Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parasha #7: Vayetze (He went out) B’resheit (Genesis 28:10-32:33)Haftarah: Hoshea (Hosea) 12:13-14:10
Brit Chadashah: Yochanan 1:43-51
This week’s Parasha describes the births of Jacob’s 12 sons who evolve into the 12 tribes of Israel. If we even superficially peruse Genesis chapters 29 and 30, we can make some pretty striking observations. The tribes were all named by their respective mothers of whom there were 4. Jacob seems to have had no say in the name selection process. However, G-d did and that’s what counts.
The common principle used by the matriarchs in naming their sons is also quite obvious. All the names selected describe the status of the intimate relationship between Jacob and the naming mother. It is easy to see that there was constant rivalry over Jacob’s affections. It would appear that each child was used as a pawn in the game of trying to “up one” on the other mothers.
The question would then be how using such criteria for naming each son could possibly reflect the spiritual essence of each tribe when all is said and done? Could this method possibly work?
Indeed it did! Selecting names describing the romantic attachment between husband and wife had the accuracy we usually attribute only to prophetic knowledge of predicting characters of the children born of such a relationship. Furthermore, if we translate the names in order we see they also describe the relationship between YHVH/Yahshua and the tribe. The entire story of Yahshua’s life was worn on the chest of the high priest on the breastplate. Of course, they didn’t know it then, but we can marvel at G-d’s intricate work in retrospect. In the case of the matriarchs as we shall see, things worked out exactly according to G-d’s plan even though the mothers had no clue as to the prophetic meaning the children’s names would come to symbolize any more than did the high priest.
For example, Leah named her third son Levi, meaning “attached to,” as the Torah states:
“Again she conceived and bore a son and declared, ‘This time my husband will become attached to me for I have born him three sons.’ Therefore she named him Levi.” (Gen. 29:34).
Levi turned out to be the progenitor of the tribe that most closely attached itself to G-d. Levi’s descendants consisted of the priestly class, the Kohanim, who officiated at the sacrifices in the Temple.
Those Levites who accompanied the sacrifices with songs were in charge of the general maintenance of all the holy property.
In Orthodox Judaism much credit is given to the matriarchs in the choice of their sons’ names. They are thought as having had prophetic insight as to how the son’s personality would materialize. If the truth be known however, I attribute the outcome to G-d’s orchestration in the lives of His creation.
Leah named her fourth son Judah, a derivation of the Hebrew word Hoda’ah meaning “praise.” Genesis 29:35 states: “she conceived again, and bore a son and declared, ‘This time let me gratefully praise G-d.’ Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped giving birth.”
Judah became the progenitor of Jewish royalty. Of the first two Jewish kings descended from Judah, David wrote the Psalms, the hymnbook universally adopted by mankind as THE book of praise and thanksgiving to G-d; while Solomon authored the Song of Songs, the supreme expression of the love that binds G-d and Israel, regarded by many as the most sublime outpouring of Divine praise ever written.
Placing the 12 sons of Jacob in an organized fashion we have:
- The six sons of Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun.
- The two sons of Rachel, Jacob’s mainstay of the house of Israel and his primary wife; Joseph and Benjamin.
- The four sons of the two handmaidens, Bilhah and Zilpah; Naphtali, Gad and Asher.
A similar division defines their roles as signposts in our daily lives: Leah’s sons embody the activities on our daily schedule, Rachel’s sons represent the primary modes of Jewish life, and those of the handmaidens run as auxiliary themes through our day which accompany every action or endeavor to which we aspire to take.
Looking at the four stages of Jewish prayer we see:
Reuben, whose name derives from the Hebrew reiyah, “sight”, and who was so named by his mother because “G-d has seen my suffering; now my husband shall love me” (Gen. 29:32), thus represents the first stage of prayer– the element of love in our service of the heart. Incidentally or not, Leah represents the heart-felt relationship with G-d we should seek. She had “tender eyes” meaning she was more humble and spent much time in heart-felt prayer. The Chumash states that she prayed diligently that she would not have to marry Esau but there is no credible proof. As the older sister and kinsmen of Jacob and Esau, at the time it is thought that she would have been destined to marry the older brother Esau as she was the older sister. I offer it as a reflection of my research of the literature. However, all sources seem to agree that Leach represents what a wife and woman of G-d should be despite her shortfalls. Accordingly, it is Leah whose womb G-d opens first and blesses her with the first sons of the tribes of Israel.
Getting back to the others, Simeon– from shemiah, hearing, so named in response to the fact that “G-d has heard that I am rejected” (Gen. 29:32) ; represents the second stage of prayer, the heart’s recoil in reverence and awe. Levi, meaning “attachment” and “cleaving” (His birth prompted Leah to say; “Now my husband shall cleave to me, for I have borne him three sons” (Gen. 29:34) represents the union of love and awe in the third stage of prayer. And Judah, represents the fourth rung in the ladder of prayer- the self-abnegation to G-d expressed in the silent Amidah done in traditional Orthodox synagogues.
Now let’s take a look at the specific roles each tribe signifies in the context of community based on the individual traits of each tribe.
