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by Rabbi Boruch Merkur

Following his profound encounter at what he named Beth-El, Jacob continued his journey with renewed vigor and purpose. The choice of wording "Now Jacob lifted his feet" symbolizes more than just the physical act of walking; it reflects a significant shift in his spirit. The assurance of divine protection and guidance he received in his dream invigorated him, turning his journey into one of confidence and hope. This was not just a man walking; it was a man uplifted by faith, emboldened by the promise of God's presence and protection.


Jacob's journey to the land of the people of the East was a pivotal moment in the fulfillment of the covenant God made with Abraham and Isaac. His steps towards a new land also entailed moving towards the fulfillment of his destiny as a patriarch in the lineage of Israel. The journey symbolized a transition, a stepping into the promises and plans laid out for him by God.


In this narrative, we see a blend of divine providence and human action. Jacob's lifted feet symbolize his active participation in God's plan, a willingness to step into the unknown, trusting in the protection and promise of God. This journey was a testament to Jacob's faith and determination, qualities that would shape his experiences in the land of the people of the East and beyond.


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In the next phase of Jacob's journey, as he arrived in the land of the people of the East, he encountered a scene emblematic of life's sustenance and community - a well in the field. This was no ordinary well; it was a meeting place for the flocks and their shepherds, a source of life in the open field. The presence of three flocks of sheep resting near it signified its importance as a communal resource, essential for the survival and prosperity of the flocks.


The detail of a huge rock covering the well's mouth is particularly notable, as it symbolizes both protection and communal effort. The rock's size meant that it was not a task for one shepherd to remove it alone, suggesting a sense of community among the shepherds. They would gather together to remove this rock, enabling them to water their flocks. This scene beautifully encapsulates the themes of cooperation and interdependence, vital in a pastoral society.


This setting was more than just a physical location; it was a representation of the dynamics of human relationships and dependencies. It highlighted the necessity of working together for common goals - in this case, accessing the life-giving water. For Jacob, who was embarking on a new chapter of his life, this scene might have also reflected the new relationships and communities he would encounter and become part of in his journey ahead.


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Jacob's journey led him to a well in the field, a crucial meeting point for the local shepherds. This well, covered by a large stone, required collective effort to access the water beneath. The scene is a powerful illustration of community and cooperation. The shepherds would wait until all the flocks had gathered before working together to roll the stone away. Once the sheep were watered, they would replace the stone, ensuring the well's protection and maintaining its status as a shared resource.


This moment captures the essence of communal life in ancient times. The well, as a vital resource, necessitated collaboration and mutual understanding among the shepherds. The act of rolling the stone and sharing the water was more than a physical task, it was a social ritual, reinforcing bonds and ensuring fair access for all.


Jacob, witnessing this, saw a reflection of the broader human experience. Just as the shepherds depended on each other to access the well's life-sustaining water, individuals in a community rely on one another for support and survival. The well thus becomes a metaphor for the resources and opportunities that, when shared and managed responsibly, can benefit an entire community.


*


Arriving at this pivotal well in the field, Jacob found himself in the midst of shepherds from various places. He approached them with the respectful and friendly address, "My brothers." His question, "Where are you from?" was more than a mere inquiry about their geographical origins. It was an opening, a way to establish a connection with these fellow shepherds, to understand the context of their journey, and perhaps to find common ground.


Their response, "We are from Haran," revealed a crucial link to Jacob's own story. Haran was the very destination of Jacob's journey, a place deeply entwined with his family's history and his future. This simple yet profound connection, would have resonated with Jacob, affirming his path and intertwining his story with theirs in the broader picture of shared experiences and destinations. It is a moment of realization and connection, a small yet significant piece of the larger narrative unfolding in Jacob's life.


*


In his continued conversation with the shepherds, Jacob's inquiry takes a more personal turn. He asks them, "Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?" This question was deeply rooted in Jacob's own story and purpose. Beyond being a notable figure in Haran, Laban was also Jacob's uncle, his mother's brother. Jacob's journey to Haran was, in part, a quest to connect with his mother's family, following the directive of his parents to find a wife from his own kin.


The shepherds' response, "We know [him]," opens a direct link to Jacob's familial goal. Their simple acknowledgment indicates Laban's presence and known status in the region, confirming to Jacob that he was in the right place, moving closer to the family ties he sought to rekindle and the future he was destined to build there. This exchange, brief yet significant, serves as a guiding signpost on Jacob's journey, intertwining his personal quest with his family's history.


*


Jacob's interaction with the shepherds at the well continues to unfold, revealing a key moment in the narrative. When Jacob inquires about Laban's well-being, the shepherds respond affirmatively and then casually mention that Rachel, Laban's daughter, is approaching with the sheep. This sets the stage for the pivotal meeting between Jacob and Rachel.


Rashi focuses on the linguistic details of the text, particularly the word "בָּאָה" (ba'ah), meaning "is coming" or "came," used to describe Rachel's approach. He notes the nuance in the Hebrew accentuation, which changes the tense of the word from present to past, indicating a shift in the narrative's time frame. This attention to the subtleties of language underscores the importance of this moment: Rachel's arrival marks more than just a physical convergence at the well, it entails a convergence of destinies, as Jacob encounters the woman who will become a central figure in his life and in the historical narrative of the Israelite people.


Through this interaction, the narrative weaves together the threads of personal connection, destiny, and divine providence, as Jacob's journey takes a significant turn with the introduction of Rachel, a key character in his story and in the legacy of the Israelite nation.


*


Observing the shepherds resting with their flocks beside the well, Jacob voices a pragmatic concern in this verse. He notes that the day is still young, implying that it's too early for the shepherds to be considering ending their workday. Jacob's comment, "The day is yet long; it is not the time to take in the livestock," suggests his understanding of pastoral responsibilities and his expectation of diligent work.


