Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #7: Vayetze (He went out) B’resheit (Genesis) 28:10-32:33
Haftarah: Hoshea (Hosea) 12:13-14:10
Brit Chadashah: Yochanan (John) 1:43-51
The recent terrorist attacks in France provides a sad but excellent opportunity to consider why Yaakov is the major subject in this week’s parashah. For the last two years, I concentrated on explaining the names of the Twelve Tribes and the significance to the past, present, and future of Israel. I invite those who have not read the past lessons to study them carefully as Hebrew names convey the essence of the object named. However, I believe there is no better time than the present to delve into the life of Yaakov as I will now explain.
Rabbi Lord Jonathon Sacks addressed the same issue from a different perspective than I chose for today’s teaching. I am taking a tack from the perspective of the ever-growing sense of fear and uncertainty many people exhibit with the continued deterioration of society on a global scale; America being no exception. Jacob was not like the other patriarchs, or even Moshe. Abraham was the epitome of hospitality and obedience to a G-d that he sought out diligently in an idolatrous environment. Yaakov was not called to offer himself as a physical sacrifice as was Yitz’chak. Neither did he lead over one million people through a wilderness journey lasting 40 years and serve as a prophet second only to Yahshua in greatness. No, Yaakov’s claim to fame can be seen in his life of moving from one dangerous situation to another, his devotion to G-d, and his discovery that G-d can present Himself when we least expect it. Yaakov left home on the run when Esav made it clear that he planned to kill him Yitz’chak passed on. He went to sleep under the stars in a strange place as he travelled toward Haran. G-d identified himself to Yaakov in a dream as Adonai, the G-d of Avraham and Yitz’chak. He makes a promise to Yaakov about the Land and his descendants that will be “as numerous as the grains of dust on the earth” and that all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 28:14). Now we come to the promise made by Adonai that all true believers need to internalize and depend upon as our world becomes more dangerous as hasatan seeks to wreak as much havoc as he can before his ultimate destruction. Gen. 28:15 reads, “ I will guard you wherever you go, and I will bring you back into this land, because I won’t leave you until I have done what I have promised you. There are several other verses in scripture whereby G-d gives us His promise that He will not leave those who love and follow His ways: Deut. 31:8; Deut. 31:6; Hebrews 13:5; Joshua 1:9; Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:6; Isaiah 41:10-13; Psalms 55:22; Romans 8:28; 1 Chronicles 26:20.
It is not until Yaakov awakens that he realizes G-d was right there with him and he didn’t even know it! (Gen. 28:16). This statement and event is extremely important to our understanding of knowing something intellectually, and knowing something in our “hearts” to the point where we no longer have any doubt or sense of abstract belief. Yaakov followed the ways of G-d prior to his vision, but this experience gave him that sense of knowing beyond doubt that G-d was with him and would not leave him. How many time have you heard someone say for example, “I know how you must feel with your__________ (any disease or adverse situation), when that person has never experienced what you are experiencing. Even if someone has suffered the same calamity as you, your experiences with the situation will be different that those of another. We cannot know what it is like to experience a life experience until we have been through it, and even then, it will be unique to our person. This is one way G-d refines us, softens us, or strengthens us for our particular task. G-d in his mercy and love showed himself to Yaakov, so that he could know that G-d was with him. Even son, this process of trust beyond our physical reality takes time to overcome. Indeed. We read of how he wrestled with the angel of G-d who was in reality Yahshua. This encounter took place at night when Yaakov was alone, just as did the first. Yaakov is afraid of Esav demonstrating that he has not yet come to know that G-d is with him even when he cannot see Him. Again, G-d in his love for Yaakov, the Man who wrestled him renamed him Isra’el because Yaakov showed his strength to both G-d and men. (Gen. 32:29). In verse 32:31 Yaakov acknowledges that He saw the face of G-d and lived, naming the location of the event P’ni-El (face of G-d). How could he have lived when G-d says no one can see His face and live? Remember, the wrestling was with Yahshuah (G-d in a different role).
