THISSHABBAT: Pray a little, sing a lot, study even more

Candle lighting for Friday, Nov. 24, is at 4:13 p.m.

Shabbat ends on Saturday with Havdalah at 5:15 p.m.

This week's Torah portion finds our last patriarch, Yaakov (Jacob), on the run from his brother Eisav and toward his destony as the actual founder of the People Israel. The parashah opens with Yaakov spending the night on a hilltop, only to have a strange dream that gives him the feeling that the place is none other then "the house of God," or Beit El in Hebrew. Next, we find him at a well, where he encounters his cousin Rachel, and it's love at first sight. His uncle Lavan tricks him into marrying Rachel's older sister first, then allows him to marry Rachel. He also marries his wives' maidservants, and and pretty soon he has 11 sons, with one on the way at the end of the parashah. To download this week's Shabbat booklet, click here.

THIS WEEK: Shabbat Parashat Vayetzei

B'reishit 28.10-32.3, pages 166-187

FIRST ALIYAH: Yaakov supposedly is running away from Eisav, who wants to kill him. Or is he so intent? What in this episode suggests this just continues a Tragedy of Errors?

FIFTH ALIYAH: Yaakov learns that his brothers-in-law are becoming increasingly amgry with his prosperity, presumably at their expense. God tells him it is time to head home. Yet he calls Rachel and Leah together to ask their permission. Why?

The haftarah, Hoshea 11.7-12.12,

begins on Page 195.

NEXT WEEK: Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach

B'reishit 32.4-36.43, pages 198-220

FIRST ALIYAH: After Eisav and Yaakov embrace, Eisav looks up and sees the women and the children, and asks who they are. How do we explain Yaakov's response (and why do we need to)?

SIXTH ALIYAH: Reuven sleeps with Bilhah (verse 35.22). At all other times, she is referred to as one of Yaakov's wives. Here, she is identified as his concubine (pilegesh)? Why does the text diminish her status? Is it suggesting she was complicit here?

The haftarah, Ovadiah1.1-21, begins on Page 222



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QUESTIONS FOR

TORAH STUDY

ABOUT THIS WEEK'S READING

THE 12 TRIBES: HISTORICAL REALITIES

IN A BIBLICAL TEXT

In the eyes of biblical scholarship, the B'reishit narratives that detail the birth of Yaakov's sons constitute an important historic document relative to the evolution of the league of Israelite tribes. To the scholars, certain stages of development can be discerned. The six Leah tribes, they say, must have originated in Mesopotamia. The handmaid tribes must have endured a subordinate status. Binyamin was the last to join the Israelite league.

Re'uven is supposed to be Yaakov's first-born, and his name heads every biblical list. The prominent role he plays in the Yosef saga echoes his position of seniority, and creates the expectation he will enjoy future leadership of the tribes. Yet such is not the case in the historical sources. The Re'uven tribe was insignificant in our texts. As Moshe's farewell shows (D'varim 33:6), its very existence was at one time in jeopardy. This means the depiction of Re'uven as Yaakov's first-born cannot possibly be a retrojection from later times. It is, in fact, inexplicable unless it accurately represents an early historic reality in which Re'uven enjoyed hegemony at least over the five other Leah tribes.

Similarly, decisive conclusions about the antiquity of the data in the birth narratives may be drawn from the portrayal of the other three sons in the first Leah group. Shimon is next in line in seniority, but he does not inherit the mantle of leadership. Historically quite unimportant, the tribe did not even merit a mention in Moshe's farewell (D'varim 33) or the Song of D'vorah (Shof'tim 5). It was largely absorbed by Y'hudah, who took over many of the cities assigned to Shimon. Nevertheless, our narrative makes Shimon senior to Y'hudah.

Levi, too, is here senior to Y'hudah; yet in later times, it had no territory and was dispersed throughout Israel. The story of his birth yields not the slightest intimation of all this.

All in all, the contrast between what is known of the post-settlement history of the tribes and the reality that can be culled from the present narrative account about the birth of Yaakov's sons unmistakably points to the conclusion that the latter preserves the earliest traditions.

—Adapted from the JPS Torah Commentary to Genesis


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