Rashi, delving into this verse, interprets Jacob's words as a gentle reprimand. He suggests that Jacob assumed the shepherds were either hired workers who hadn't completed their day's labor, or they were the owners of the flocks acting prematurely. Either way, Jacob's statement implies that there was still ample time left in the day for the sheep to be watered and grazed.


This interaction highlights Jacob's proactive and responsible nature. Rather than addressing the situation with criticism, he provides a reminder of duty, reflecting his leadership qualities and his intimate knowledge of pastoral life. This encounter at the well, which sets the stage for Jacob's meeting with Rachel, begins with Jacob demonstrating a sense of responsibility and an understanding of the pastoral way of life.


*


The shepherds' response to Jacob in this verse reveals the practical challenge they face: the inability to water their flocks independently due to the size of the stone covering the well. They respond, "We cannot [do that], until all the flocks are gathered together, and they will roll the rock off the mouth of the well," indicating that a communal effort is necessary in order to access the water.


Rashi explains that the shepherds are unable to water their sheep because the stone over the well's mouth is too large for a single person or a small group to move. This necessitates waiting for all the flocks and their shepherds to gather before collectively moving the stone. The use of the future tense in their speech, as noted by Rashi, underscores that this action is a routine part of their work, a task they anticipate and prepare for.


This verse thus highlights the communal nature of pastoral work in Jacob's time, where cooperation among shepherds was essential for the survival and well-being of their flocks. The significant size of the stone serves as a practical obstacle that requires teamwork to overcome, reflecting the communal spirit and interdependence prevalent in agrarian societies.


*


Rachel's entrance, "while he was still talking with them," suggests a timely intersection of paths. The mention of her role as a shepherdess is noteworthy. In a time when pastoral duties were often the domain of men, Rachel's responsibility for her father's sheep indicates her capability and strength in what might have been considered an unconventional role for a woman.


The arrival of Rachel at this moment is not merely coincidental but appears to be a guided event, part of a larger divine plan unfolding in Jacob's life. Her presence marks the beginning of a new chapter in Jacob's story, one that will deeply influence his future, his family, and the legacy of the twelve tribes of Israel. This encounter by the well, a common biblical motif for significant meetings, sets the stage for the subsequent events that shape the destiny of Jacob and his descendants.


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The moment Jacob laid eyes on Rachel, something extraordinary happened. Fueled by an inner strength, perhaps stirred by the significance of this encounter, Jacob approached the well and single-handedly rolled away the massive stone covering its mouth. This achievement, which typically required the combined effort of several shepherds, was accomplished by Jacob alone, showcasing his remarkable physical prowess.


The narrative emphasizes the familial connection between Rachel and Jacob, noting that she is the daughter of Laban, Jacob's mother's brother, and that the sheep she tends also belong to Laban. This repetition of Laban's relation to Jacob underscores the significance of family ties in this story and sets the stage for the future events involving Jacob, Rachel, and Laban.


Jacob's action of rolling away the stone and watering Laban's sheep is more than a mere display of physical strength. It also symbolizes his willingness to serve and his capability as a caretaker, traits that will become central to his character as the narrative progresses. This act of service marks the beginning of Jacob's long and complex relationship with Laban and his family, a relationship that will shape much of his future.


*


In a moment laden with profound emotion, Jacob, upon seeing Rachel for the first time, approached and tenderly kissed her, a gesture of connection and recognition. This spontaneous outpouring of emotion was followed by Jacob lifting his voice in tears. The depth of his weeping stemmed from a spiritual foresight. His tears were not merely for the present moment of meeting Rachel, but they were also for the future he perceived – a future where Rachel would not be by his side in their final resting place.


There is a poignant contrast between Jacob's arrival and that of his grandfather's servant, Eliezer, years earlier. Eliezer had come to find a wife for Isaac, Jacob's father, laden with gifts and riches. Jacob, however, arrived with nothing, his hands empty. This was due to a harrowing encounter with Eliphaz, the son of Esau. Pursuing Jacob under Esau's orders to kill him, Eliphaz ultimately could not bring himself to do it, as he had been raised in the compassionate environment of Isaac's home. Instead, he took all of Jacob's material possessions, leaving him with nothing. In the ancient world, where wealth often determined one's social status and prospects, arriving empty-handed was significant. Jacob's destitution symbolized a form of death, a total loss of status and power.


*


When Jacob, feeling a rush of kinship and connection, disclosed to Rachel his familial ties, he brought to light a bond that went beyond mere acquaintances. He told her that he was her father's relative and, importantly, Rebecca's son. This revelation was significant in several ways. Firstly, it established a familial connection, making Jacob part of her extended family, rather than a stranger. Secondly, by mentioning Rebecca, he highlighted a lineage of integrity and virtue, subtly indicating his own character and values.


The depth of this revelation is further explored in Rashi's commentary. Rashi suggests a dual meaning in Jacob's words. On one hand, if Laban, Rachel's father, was inclined towards deceit, Jacob was indicating that he too could match such cunning, as he was from the same family. On the other hand, if Laban was honorable, then Jacob, as Rebecca's son, shared that same honesty. This layered message conveyed Jacob's adaptability and preparedness for whatever character he might find in Laban.


Rachel's reaction to this news was immediate and decisive. With her mother no longer alive, she had no one else but her father with whom to share this significant news. This detail underscores the close-knit nature of families in this era and the importance of such familial connections. Rachel's prompt action to inform her father reveals her sense of responsibility and her recognition of the significance of Jacob’s arrival and the potential implications it had for her family.


*


Laban's reaction to Jacob's arrival is tinged with a blend of anticipation and opportunism. Hearing about Jacob, Laban likely expected a repeat of the prosperity that Eliezer, Abraham's servant, had brought years earlier. Eliezer had arrived with ten camels laden with goods, a symbol of tremendous wealth and good fortune. Laban, perhaps expecting similar riches, hurried to meet Jacob.