A second point of interest in the context of comparing Yaakov and our contemporary world events is that Yaakov prepared for whatever he was about to undertake as much as he could, leaving the rest in G-d’s hands. This is what G-d expects of us just as He did then. Notice that before encountering Esav, whom he expected to fight, he separated his camps. This is a prudent maneuver in any war situation. In our current parashah, Yaakov worked honestly and diligently for his dishonest father-in-law who deceived him in the marriage of his daughters just as Yaakov deceived Yitz’chak and manipulated the birthright from Esav. Furthermore, Yaakov knew G-d was with him (Gen. 31:11-14), giving him knowledge in animal husbandry as he bred the flocks of sheep described in Gen. 30:31-43. By this time, it is apparent that Yaakov has a confidence that G-d was with him as he continued his preparation to leave Lavan’s house and return to the land as G-d commanded (Gen. 31:13). His confidence and true knowledge of G-d’s constant presence is again apparent in the narrative in Gen. 31:41-2, “ These twenty years I’ve been in your house- I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flock; and you changed my wages ten times! If the G-d of my father, the G-d of Avraham, the one whom Yitz’chak fears, had not been on my side, by now you would certainly have already sent me away with nothing! G-d has seen how distressed I’ve been and how hard I’ve worked, and last night he passed judgment in my favor.”
From Yaakov we can rest assured that G-d keeps His promises. He is with us and will remain so as long as we follow His ways out of love and an awesome fear as Yaakov expressed. We must also make ready for whatever may come to the best of our abilities. As mentioned in other classes, having a storm shelter is prudent; hoarding months or years’ worth of supplies thinking we can hide-out without G-d on our side is useless.
It is often when we are seemingly in the most dire situations that we quiet ourselves long enough to listen to the still small voice. Psalm 46 provides a wonderful reminder that our G-d will never leave us; let us internalize this truth as we continue to experience the last days:
G-d is our refuge and strength, and ever –present help in trouble. Therefore we are unafraid, even if the earth gives way, even if the mountains tumble into the depths of the sea, even if its waters rage and foam, and mountains shake at its turbulence.
There is a river whose streams gladden the city of G-d, the holy habitation of ‘Elyon- G-d is in the city. It will not be moved- when daybreak comes, G-d will help it. Nations were in turmoil, kingdoms were moved; his voice thundered forth, and the earth melted away.
Adonai-Tzva’ot is with us, our fortress, the G-d of Ya’akov. Come and see the works of Adonai, the astounding deeds he has done on the earth. To the ends of the earth he makes wars cease- he breaks the bow, snaps the spear, burns the shields in the fore. ‘Desist, and learn that I am G-d, supreme over the nations, supreme over the earth.’
Adonai’ Tzva’ot is with us, our fortress is the G-d of Ya’akov.
The parashah ends with these comforting words” Ya’akov went on his way, and the angels of G-d met him. When Ya’akov saw them, he said,’ This is G-d’s camp,’ and called that place Machanayim[two camps].
Haftarah connection (Hoshea 12:13)
Hoshea uses the constant obstacles that Yaakov faces as a starting point for admonishing the Jewish people, who have alrady begun to forget G-d. The people have taken on idol worship and believe that that their own ability is responsible for their wealth and power just as many people and nations boast today. As discussed above, we must learn and remember that all power and success comes from G-d at His choosing. Yaakov recognized this fact throughout his life as should we with every breath we take.
B’rit Chadashah: Yochanan (John) 1:43-51
Genesis 28:10 and beyond reads “Ya’akov went out from Be’er Sheva and traveled toward haran. He came to a certain place and stayed the night there, because the sun had set. He took a stone from the place, put it under his head and lay down there to sleep. He dreamt that there before him was a ladder resting on the ground with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of Adonai were going up and down on it. Then suddenly Adonai was standing there next to him; and he said, ‘I am Adonai, the G-d of Avraham your [grand] father and the G-d of Yitz’chak. The land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants.’”
