Parsha Vayetzei is the most colourful narrative of the Torah. To the naked eye it presents as a sophisticated farce equal to the any of the Shakespearean Comedies, containing the mainstay elements of love, deception and retribution
The facts that are related appear straightforward, but the story being told is not. Simply, Jacob was sent by his mother Rebecca to live with her brother Laban in Haran. Laban had two daughters: Leah who was ambiguously described as having dimmed eyes, and Rachel, her younger sister; “of beautiful form and fair to look upon”. From the first moment Jacob laid eyes on Rachel he was smitten with love, and he immediately asked Laban for her hand in marriage. Laban agreed, but as a prerequisite Jacob was first required to perform seven years of labour. Jacob’s worked the seven years, but for him, the time passed quickly; it “seemed to him a few days because of his love for her”.
At the end of term, Jacob sought his reward from Laban: “Deliver my wife for my term is fulfilled, and I will consort with her”. Laban agreed and immediately hosted a feast to celebrate the pairing. At its conclusion he accompanied his daughter to Jacob’s tent. In the morning’s light Jacob discovered that he had been deceived. It was Leah that had shared his marital bed: “And it came to pass in the morning that, behold, it was Leah; and he said to Laban: ‘What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?’ Laban’s response is noteworthy: ‘It is not so done in our place, to give the younger before the first-born”, a pointed barb, reminding his nephew that he was aware of the artifice that had been perpetrated on Isaac and, to be kind, did not approve. Colloquially; turnabout is fair play. Jacob reached an agreement with Laban and agreed to work another seven years for Laban in exchange for Rachel’s hand. However Jacob did not forget Laban’s duplicity, nor did Rachel. Alas, Leah lived her life unloved, though she gave Jacob six sons and a daughter, Dinah.
At the end of his second term of employment, Jacob sought fair restitution from Laban. Laban, however, was not so inclined. Jacob then proposed an arrangement to cull and separate their flocks, based on colouring. Jacob would take only the off-color animals. Laban sensed an advantage and agreed.
It was now Jacob’s turn to deceive his uncle, and through a form of stock raising, that required teasing the animals into heat, he stimulated Laban’s entire flock into birthing off-colour offspring: “And the flocks conceived at the sight of the rods, and the flocks brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted”. Jacob’s flock grew in size as Laban’s diminished. Jacob was to return home a wealthy man, with flocks of sheep, camels and donkeys, and his greatest asset, eleven sons. In the end, Jacob overcame Laban’s deceit, and Laban suffered a just end.
That left Rachel to settle accounts with her father. Before she departed with Jacob to journey to his home, she stole an idol from Laban, which she hid in her saddle pack. Laban discovered his loss and immediately gave chase. He searched Jacob’s entire train until only Rachel’s possessions remained to be scoured for his precious idol. Laban entered Rachel’s tent, where he found her reclining on her saddle pack. A search of the tent proved fruitless, and as he approached his daughter, Rachel warned him: “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise up before thee; for the manner of women is upon me”.Laban heeded her warning and the idol was never found.
The Parsha offers up a wonderful story with romance, ruse and revenge lying at its core, but, it is equally a very challenging tale, and can be read as a negative portrayal of two Matriarchs and a Patriarch. Traditional commentators have offered many ways to explain away the actions described therein, while some modern exegetes find truth and authenticity in the very human portrayals; the paterfamiliases were not paragons, the materfamiliases were not models of perfection. This honesty contributes to the uniqueness of our Scriptures – demonstrating the proposition that no man is perfect.