However, Laban's enthusiasm dampened upon realizing that Jacob had arrived empty-handed. His embrace, initially thought to be a gesture of familial affection, takes on a different hue. Rashi suggests that Laban's embrace was a subtle investigation, a search for hidden wealth that Jacob might be carrying. Finding nothing in Jacob's hands, Laban might have speculated that wealth was concealed in his clothing.


Similarly, Laban's kiss, which could be interpreted as an expression of warm welcome, is recontextualized by Rashi as another probing gesture. Laban might have thought that Jacob was carrying something valuable such as pearls in his mouth.


This depiction of Laban's actions paints a picture of a man driven by material interests, seeking personal benefit from his interactions. His initial enthusiasm was not by any means driven by familial love but was significantly influenced by the prospect of material gain.


In contrast, Jacob's situation was starkly different. He had to leave his home due to the threats from his brother Esau and arrived without material possessions, having been robbed of his belongings on his journey. His disclosure to Laban was a revelation of his vulnerable state, highlighting the contrasts between the expectations of Laban and the reality of Jacob's circumstances.


*


Laban's response to Jacob upon learning of their familial connection is layered with practical considerations. His words, "Indeed, you are my bone and my flesh," affirm their kinship, a declaration that should ideally be filled with warmth and welcome. However, Rashi's commentary sheds light on a different aspect of this interaction.


Laban acknowledges their blood relationship, but rather than familial affection, his actions are guided by pragmatism. He seems to think, "You are kin, so I will shelter you, but only for a limited time, and not out of generosity." This attitude is starkly different from what one might expect in a reunion of long-separated relatives.


Laban's decision to host Jacob for a month is not entirely altruistic. Rashi reveals that during this time, Jacob was not simply a guest but contributed to the household by tending Laban's sheep. This arrangement indicates that Laban's hospitality was conditional and transactional, reflecting his calculative nature. He saw an opportunity to benefit from Jacob's stay, turning a family reunion into a utilitarian exchange.


This episode paints a picture of a relationship where kinship is acknowledged but doesn't necessarily translate into unconditional support or generosity. Laban's approach contrasts sharply with Jacob's vulnerability and need at this juncture of his journey.


*


In this verse, as Laban addresses Jacob, he seems to acknowledge their familial bond and simultaneously addresses a matter of fairness and practicality. Laban's statement, "Because you are my kinsman, should you work for me gratis?" can be understood as an expression of ethical consideration. He implies that it would be inappropriate to exploit their family relationship by expecting Jacob to work without compensation simply because they are relatives.


Rashi clarifies that the word "הֲכִֽי" (hachi) is an interrogative term, emphasizing Laban's inquiry about the fairness of Jacob working for free. He interprets Laban's offer as an acknowledgment of their family ties and a gesture of fairness, ensuring that Jacob's work is valued and compensated.


Overall, this verse reflects a blend of kinship acknowledgment and a move towards a formal, equitable working relationship. Laban's approach may seem pragmatic, possibly driven by a desire to formalize their arrangement in a way that benefits both parties, respecting the familial connection while also ensuring fairness in their dealings.


*


In this verse, we are introduced to Laban's family structure, particularly his two daughters, Leah and Rachel. The verse succinctly identifies them, indicating their positions in the family hierarchy. Leah is named as the older daughter, while Rachel is identified as the younger.


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In this verse, the Torah describes the contrasting physical appearances of Leah and Rachel. Leah is described as having "tender eyes," while Rachel is noted for her beautiful features and complexion.


Rashi explains that Leah's eyes were tender from weeping. She wept because people commonly assumed that she would be paired with Esau, the older of Isaac's twin sons, as she was Laban's older daughter. This arrangement was expected as it was customary for the older daughter to marry the older son. Leah's distress and continuous weeping over this fate affected the appearance of her eyes.


Regarding Rachel, Rashi clarifies that the term "תֹּאַר" (toar), translated as "features," refers to the form or outline of her face, signifying her attractive facial features. The word "מַרְאֶה" (mareh), translated as "complexion," indicates the radiance or glow of her countenance, suggesting a beautiful and vibrant appearance. These descriptions serve to highlight the distinct physical attributes of Leah and Rachel, setting the stage for the complex relationships and events that will unfold involving these two sisters in the narrative.

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Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Presented by Rabbi Boruch Merkur



2:1

לָ֭מָּה רָגְשׁ֣וּ גוֹיִ֑ם וּ֝לְאֻמִּ֗ים יֶהְגּוּ־רִֽיק׃

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?


This verse opens with a rhetorical question about the futility of the nations’ and peoples’ rebellion against divine authority. It makes a distinction between ‘nations’ (גויים) and ‘peoples’ (לאומים). While ‘nations’ refers to a collective without a specific religious identity, ‘peoples’ implies a unity under a certain religious or ideological doctrine. The verse points to a joint rebellion that encompasses both religious and political defiance against the Lord and His anointed king.


The rebellion of the nations is described as a restless agitation, a futile effort to challenge the established divine order. This is contrasted with the enduring reign of God and His Messiah. The nations, in their political defiance, and the peoples, with their ideological opposition, vainly strive against the unassailable authority of the divine.


This verse sets the stage for the rest of the Psalm, emphasizing the ineffectiveness of human plots against God’s sovereign plans. It introduces the key theme of divine supremacy over human rebellion, underscoring the inherent futility in resisting the will of the Almighty.


2:2

יִ֥תְיַצְּב֨וּ ׀ מַלְכֵי־אֶ֗רֶץ וְרוֹזְנִ֥ים נֽוֹסְדוּ־יָ֑חַד עַל־יְ֝הֹוָ֗ה וְעַל־מְשִׁיחֽוֹ׃

The kings of the earth stand firm and rulers unite against the Lord and His anointed.


This verse elaborates on the nature of the rebellion against divine authority, showing it as a concerted effort by earthly rulers. The kings and rulers (the “מלכים” and “רוזנים”) stand in opposition, not just as individual entities, but united in their defiance. The rebellion is multidimensional: it is against God (“על-יהוה”) in a religious sense and against His anointed (“על-משיחו”) in a political sense.