Fast forward to John 1 49-51; “Natan’el said, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of G-d! You are the King of Isra’el! Yahshua answered him, ‘you believe all this just because I told you I saw you under a fig tree? You will see greater things than that!’ Then he said to him, ‘Yes indeed! I tell you that you will see heaven opened and the angels of G-d going up and coming down on the Son of Man!’”
Comparing these passages we see right away that Yahshua identified himself as the ladder upon which the angels of G-d are ascending and descending. This makes perfect sense as we compare the ladder to Yahshua. First we know that Yahshua is the conduit between heaven and earth; man and G-d. We cannot get to G-d (who is also Yahshua) without going through him. He is the Way- and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6); the Beginning (Genesis 1:1) and the End (Revelation). The rungs on the ladder go horizontally representing our relationship to man and the two side supports extend vertically representing our relationship to G-d. We must ascend the ladder one rung at a time as we learn to nullify (descend) ourselves. The kabbalistic interpretation expands this view to include the purpose of ascending the ladder is to gain a higher perspective, a view from above, or “outside the physical water globe” of our perceived reality. The purpose of self-nullification (descent) is to fulfill our purpose in creation (ascent). That is, to glorify G-d. When we ascend the ladder of creation, we begin to let go a little more of our “water globe” existence and get a glimpse outside the borders of our finite world. The higher we ascend in our relationship to G-d, the sharper our perspective on earthly spheres when we descend once more. Note that we ascend and descend, just as the angels, and just as the Israelites did on their journey. G-d did not allow them to remain on the mountain top forever. They had to descend and return to the world, but were commanded to remain set-apart from it at the same time. We are to do the same. In addition to our love and obedience to G-d’s Torah, prayer helps us to ascend and descend. On a Kabbalistic level, the aim of prayer is to attach the soul to its source, and to learn to overcome our animalistic drives and passions, elevating them to a holy outcome. These goals exist in tandem. Through elevation and attachment-ascent- we may refine our characters through a deeper understanding of the purpose of creation that was explained to Avraham and others. Hence, the Kabbalists write that the knowledge of this chain of creation is a great mitzvah, in that it brings man to “know G-d,” and stand in awe of Him. Of course we have no earthly notion of G-d as he is. This phrase implies that we come to the realization of G-d’s sovereignty and our responsibility to serve Him wherever He places us.
We ascend and descend the ladder daily. Our bodies are created from earth and our soul is the breath of life. Note the breath of life is not the same as physical ability to breathe. We fight the earthly aspect of our lives as “Esau”, and strive for a closer relationship to G-d as “Jacob”. The angels and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) assist us as G-d wills. At times we are spiritually uplifted and detached from the mundane, and at other times we are totally immersed in the materialistic quagmire. How can we continue to move forward and upward toward G-d? The answer lies in prayer, study, and practice. We pray for understanding in what we read. We are given the knowledge we need at the right time according to G-d’s timetable. We remain diligent in our studies and incorporate what we learn into our being internally and then through external action. As we continue to grow in G-d’s Torah, our relationship becomes richer and begins to take precedence over the earthly draws of our humanity. In essence, as we ascend the spiritual ladder, we descend in our expression of pride and arrogance. We decrease so Yahshua can increase, just as John the Baptist said and understood. John’s statement perfectly describes our journey up the spiritual ladder. As we serve Yahshua by emulating Him before men (the horizontal rungs on the ladder representing our linear relationship to earthly creation), we ascend upward toward our goal of being saved and living with YHVH/Yahshua forever. Israel (the growing body of true believers and Israel the nation seems to render little significance in the global perspective. However, the time is coming when Israel will be avenged and vindicated against the nations (Ezekiel 36-39; Nahum 2:2; Isaiah 62:1; Amos 9:11; Luke 2:32; Rev. 21)
Rabbi Tamah Davis