. At the end of the 20th century Life Magazine named him the most influential person of his generation. Spielberg has won three Academy Awards and has been nominated for many more. His crowning achievement is Schindler’s List, voted Best Picture of 1993. It is the story of how German businessman Oskar Schindlersaved the lives of more than one thousand Polish Jews during the Holocaust by hiring them as factory workers. The American Film Institute ranks it the 9th greatest film of all time. Other successes for Spielberg include commercial blockbusters Jaws, E.T. and Jurassic Park. He also directed the celebrated movies Saving Private Ryan, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the four Indiana Jones films and The Color Purple. His recent films include Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds and Interstellar.  Spielberg’s family name derives from the Austrian city where his Hungarian Jewish ancestors lived in the 17th century. He is a true colossus in his chosen field; a filmmmaking genius who has brought enjoyment, insight and understanding to millions of people worldwide. 

 

Hannah Arendt  (1906-1975) 

One of the more controversial Jews of recent times, Hannah Arendt was born in Germany and went on to become a political theorist of great renown. She was a student of the influential German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, and became his sometime lover, which is upsetting to Jews because of Heidegger’s subsequent support for the Nazis, and betrayal of Arendt, as well as his own professor, Edmund Husserl, another Jewish philosopher. Arendt later wrote her doctoral thesis under the tutelage of philosopher Karl Jaspers. Unable to continue her academic career in Germany because she was Jewish, she went to Paris where she helped Jewish refugees from Eastern and Central Europe. There she married, and then managed to escape to America.  

 

Later, surprisingly for her friends, colleagues, and subsequent commentators, she resumed her relationship with Heidegger. Her career flowered in the USA, and she became the first woman to secure a professorship at Princeton. Arendt’s books on freedom and totalitarianism were highly respected and influential, but her book “Eichmann in Jerusalem” written after the trial of Eichmann in Israel, angered many Jews, who took exception to her view that Eichmann was a banal functionary of the system. Many also opposed her view that Jews had somehow contributed to their own oppression. She controversially described Zionism as an “obsolete” form of nationalism. Her abiding legacy, some argue, was her insight that Nazism and Stalinism were both totalitarian forms of government that were equally rooted in moral depravity. Many Jews will say Arendt’s own moral compass was cracked, but few would question her intellectual genius. It is not surprising that an asteroid – 100027 Hannaharendt – was named in her honour.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

HOW TO SING THE SONGS
ADON OLAM WORDS
Adon Olam David Solid Gould & The Temple Rockers
ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS
ALLE BRUDER SONG
ALLE BRIDER SONG
AL KOL ELEH WORDS
AL KOL ELEH
BASHANA words
BASHANA SONG
BEI MIR BIST DU SHEYN
BEI MIR BIST DU SCHEYN SONG
BMBDS song
CHIRIBIM WORDS
CHIRIBIM Song
DAYENU WORDS
DAYENU SONG ENGLISH
DAYENU SONG
DONNA DONNA
DONNA DONNA SONG
HALLELUYA
HALELUJA KARAOKE
HATIKVA
HATIKVA SONG
HATIKVA SONG
DAYENU
HATIKVA WORDS
HATIKVA SONG 1
HAVA NAGILA WORDS
HAVA NAGILA SONG
HAVA NAGILA KARAOKE
HAVEINU SHALOM ALEICHEM
HEVENU SHALOM ALEICHEM WORDS
HEVENU SHALOM ALECHEM SONG
HINEH MA TOV WORDS
JERUSALEM THE GOLD WORDS
JERUSALEM THE GOLD KARAOKE IVRIT
JERUSALEM THE GOLD SONG
JERUSALEM THE GOLD JARAOKE
MAYIM MAYIM WORDS
MAYIM MAYIM DANCE
OIF'N PRIPITSCHOK song
OSE SHALOM
OSE SHALOM SONG
PAPI ROS'N
PAPIROS'N SONG
PARTISAN SONG 1
PARTISAN SONG
PARTISAN SONG MUSIC
RABBI ELIMELEKH
RABBI ELIMELEKH SONG
AS DER REBE SINGT
AS DER REBBE SINGT LEONARD COHEN
AS DER REBBE SINGT SONG
RAISINS WITH ALMONDS WORDS
SIMANTOV U MAZELTOV WORDS
SIMAN TOV MUSIC
MAZELTOV CLARINET
TUMBALALAIKA WORDS
TUMBALALAIKA MUSIC
TUMBALALAIKA MUSIC
TZENA TZENA
TZENA TZENA
TZENA TZENA 4
TZENA TZENA The Weavers
TZENA TZENA WORDS
ALLE BRIDER KLEZMATICS
ALLE BRIDER KLEZMATICS
HATIKVA STREISAND
HATIKVA STREISAND
BIM BAM SHABBAT SHALOM FOR KIDS
BIM BAM SHABBAT SHALOM FOR KIDS
YO EN ESTANDO - SEPHARDIC
ELIYAHU SEPHARDIC
SEPHARDIC SONG
SEPHARDIC SONG 3
Sholem Aleichem Susan Allen
Shalom Aleichem Susan Allen
OTHER VERSIONS OF SONGS
DUVID CROCKET WORDS
DUVID CROCKET MICKEY KATZ
MODERN PASSOVER SONGS
This will help you find yourself]