The verse highlights the scope of this opposition. It is not limited to the masses (the “גוים” from the previous verse) but includes those in power, who should be upholders of justice and righteousness. Their standing firm (“יתיצבו”) implies a deliberate, calculated stance, not a spontaneous or unconsidered reaction. The uniting of rulers (“נוסדו-יחד”) emphasizes their collective effort in this rebellion, further underscoring the gravity of their defiance.


This alignment against divine authority reflects a profound misunderstanding of the nature of true power and governance. It is a futile stand, as the subsequent verses will reveal, against an unassailable divine plan. This verse thus sets the stage for the dramatic confrontation between human authority and divine will, highlighting the former’s limitations in the face of the latter’s omnipotence.


2:3

נְֽ֭נַתְּקָה אֶת־מֽוֹסְרוֹתֵ֑ימוֹ וְנַשְׁלִ֖יכָה מִמֶּ֣נּוּ עֲבֹתֵֽימוֹ׃

Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.


In this verse, the nations and rulers express their resolve to free themselves from what they perceive as the binding restrictions imposed by divine authority. The imagery of breaking “chains” (מוסרות) and casting off “shackles” (עבותות) is potent, symbolizing the rejection of God’s commandments and the Messiah’s rule. Malbim notes that while chains are weaker and can be broken, shackles are stronger and more difficult to remove, yet the rebellious are determined to cast off both.


This metaphor extends to both religious and political dimensions. In terms of religion, they aim to discard commandments that appear illogical or lack rational basis while also abandoning those rooted in reason and intellect. Politically, they seek to overthrow the yoke of servitude, including commitments made under oaths and covenants, in a show of rebellion and breach of faith.


This verse, therefore, highlights the depth of the rebellion, not just as a physical or political act but as a profound spiritual defiance. It underscores the nations’ and rulers’ determination to liberate themselves from divine ordinances, mistakenly viewing them as oppressive, rather than guides to true freedom and righteousness.


2:4

יוֹשֵׁ֣ב בַּשָּׁמַ֣יִם יִשְׂחָ֑ק אֲ֝דֹנָ֗י יִלְעַג־לָֽמוֹ׃

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.


This verse responds to the nations’ and rulers’ rebellion, depicting God’s reaction from His heavenly throne. The image of God “laughing” and “scoffing” at the futile efforts of the rebels is profound. It conveys not a sense of amusement, but rather a divine perspective on the absurdity and futility of their defiance. The contrast between the plotting of earthly powers and God’s response from His exalted position in the heavens underscores the gap between human machinations and divine omnipotence.


The laughter of God is unique among divine expressions, signifying His absolute authority and the insignificance of human rebellion in the face of His will. It’s not merely a reaction of derision but also an expression of the certainty of God’s plans, highlighting the ultimate ineffectiveness of any opposition to His decrees.


This verse reassures the faithful of the ultimate triumph of God’s purpose over human resistance. It illustrates the inherent powerlessness of human opposition against God’s sovereignty, serving as a reminder of the transient nature of earthly power compared to the eternal dominion of the divine. The laughing response of God signifies the assured victory of divine will and the inevitable downfall of those who resist it.


2:5

אָ֤ז יְדַבֵּ֣ר אֵלֵ֣ימוֹ בְאַפּ֑וֹ וּֽבַחֲרוֹנ֥וֹ יְבַהֲלֵֽמוֹ׃

Then He shall speak to them in His anger, and terrify them in His wrath.


In this verse, the response of God to the rebellion described in the previous verses intensifies. The “speaking” in anger (באפו) and the act of terrifying (יבהלמו) in wrath (בחרונו) indicate a decisive divine intervention. Malbim interprets this as God’s confrontation with the rebellious nations and rulers, marking a turning point where mere mockery gives way to direct action.


This verse conveys the gravity and seriousness of opposing God’s authority. The act of speaking in anger implies a pronouncement of judgment or a declaration of divine will against the rebels. The terror that ensues from God’s wrath highlights the overwhelming and formidable nature of divine retribution.


The timing of this divine intervention is significant — “אז” (then), at the height of their rebellion, God asserts His authority. This intervention serves as a stark reminder of God’s omnipotence and the ultimate futility of human defiance. It also underscores the accountability of the nations and rulers for their actions against God and His anointed.


The verse thus portrays a dramatic and forceful assertion of divine sovereignty, emphasizing that while God may initially respond to rebellion with derision, His justice and wrath will inevitably prevail against those who persist in their defiance.


2:6

וַ֭אֲנִי נָסַ֣כְתִּי מַלְכִּ֑י עַל־צִ֝יּ֗וֹן הַר־קׇדְשִֽׁי׃

Yet I have set my king upon Zion, my holy hill.


This verse can be seen as a declaration of God’s unwavering decision to establish His chosen ruler, despite human opposition. This is a direct and authoritative response to the preceding turmoil and chaos caused by nations and rulers.


The setting of this divine appointment on Zion, the sacred hill, is crucial. It symbolizes not only the geographical center of worship and divine presence for the Israelites but also represents a spiritual and eternal kingdom that stands above human political structures.


This verse, therefore, serves as a profound assertion of God’s ultimate sovereignty. It affirms that God’s plans and decrees transcend human rebellion and plots. The king, set upon Zion, embodies God’s righteous rule and is a symbol of His enduring covenant with His people.


2:7

אֲסַפְּרָ֗ה אֶֽ֫ל־חֹ֥ק יְֽהֹוָ֗ה אָמַ֘ר אֵלַ֥י בְּנִ֥י אַ֑תָּה אֲ֝נִ֗י הַיּ֥וֹם יְלִדְתִּֽיךָ׃

I shall speak of the decree: the Lord said to me, ‘You are My son; today I have begotten you.’