Before he died, Jacob summoned the twelve sons and blessed each one. Two hundred and thirty-three years later, Moshe did the same thing with the 12 tribes of Israel. Jacob’s blessings to Zebulon and Issachar were that Zebulun dwell at the seashore where he would be a harbor for all ships; Issachar would be a strong ass, couching down between the fences. Jacob then told Zebulun to rejoice in his excursions and Issachar in his tents.
The sages explain that these two brothers and subsequently tribes made a partnership. Zebulun dwelled at the seashore, and would go out in ships to engage in trade and make a profit, and support Issachar, who sat and occupied himself with the study of Torah.
Every Jew, whether by vocation a “Zebulunite” or an “Issacharite”, is obligated to include both facets of life in his or her daily schedule. The most involved business person or laborer is not free of the obligation to study Torah daily. And even the most faithful students of Torah must participate in the give-and-take of economic life, and is told that this, too, must be made part and parcel of his life as a Jew and his relationship with G-d. This is the source of great controversy in Israel today. There are more secular Jews in Israel than ever before. This growing sector of the population does not think it fair that individuals dedicated to Torah study as a vocation should receive any special treatment in the Israeli Defense Force or exemption from being drafted altogether. The argument continues to split the country into those who are too liberal, and those who are too legalistic in their approach to Torah. As the Book of Ecclesiastes informs us, there is nothing new under the sun. The battle between secularism and religion will continue until Yahshua returns and takes charge.
Definitions- Haredi- The most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism; Ultra-Orthodox; consider themselves as Jews and all other sects are unauthentic. From harada “in fear and trembling of G-d”
Hiddush: A transdemoninational organization supported by the Conservative, the Reconstructionist and the Reform movements, Hiddush aims to change the existing religious power structure in Israel, with its Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox dominance, realizing the words of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which states that “The State of Israel … will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”
Among the organization′s stated goals are the legalization of civil as well as religious marriage and divorce, ensuring recognition for Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform marriages and conversions, full rights for rabbis of all Jewish denominations, providing equal funding for non-Orthodox religious services, and civic equality in education, employment and military service. Hiddush also pledges to fight discrimination against women and to demand that yeshivas meet requirements for teaching non-religious subjects. The organization advocates for freedom of religion and consciousness, but not necessarily a complete separation of religion and state.
The four “sons of the handmaidens” are Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher. “G-d gave me justice,” proclaimed Rachel upon the birth of Jacob’s first son by her handmaiden, Bilhah, and named him Dan, which means “judgment”. “Dan shall be the judge of his people,” Said Jacob as he blessed him. The Talmud says that if you meet a person who is forever insisting on justice, this is a sure sign he is from the tribe of Dan.
Napthali means engagement and connection- Bilhah’s second son was so named by Rachel to signify the fact that “I have engaged my sister, and I have prevailed.”
Both Jacob and Moshe blessed Asher, “with the blessing of oil. His bread is saturated with oil,” said Jacob; “he dips his feet in oil.” blessed Moshe. In Torah law and Chassidic teaching, oil signifies the quality of saturation: the nature of oil is that when it comes in contact with something, it permeates it in its entirety.”
Finally, Gad means blessing and good fortune. “Good fortune has come,” said Leah upon giving this name to Zilpah’s elder son.
So as the Jew prays ( Ruben, Simeon, Levi and Judah), studies (Issachar) and deals (Zebulun), whether the perfect holiness of the tzaddik (Benjamin) or the transforming struggles of repentance (Joseph), the four sons of the handmaidens attend his every deed and endeavor: a judiciousness that measures everything against exacting standards of right and wrong (Dan); a sense of connectedness to G-d and perpetual engagement with Him (Naphtali); a holistic approach to life, in which one is fully invested in what one is doing so that it saturates one’s thoughts and feelings, and every nook and cranny of one’s being (Asher); and the recognition that we cannot do it on our own– that everything we achieve must be aided by G-d’s blessing our efforts with success (Gad).
Haftarah : ( Hoshea 12:13)
Hoshea uses the constant obstacles that Yaakov faces as a starting point for admonishing the Jewish people, who have already 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. 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
Let’s begin with the relevant section in our parasha from which we will compare the B’rit Chadashah. 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…’”
If we now 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!’”
As we compare 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) 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 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 descent is to fulfill our purpose in creation. 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 angles, 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 refine and elevate the crass nature of our animalistic drives and passions. 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; neither can we know the mind of G-d. But we can learn of His attributes as taught in Kabbalah. This phrase implies that we come to the realization of G-d’s sovereignty and our responsibility to serve Him wherever He places us. The Zohar makes a point of telling us that there is a constant struggle between the soul and the physical shell in which it is placed. G-d specifically “tears” our body apart now and then to build the soul. He applies pressures we too often perceive as adversity rather than blessing used to build our characters and our souls; guiding us to a higher rung on the ladder both horizontally in our behavior toward man, and vertically in our behavior toward G-d. We ascend and descend the ladder daily. Our bodies are created from earth and our soul is the breath of life. We fight the earthly aspect of our lives as “Esau”, and strive for a closer relationship to G-d as “Jacob”. The angles 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 externally through our behavior. 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 in us, just as John the Baptist said and understood. John’s statement describes our journey up the ladder perfectly. 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.
Rabbi Tamah Davis