Torah Study Notes 12-3-11

December 3, 2011

Genesis: The end of the story of Jacob and Laban

p. 204

There is another discernable leitmotif operating throughout the Book of Genesis: Note that both Abraham and Jacob are extraordinarily successful when they are out of the land; Abraham in Egypt and Jacob in Elat. Here we see that Jacob’s wives want to leave their father and return with Jacob to his own land,  It is because of Jacob’s success that he is willing to do so.

31:22 Laban pursues Jacob after his departure from his household with his wives. God appears to Laban “saying to him “Beware lest you speak to Jacob, beginning well but ending ill.” This is unusual because Laban has his own gods. Compare the story of Balak/Billam where Billam is called upon to curse the Israelites by calling upon Balak’s god but instead calls upon his own and blesses them.

31:25  Laban has been warned to be circumspect but is unable to do so. Note that he accuses Jacob of stealing his gods whereas in fact Rachel has done so. Jacob was unaware of that.

31:33 Rachel is sitting on the saddlebags to conceal the gods that have been hidden there. LL: Question about the footnote 24 on page 205. In an Agnes Veto lecture I attended yesterday she pointed out that there was a conflict between Christians and Jews in the period 200 to 400 CE as to who which people was descended from Jacob or Esau. In a Midrash Esau was painted as the evil twin whereas in reading the story he appears to be the wronged and hence more sympathetic figure.  PG: Esau or Edom became a code word among the Jews for an adversary – frequently Christians. Most literature treats this, ala Umberto Eco,  in a semiotic fashion. Esau is generally considered dense – just doesn’t get it – a role played in the next generation by Reuben. Much of this controversy springs originally from the valuable lands south of the Dead Sea – running down to Eilat. Edom become the symbol of the betrayer because they sided with the Babylonians. See Esau’s Route leading to Edom on the map on page 15. We will later see an extremely negative image of Esau in the Haftarah. DC: This story of Rachel reminds me of the stolen chalice hidden in the bag of Benjamin.  PG: There are a series of family controversies beginning with Cain and Abel. In each generation some element gets replayed but with a different twist. Is Rachel justified in taking revenge against Laban by stealing his household gods? PG: Remember how Jacob was deceived by Leah – thinking she was Rachel? This is reminiscent of his own deception of Isaac. This was also thought to be a  deception organized by Laban. Here the image is that Rachel is sitting on those household gods of her father in an unclean condition – a sign of disrespect.

33:36 Jacob berates Laban. An excellent speech. Jacob has been a good steward of Laban’s property. Either that or there has been divine providence at work.

33:43  Laban wants to make a deal. They erect a stone monument which they call “The Mound of Witness.”  LL: Is this rough mound of stones a precursor to the instruction for building an alter in the Temple? PG: The stones are ancient and are deemed to be significant for that reason. Here the stones are acting as a border between two families and their descendents. That is an anachronistic kind of statement. The mound is deemed to be an eternal witness to the way the two families will treat one another. That is likely the only original meaning. The meaning of borderline has been added once there were in fact two peoples. Geology determines the actual line. Note that the stones are described both in Hebrew and in Aramaic. See footnote 24 as to “Laban the Aramean.” Note also the capitalization of the word Fear – which is a translation of a Hebrew “pachad” or “phobia” but the original meaning has been lost. It might have a completely different meaning in this context. “Yiraih” is the other word used for the fear of God. Note throughout Genesis the carving out of three spheres, God’s will, man’s will and nature. These authors accepted that nature was a separate and independent force not controlled by either God or man after the initial act of creation.


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