I shall speak of the decree - The psalmist announces that, like the norms and laws governing nations, there are divine decrees between peoples. These universal principles, such as a nation or a king refraining from encroaching upon the territories of others without justified cause, are ingrained across civilizations. Those who violate these norms, using force to destroy nations or seize their inheritance, are deemed as tyrants and agitators of the earth. However, the psalmist, in their quest to conquer nations and shake kingdoms, declares adherence to a divine law, a decree from the Lord, who owns the earth and all its fullness. This divine sanction, different from human constructs, legitimizes their actions as decreed by God Himself.


The Lord said to me, ‘You are My son; today I have begotten you’ - This decree, as stated by the Lord, affirms the psalmist’s divine sonship, signifying that on this day, amidst the tumult of nations, God has begotten the psalmist. This begetting implies a dominion over all, akin to a son ruling over his father’s assets. The decree of anointing the psalmist as king further intensifies this authority. Consequently, it is within the psalmist’s right to ask and receive from God, who will grant nations as an inheritance and the ends of the earth as possession. This decree not only permits the acquisition of territories but also allows for their complete subjugation and potential annihilation, symbolized by the iron rod shattering pottery, indicating God’s permission to eradicate them entirely if necessary.


2:8

שְׁאַ֤ל מִמֶּ֗נִּי וְאֶתְּנָ֣ה ג֭וֹיִם נַחֲלָתֶ֑ךָ וַ֝אֲחֻזָּתְךָ֗ אַפְסֵי־אָֽרֶץ

Ask it of Me, and I will make the nations your domain; your estate, the limits of the earth.


This verse, in its profound simplicity, beckons the divine assurance of inheritance and dominion. The speaker, imbued with divine authority, invites a request: “Ask of Me.” This is no mere rhetorical offer; it’s a genuine invitation to claim a vast inheritance. The scope of this inheritance is global, extending to the very ends of the earth.


In the broader context of Malbim’s insights, this verse is not just about territorial gain but signifies a deeper, more spiritual inheritance. The nations and the ends of the earth represent more than just physical land; they embody the fullness of divine promise and the extensive reach of spiritual influence. The request to “ask” reflects the principle that divine blessings, though promised, require active pursuit and prayerful petitioning.


Thus, this verse serves as a pivotal point, transitioning from divine response to human agency. It’s about the intersection of divine providence and human initiative. The inheritance is there, vast and waiting, but it must be actively sought and asked for. It encapsulates a profound truth about the nature of divine promises: they are sure and certain, yet they beckon human participation.


2:9

תְּ֭רֹעֵם בְּשֵׁ֣בֶט בַּרְזֶ֑ל כִּכְלִ֖י יוֹצֵ֣ר תְּנַפְּצֵֽם׃

Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.


In this verse, the imagery is vivid and potent. The Psalmist speaks of a rod of iron, symbolizing unyielding strength and authority. This rod is not merely a tool for guidance or support but an instrument of breaking and shattering. The comparison to a potter’s vessel amplifies the intensity of the action. Just as a potter’s creation, once shattered, cannot be restored to its original form, so too, the entities subjected to this breaking are irreparably altered.


This metaphor serves to illustrate the inevitability and totality of the divine judgment. The entities subjected to this shattering are not just altered or reprimanded but completely broken down. This speaks to a larger theme of irreversible change and the ultimate power that enforces it. Such imagery is a stark reminder of the immense and unchallengeable power that the verse attributes to the divine.


2:10

וְ֭עַתָּה מְלָכִ֣ים הַשְׂכִּ֑ילוּ הִ֝וָּסְר֗וּ שֹׁ֣פְטֵי אָֽרֶץ׃

Now, kings, be wise; be instructed, judges of the earth.


And now, signals a shift, addressing the kings and judges of the earth. This verse is an urgent call for realization and transformation. After God’s proclamation of His anointed king, the rulers of the world are implored to recognize the futility of their rebellion. The two verbs, “be wise” and “be instructed,” delineate the path of enlightenment. “Be wise” (השׂכִּילוּ) advocates for a discerning understanding rooted in intellect, urging the leaders to comprehend the divine mandate from a standpoint of wisdom. “Be instructed” (הִוָּסְרוּ) complements this by emphasizing the need for moral and ethical guidance, a kind of reproof that shapes behavior and aligns it with divine will.


The invocation to the “judges of the earth” underscores the widespread impact of their decisions, stressing their influence and responsibility in shaping the moral and spiritual fabric of society. The wisdom here is not just for personal enlightenment but has broader implications for governance and justice. The verse serves as a reminder that worldly power is transient and must be aligned with divine purpose. It is a call to embrace a higher wisdom, one that transcends mere political or judicial authority, leading to a harmonious alignment with divine will and ultimate truth. This alignment, the Malbim suggests, is the true source of wisdom and guidance for those who hold power on earth.


2:11

עִבְד֣וּ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה בְּיִרְאָ֑ה וְ֝גִ֗ילוּ בִּרְעָדָֽה׃

Serve the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling.


This verse in Psalms highlights a profound approach to spirituality, where service to the Divine is performed with a deep sense of reverence, and joy is mingled with a respectful awe. It encapsulates the balanced attitude one should have in their spiritual journey – one of solemn respect and joyful celebration in the presence of the Divine.


2:12

נַשְּׁקוּ־בַ֡ר פֶּן־יֶאֱנַ֤ף ׀ וְתֹ֬אבְדוּ דֶ֗רֶךְ כִּֽי־יִבְעַ֣ר כִּמְעַ֣ט אַפּ֑וֹ אַ֝שְׁרֵ֗י כׇּל־ח֥וֹסֵי בֽוֹ׃

Pay homage in good faith, lest He be angered, and your way be doomed in the mere flash of His anger. Happy are all who take refuge in Him.


