Logo

 

Seeds from Rimon

A D'var Torah for Parashat Va-Yishlah

by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman

 

This week's parasha, Va-Yishlah focuses on the homeward journey of Jacob and his family. This entire sidrah seems to swing widely between the poles of blessing and calamity. While the overt context of the parasha focuses on Jacob's inner and outward journeys, the feminine voices within the family are struck down through tragedy and death. Much as Jacob/Israel can be seen as an archetypal figure representing the Jewish people, so too the loss of the feminine in this parasha may have symbolic significance for the spiritual narrative of the Jewish people.

 

The parasha begins with Jacob's encounter with a mysterious "man" with whom he wrestles and from whom he demands a blessing. He receives a new name, the root of which can be understood as Sar-to exert authority, to master. The implication is that he has mastered some aspect of relationship to both the Divine and to human beings.[1] After this encounter, Jacob sees Esau approaching. Despite Jacob's fears, the two have a peaceful reunion. As soon as they part ways the text states, "Jacob arrived shalem in the city of Shechem which is in the land of Canaan..." Shalem can be understood to mean: safely, whole, or at peace. Given his life-long contest for supremacy, his personal anxiety about Esau's potential to exact revenge and then the peaceful reunion of the brothers, this statement seems to indicate a complete resolution of Jacob's inner struggles. The reader may be lulled into a false and premature sense of peace. But this moment is transitory. As soon as Jacob settles in the land of his forefathers, his daughter Dinah is abducted, raped and held hostage by a local prince. This episode culminates in tragic and brutal retribution by Jacob's sons.

 

Immediately after this tragedy, God again commands Jacob to return to Beit -El, the site where, upon fleeing from Esau twenty years earlier, Jacob first encountered God in a dream. Jacob must return to the place where his flight began in order to truly complete his journey. As soon as these events move toward narrative closure, the text reports, "Deborah, Rebekah's nurse died and was buried under the oak below Beit-El, so it was named Elon Bakhut (literally- weeping tree).

 

There is a striking parallel quality to these two storylines. At each juncture where Jacob appears to have reached resolution regarding his struggle with Esau, there comes a blow to the 'feminine' within the household. First Dinah, the maiden and only daughter of Jacob is abducted and violated. Her voice is silent in the text and we never hear of her again. Now, the crone, the eldest of the women who provides the maternal foundation for the household dies and the earth itself mourns for her. Her grave is a place of eternal sadness- elon bakhut, the weeping tree.

 

The text abruptly shifts to God's blessing of Jacob for fertility, inheritance of the land and future majesty. The journey continues from blessing to tragedy, as we immediately read of the death in childbirth of Jacob's beloved Rachel. Thus, as Jacob moves ever closer to his father's home, the feminine aspect within the household is assailed.

 

Dinah, Deborah, and Rachel (Maiden, Crone/Mother and Lover) all are lost.

 

Rashi (the great 11th c. commentator) recounts a midrash, which explains the rape of Dinah as punishment of Jacob for his withholding Dinah from Esau's eyes. When Jacob is reunited with Esau, he presents his eleven children. "But where was Dinah?" asks Rashi. "He placed her in a chest and locked her in so that Esau should not desire to marry her. On this account Jacob was punished because he had kept her away from his brother for she might have led him back to the right path. She therefore fell into the power of Shechem."[2]

 

With this midrash in mind, one might suggest that in Jacob's quest for identity and mastery over his own life, he has suppressed and imprisoned the 'inner feminine'. He cannot trust in the possibility of a complete healing with Esau. His strategic actions in sending forth gifts and bowing seven times etc. stem from his need to control and manipulate events. He is unable to consider the possibility that the heart can soften, and that Esau may have healed from his wound. Aviva Zornberg, a contemporary Bible scholar, recalls this same midrash and states that Jacob "has lost hope and trust in a reality of confrontation and change..."[3] He cannot imagine a different reality. He is fixed in the wounding of the past. In contrast to Jacob's approach,   "Love...breaks through pre-imposed patterns, it opens gaps in secure defenses."[4] But Jacob is unable to enter this place of trust. He approaches Esau with dread. He ignores the possibility for a new beginning based on love and brotherhood. From this moment, Dinah's story unfolds with all the brute force of an unbounded and unmitigated masculine impulse- first from Shechem and then in the vengeful violence perpetrated by Dinah's brothers.

 

Each time Jacob appears to approach wholeness and balance in the formation of his complex identity, the text inserts a dramatic blow to the 'feminine.' Like Jacob, we all seek wholeness, but are often too deeply terrified to allow full expression of the 'feminine'- to allow trust, love and faith to guide our actions. The impulse to control, to maintain narratives of fear and victimization are natural, but unfortunately often come with disastrous repercussions. Receptivity, trust, nurturance, hesed (lovingkindness) are all aspects of the feminine archetype. If there ever is to be true and lasting peace, we will need to recover these repressed sacred parts. Then, perhaps, all of the children of Abraham will be able to receive their true and just blessings.

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1. "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human and have prevailed." (Gen. 32:28)

2. Rashi on Gen. 32:22

3. Aviva Zornberg, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire,233.

4. ibid


 

 


Ongoing Classes
 
Weekly Torah Study 
Through the Lens of Jewish Mysticism

 

Its not too late to join us for the remaining classes of this series. Each week we explore the Torah portion guided by the commentaries of the Baal Shem Tov, S'fat Emet, Mei Hashiloach and other holy masters of Jewish mysticism. To gain the most benefit from these classes please read the parasha before each class. They are clearly listed in any Jewish Bible.
No knowledge of Hebrew is necessary.
 
When: Class meets weekly on either Sunday mornings or Tuesday evenings. All Sunday classes  meet 10:30-11:45AM. All Tuesday classes will meet 7:00-8:15PM with the exception of the last class on 12/25 which will include a celebration for completion of the book of Genesis.The time for the 12/25 class will be determined by the group.  See remaining class dates below. 
 
Va-yeshev.........Sun.   12/2
Miketz...............Tues.  12/11
Va-Yigash..........Sun.  12/16
Va'Yehi..............Tues. 12/25 w/ siyyum celebration!
 
Where: The Chapel of the Church on the Hill, 55 Main St, Lenox, MA 
               (a low brown building across the sreet from Nejaime's Wine Cellar)
 
Teacher: Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
 
Fee: $12/class
 
Please let us know which classes you plan to attend so we can provide handouts. 
 
To register or for more info: 
 
reply to this email or call 413-274-1034
About Us

 

We seek to enrich and support Jewish spiritual life in the Berkshire region by transmitting the richness of Jewish tradition and wisdom to the broadest audience of seekers while fostering a contemporary sensibility and awareness.

 

By providing educational opportunities and offering experiences in prayer, 

meditation and movement. 

By offering chaplaincy/spiritual support services to the sick, elderly and bereaved

By providing a community-wide Hevra Kadisha (Jewish Burial Society)

 

Rimon is an affiliate of Jewish Federation of the Berkshires  

 

For more info about Rimon please visit our website at

www.rimonberkshires.org