The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Vayetzei and is found in Genesis 28:10-32:3. In this parasha, we continue the story of Jacob, who has set out for Haran, fleeing Esau’s wrath. He stops for the night and dreams of a stairway (or ladder) between earth and heaven with angels ascending and descending. God speaks to Jacob in his dream and renews the promise made to his father and grandfather. Encouraged, Jacob arrives in Haran and meets his cousin Rachel at the well. He falls in love with her and agrees to work for her father Laban for seven years in exchange for making Rachel his wife. When the time comes, Laban tricks him into marrying Leah, Rachel’s older sister, instead. Jacob agrees to work another seven years for Rachel. Leah gives birth to four sons, but Rachel is childless. Rachel gives her maid Bilhah to Jacob as a concubine and Bilhah bears two sons. Leah then gives her maid Zilpah to Jacob and Zilpah bears two sons. Leah gives birth to two more sons and a daughter. Rachel finally becomes pregnant and gives birth to Joseph. Jacob wants to return home to Canaan, but Laban persuades him to stay by promising to pay him a share of the flocks that Jacob has caused to increase. In time, Jacob realizes that Laban’s sons resent his growing wealth and that Laban himself seems less welcoming and he tells Rachel and Leah it is time to leave. They agree and the family sets out for Canaan. Laban pursues and overtakes Jacob and his family and condemns their secret departure. Jacob and Laban make a covenant of peace and go their separate ways.
The details of this parasha help outline the lineage of Jacob’s twelve sons which later form the basis for the 12 tribes of Israel. One thing easily noticed here is an emerging picture of the three patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and the four Matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah). All have redeeming qualities, but none of them are inspiringly notable or perfect. They are flawed models of what it is to be human. They have both strengths and weaknesses. And yet, when we recite the Amidah, we remind God that these are our relatives. What is important to remember is that God is not requiring perfection of us, nor should we require this of ourselves. Our goal should be wholeness. All of us experience challenging and painful life circumstances. All of us are incomplete in who we are and what we want to be. What we learn from our matriarchs and patriarchs is their constant striving to be more whole, to not be content with where they were. This is our challenge as well, to constantly be in the process of becoming and growing.