This verse emphasizes the importance of sincerely seeking refuge and protection in the divine, highlighting the potential consequences of angering such a powerful force. The fleeting nature of divine anger is contrasted with the enduring happiness of those who find their sanctuary in Him. This teaches the value of genuine faith and the protection it offers.



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Updated: Nov 20, 2023

The first reading of Parshas Vayeishev, with integrated commentary of Rashi.

by Rabbi Boruch Merkur

In the land of Canaan, under the vast, sun-drenched skies, Jacob, the son of Isaac, made a momentous decision. His journey was not just a mere relocation; it was a departure that echoed through the streets and alleys of Beer Sheba, leaving an indelible mark on its essence. The town, which once buzzed with the vibrancy of Jacob's presence, now felt a profound sense of loss. His righteousness had been its pride, his wisdom its ornament, and his kindness its splendor. With his leaving, Beer Sheba seemed to lose a part of its soul.


This was not a journey taken lightly. Jacob's departure was rooted in a deeper family narrative, one intertwined with the choices of his brother, Esau. Esau's marriage to the daughters of Canaan had been a source of distress for their father, Isaac. Observing this, Esau sought to remedy his past actions by marrying into Ishmael's lineage, a decision that temporarily shifted the narrative away from Jacob. But now, as the script of Esau's life paused, the focus returned to Jacob, the chosen son, who was setting off on a path that would shape the destiny of a nation.


As Jacob stepped out of Beer Sheba, his destination was clear: Haran. This was not a random choice but a purposeful journey toward a specific goal. Haran was more than a geographic location; it was a new chapter in Jacob's life, a place where his destiny would unfold in ways he could not yet fathom.


The roads he traveled were dusty and long, the journey arduous. Yet, Jacob's resolve was unshaken. Each step he took was a step away from his past and a stride toward his future. The land behind him was losing a beacon of righteousness, and the land ahead was yet to realize the treasure it was about to receive.


In this journey, Jacob is traveler as well as a symbol of change, a testament to the impact one righteous soul can have on the places they grace with their presence.


*


Jacob's journey, now turning into a divine encounter, brought him to a special place as night fell. This place, unnamed yet significant, was Mount Moriah, a site of profound spiritual importance. It was here, as the sun hurriedly set, not in its usual course but rather abruptly, that Jacob decided to rest for the night. This sudden sunset was more than a natural phenomenon; it was a celestial sign, beckoning him to pause in this sacred space.


In preparation for his night's rest, Jacob took stones from this place and arranged them around his head, forming a protective barrier against the wild beasts of the night. These stones, inanimate yet seemingly aware of the righteousness of the man who lay among them, began a silent dispute. Each stone yearned to be the one upon which this virtuous man would rest his head. Miraculously, the stones merged into one, a testament to the unity and harmony that Jacob's presence inspired, even in the most ordinary of objects.


This convergence of stones was symbolic of the divine intervention in Jacob's life, a physical manifestation of the spiritual journey he was undertaking. It was in this place, chosen by divine design, that Jacob lay down to rest. But this rest was unique; it was a stark contrast to the past fourteen years he had spent in the house of Eber, where he had dedicated his nights to the study of Torah, forsaking physical rest for spiritual growth.


Jacob's rest at Mount Moriah was not merely a physical necessity but a spiritual moment, a pause in his journey to connect with a higher purpose. This moment at Mount Moriah stands as a reminder of the sacredness of place and time in our spiritual journeys. It emphasizes that sometimes, divine intervention alters our course, leading us to moments of reflection, protection, and connection with a greater reality.


*


In the stillness of the night, as Jacob lay with his head resting upon the merged stones, a vision unfolded before him in his dream. He saw a ladder, its base firmly set upon the earth and its top reaching into the heavens. This was no ordinary ladder, but a bridge between the earthly and the divine, a connection between the tangible world and the spiritual realm.


Upon this ladder, angels were in motion, ascending and descending in a rhythmic dance of celestial duty. These were not just any angels; they were the guardians of the Holy Land, the messengers of God specifically appointed to accompany Jacob within its borders. But as Jacob journeyed beyond this sacred land, these angels could venture no further. They ascended back to the heavens, their mission complete.


As these angels ascended, a new group of divine messengers descended. These were the angels assigned to accompany Jacob outside the Holy Land. This change of guard was not just a mere transition of responsibilities; it symbolized a significant shift in Jacob's journey. He was now stepping into a realm beyond the familiar, guided and protected by a different set of heavenly guardians.


This dream was more than just a nocturnal vision; it was a profound revelation. It symbolized the continuous presence and guidance of the divine in Jacob's journey, whether within the borders of the Holy Land or beyond. The ladder bridging earth and heaven was a symbol of the constant communication and connection between Jacob and the divine, a reminder that he was never alone in his journey.


The ascending and descending angels were a testament to the meticulous care and attention that the divine world bestowed upon Jacob. Each step of his journey was watched over, each phase of his life journey marked by a specific divine presence and guidance.


As Jacob lay there, witnessing this extraordinary vision, he was reminded of the ever-present connection between the human and the divine, the tangible and the spiritual, the earthly journey and the heavenly guidance. This dream was not just a moment of rest in his journey; it was a profound spiritual awakening, a glimpse into the divine plan and the assurance of unwavering heavenly support as he ventured into the unknown.


*


In his dream, as Jacob lay with his head on the stone, a profound moment of divine encounter occurred. Behold, the Lord Himself stood above him, a guardian presence over Jacob in this vulnerable state of slumber. This was not merely a dream; it was a divine revelation, a sacred moment of connection between the earthly and the heavenly.


The Lord spoke to Jacob, identifying Himself as the God of Abraham, his grandfather, and the God of Isaac, his father. This was significant, as it is rare for the Divine to associate His name with the living. However, in Isaac's case, it was different. Isaac, whose eyes had dimmed and who was confined within his home, had ceased to contend with worldly matters and the evil inclination, akin to one who had passed from this life. Thus, God could associate His name with Isaac, just as He did with Abraham after his death.


In this divine conversation, God made a promise to Jacob. The very land upon which he lay sleeping, the Holy Land of Israel, would be given to him and his descendants. This promise was not just about land ownership; it was a covenant, a binding agreement that spanned generations. To emphasize this promise, God performed a miraculous sign: He folded the entire Land of Israel beneath Jacob, symbolizing that it would be easily conquered and settled by his descendants. This act served as a tangible assurance of God's promise, making the vast land as accessible and conquerable as the small area occupied by Jacob's sleeping form.


This encounter was transformative for Jacob. It was an assurance of divine protection, a reaffirmation of the covenant with his forefathers, and a clear vision of the future for his descendants. The Lord's words were not just a promise but a declaration of an unbreakable bond between Jacob, his offspring, and the Land of Israel.


*


In his divine dream, Jacob received a promise of extraordinary magnitude from the Lord. The promise extended far beyond the immediate context, painting a vision of a future teeming with abundance and influence. "Your seed shall be as the dust of the earth," the Lord declared, indicating that Jacob's descendants would be countless, spreading far and wide across the earth, uncontainable and ubiquitous.


The Lord's promise continued, foretelling that Jacob's influence and that of his descendants would extend in all directions: westward, eastward, northward, and southward. This was not merely a geographical expansion but a symbol of the pervasive and far-reaching impact Jacob's lineage would have on the world. The term "you shall gain strength" (Heb. וּפָרַצ ְתָּ) mirrored the idea of breaking through barriers, expanding beyond the expected or established limits, much like the Israelites did in Egypt, as they grew stronger despite oppression.


Most significantly, through Jacob and his descendants, all the families of the earth would be blessed. This was a profound aspect of the covenant between God and Abraham, now reiterated and reinforced with Jacob. This promise signified that the impact of Jacob's lineage would be universally beneficial, a source of blessing and positive transformation for all peoples of the earth.


This divine assurance to Jacob was not just about the multiplication of his offspring or territorial expansion. It was about the spiritual and moral influence his descendants would wield. The blessings promised to Jacob were to ripple through time, affecting not only his immediate progeny but generations to come, extending blessings to the entirety of humanity.


In this moment, Jacob's personal journey transcended into a universal vision, intertwining his destiny with the destiny of the world. The covenant, thus, established Jacob not just as a patriarch of a nation, but as a foundational figure in the unfolding story of human history and divine interaction.


*


In the stillness of the night, as Jacob lay in the sacred space between waking and dreaming, the Lord's presence enveloped him. The divine assurance "And behold, I am with you" was not merely comforting words but a profound promise, addressing Jacob's fears as he fled from Esau and later, as he would encounter Laban.


This assurance was more than a mere guarantee of physical safety; it was a declaration of ongoing divine companionship and protection on every path Jacob would tread. The Lord's promise extended further, assuring Jacob of his eventual return to this very land, a reaffirmation of the covenantal bond between them.


The phrase "until I have done" (Heb. עַד אֲשֶׁר אִם עָשִׂיתִי) emphasized the certainty of God's promise. It was a guarantee that the Lord would not forsake Jacob until every word spoken to him was fulfilled. This commitment by God was a testament to the unwavering divine purpose at work in Jacob's life and in the legacy that would follow through his lineage.


Furthermore, the Lord's message to Jacob clarified a crucial aspect of the Abrahamic covenant. The blessings promised to Abraham were now explicitly directed at Jacob, setting him apart from Esau. The Lord's use of the term "concerning you" (Heb. לָךְ) was deliberate, underscoring that the covenantal blessings and responsibilities would flow through Jacob, not Esau. This distinction was crucial, shaping the narrative of the chosen people and reinforcing Jacob's role as a key patriarch in this divine saga.


This divine encounter at this place was a turning point for Jacob, a moment where the promises of the past were reiterated with clarity and precision for the future. The Lord's words were a blend of comfort, clarification, and commitment, enveloping Jacob in a sense of divine purpose and protection as he journeyed into the unknown.


*


As Jacob awoke from his sleep, his heart was heavy with the realization of the sanctity of the place where he had rested. His words, "Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know [it]," were not just an expression of surprise but a profound acknowledgment of the divine presence he had unknowingly encountered.


Jacob's realization was one of awe and reverence. He understood that the place where he had slept, though appearing ordinary to the unsuspecting eye, was indeed a holy ground, a place where the veil between the earthly and the divine was thin. Had he known the sacredness of this place, he would not have dared to sleep there. This was a place where heaven touched earth, where God chose to reveal Himself and His promises.


This moment of awakening for Jacob was symbolic of a deeper spiritual awakening. He became acutely aware of the divine presence in his life, understanding that God was not confined to a specific location or territory but was with him wherever he went. This realization transformed Jacob's perception of his journey, his challenges, and his destiny. It was an epiphany that God's presence and promises were not limited to the holy ground upon which he slept, but extended far beyond, accompanying him on every step of his path.


Jacob's awakening from sleep thus became an awakening to a higher truth, a recognition of the continuous and pervasive presence of the divine in his life. This understanding would guide him through his trials and travels, fortifying his faith and commitment to the path laid out for him.


*


Upon awakening from his dream, Jacob was overcome with a deep sense of reverence and fear. He exclaimed, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." This realization marked a profound recognition of the sacredness of the ground upon which he had slept, and the vision he had witnessed.


Rabbi Eleazar, quoting Rabbi Jose ben Zimra, provided a deeper insight into the significance of this place. The ladder Jacob saw in his dream was not merely symbolic but also geographical. It was positioned in Beer-sheba, with its middle reaching opposite the Temple in Jerusalem. This positioning linked Beer-sheba in the south, Beth-el in the north, and Jerusalem in the center, signifying that Jacob's location was at the spiritual heart of the land.


The revelation that this place was the "house of God" and the "gate of heaven" suggested that it was a site of direct communication with the divine. It was a place where prayers would ascend to heaven, a spiritual portal. The midrashic interpretation of this vision suggested that the Heavenly Temple was aligned directly above the earthly Temple, reinforcing the idea of this location as a bridge between the earthly and the divine.


Jacob's recognition of the sanctity of this place was profound. He understood that he was at the very center of divine presence on earth, a place where heaven and earth converged. His declaration of awe was not just an expression of fear but also of deep spiritual connection and understanding. He had unknowingly rested in a place that was not only geographically central but also spiritually pivotal, a sacred space where the divine presence was intensely felt and where prayers could directly ascend to heaven.


*


As dawn broke, casting its first light upon the earth, Jacob, still enveloped in the awe of his nocturnal encounter with the divine, arose. He approached the stone that had served as his pillow in the night, a humble object that had borne witness to his profound vision. With a sense of reverence, he lifted this stone and set it upright, transforming it into a monument—a tangible symbol of the sacred experience he had just lived.


Jacob's act of setting up the stone as a monument was not merely a physical gesture; it was an act of consecration, an acknowledgment of the sanctity of the place and the moment. He then took oil and poured it over the stone, anointing it. This act of pouring oil was symbolic, a ritual commonly used to consecrate and sanctify. In doing so, Jacob was declaring this place, and this stone, as set apart, holy, and connected to the divine encounter he had experienced.


This stone, once a mere part of the landscape, had now become a marker of a divine promise and presence. It stood as a testament to Jacob's encounter with God, the vision of the ladder, and the promises that had been reiterated to him. The anointed stone became a physical representation of the gateway between heaven and earth, a reminder of the place where Jacob had realized the omnipresence of the divine.


Jacob's actions that morning were driven by a newfound understanding of his place in the divine plan. The stone monument was not just a marker of a holy site; it was a symbol of Jacob's commitment to the path laid out for him, a path intertwined with the divine promise and guidance. As he continued his journey, this monument remained a powerful reminder of the moment when heaven had touched earth and God had reaffirmed His covenant with him.


*


In the wake of his divine encounter, Jacob felt compelled to give a new name to the place that had been the setting for his heavenly vision. He named it "Beth El," which means "House of God," recognizing it as the sacred space where he had encountered the divine presence and received God's promises.


The city, known originally as Luz, underwent a transformation in its identity through Jacob's renaming. This change was not merely nominal but represented a profound shift in the spiritual significance of the location. Luz, a name that denoted its previous secular identity, was now Beth El, a name that encapsulated its newfound status as a site of divine encounter and spiritual awakening.


This act of renaming by Jacob was an assertion of his faith and an acknowledgment of the profound impact of his dream. By calling it Beth El, Jacob was affirming that this place was more than just a geographic location; it was a bridge between heaven and earth, a tangible reminder of his covenant with God and the divine promise of protection and blessing.


The naming of Beth El thus marked a pivotal moment in the narrative, a turning point where the ordinary became extraordinary through divine encounter. It signified a place where the physical and spiritual realms intersected, a symbol of Jacob's ongoing journey under the guidance and promise of God. In renaming Luz as Beth El, Jacob left a lasting legacy, a sacred site that would be revered for generations as a place of divine presence and a testament to the covenant between God and his people.


*


In the wake of his profound encounter, Jacob, filled with awe and humility, made a vow. His words reflected both a deep faith and an understanding of his dependence on divine providence. "If God will be with me," he began, echoing the promise God had made to him in the dream, "and He will guard me on this way, upon which I am going."


Jacob's vow was a response to the promises God had made to him. He was not bargaining with God but expressing his commitment to trust in the divine promises. When he said, "If God will be with me," he was recalling God's assurance of "And behold, I am with you." And when he mentioned God guarding him, he was referring to God's promise of protection on his journey, "and I will guard you wherever you go."


Jacob's request for bread to eat and a garment to wear was more than a plea for physical sustenance and clothing. It was an acknowledgment of his total reliance on God for his basic needs. He understood that being forsaken by God meant more than just spiritual abandonment; it extended to the provision of one's daily needs. The assurance that he would not have to seek bread indicated that he would not be forsaken, as the psalmist says, "I have not seen a righteous man forsaken and his seed seeking bread."


Jacob's vow at Beth El was thus a declaration of his unwavering faith in God's promises and a commitment to rely on God's providence. It was a moment of spiritual affirmation, where Jacob acknowledged his role in the divine plan and his dependence on God's ongoing guidance and care. This vow solidified Jacob's relationship with God, rooted in trust, obedience, and a deep sense of divine presence in his life.


*


Jacob's vow concluded with a solemn promise regarding the stone he had set up as a monument. He declared, "Then this stone, which I have placed as a monument, shall be a house of God." The use of the word "then" (Hebrew: וְהָאֶבֶן), as Rashi explains, implies a conditional statement: If God fulfills the promises made to Jacob, then Jacob, in turn, will uphold his end of the vow.


This stone, once an ordinary part of the landscape and then a rest for his head, had already been transformed into a monument by Jacob. Now, he committed to further elevate its significance, envisioning it as a "house of God." This was not just a physical transformation but a declaration of the stone's ongoing spiritual significance. The Targum paraphrases Jacob's intent to use this stone as a place of worship before the Lord.


Jacob's commitment came to fruition when he returned from Padan-aram. Upon God's instruction to return to Beth-El, Jacob once again erected the stone as a monument and performed a libation, an act of pouring liquid as an offering, upon it, as recorded in the scriptures. This act was not only a fulfillment of his vow but also a reiteration of his ongoing commitment to God and recognition of the stone's role as a symbol of his covenant with God.


Furthermore, Jacob pledged, "and everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You." This part of his vow showed his acknowledgment of God's role in providing for his needs and his commitment to honoring God with a portion of whatever he was given. This promise of tithing was a testament to Jacob's faith and gratitude, recognizing that all his blessings were from God and committing to give back a portion in acknowledgment of this divine providence.

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