Parshat Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:3)
(Translated from the Hebrew original)
With one hundred and forty-eight p’sukim (verses), Parshat Vayetze is one of the longest portions in the Torah. It mainly deals with Yaakov’s flight from Eisav, which takes him to Lavan the Aramean, his mother’s brother. While in exile at his uncle’s home, Yaakov merits to start a large family of twelve boys and one girl (according to rabbinic tradition, twin girls, who were not mentioned in the Torah, were born alongside each boy).
Having acquired life experience during his 20-year exile, he ultimately returns to the Land of Israel. Angels accompany him when he leaves – the same angels he had seen in his dream, climbing and descending a ladder – and he also encounters angels upon his return. He names his entry point into the Land of Israel, “Machanayim”, in reference to those angels.
I would like to draw your attention to a visual curiosity that is seemingly unrelated to the content of the parsha’s narrative. It concerns the parsha’s physical appearance. In any story or book, paragraphs create a system of spacing that separates subjects. The Torah, too, has a spacing system, called “parshiot”.
In the Torah, we note two different kinds of spacing: “open” and “closed” spacing. Unlike the division of the Torah into parashot, which occurred relatively late in Jewish history (over 1,500 years ago, by Babylonian Jewish communities, so that the entire Torah cycle could be recited, in its entirety, over the course of a year), the division of the Torah into closed and open parshiot is quite ancient.
A “closed” parsha (“parsha stuma”) is denoted by a space that is nine characters wide, while an “open” parsha (“parsha petuha”) begins on a new line, immediately after the previous parsha. On average, we see the indications for “open” or “closed” parshiot every 30 p’sukim (verses) or so. In the Chumash, though, these divisions are marked with the Hebrew letter “פ” (for “ptuha”, open) or “ס” (for “stuma”, closed), which take the place of the actual spaces in the Torah scroll.
Yet despite its length, Parshat Vayetze contains neither closed nor open parsha indications, and this begs the following question: Wouldn’t it be appropriate to pause every so often between the different parts of the narrative? Is there something so special about this parsha that could explain an intentional omission of subdivisions?It turns out that in Parshat Vayetze, the Giver of the Torah wanted to teach us that sometimes, there is no need to understand, or even no way to understand the story in the middle, It’s not worth wasting time trying to understand only part of it, since you’ll only understand the whole story once you reach the end.
Parshat Vayetze is the parsha that deals with Jewish People’s exile. Yaakov flees from his brother, who wants him dead. His troubles don’t end in exile, though. After trying to flatter him, Lavan now tries to deceive him in any way possible, and later, he even tries to dispossess him of his assets, and fight him.
Ma’asei Avot Siman La’Banim – “The deeds of the fathers are a sign to the sons”.
And indeed, it is in a foreign land that Yaakov can start a magnificent family, the likes of which his forebears had never merited. Do we understand what Yaakov merited, and why he merited it? Many try to attach a rationale to the destiny of the Jews throughout their existence, but the most we can hope to achieve is a partial explanation.
Packed with content and lacking spaces, this parsha teaches us this concept, and it seems to say the following: Don’t try to understand until you’ve reached the end. To learn the secret of our existence as a nation, we need to open the entire book and read it from start to finish. Only then will we understand what we are meant to do and what the meaning is of every chapter of our history.
To quote Tehillim (Psalms) 126:2: “Then our mouths will be full of laughter, our tongues with songs of praise”: we will only understand the reason for the pain we’ve suffered throughout our existence when we reach the end. Yaakov set out on his journey with a promise – the divine promise to bring Yaakov back to the Land of Israel. That promise is asking to be fulfilled, and until then, there is no time to rest.
It seems that no drawn-out explanation is necessary to apply this lesson to today’s reality. The difficulties and dangers we are faced with lead many of us to ask ourselves questions like “why” or “until when”? Parshat Veyetze is trying to teach us that we mustn’t stop or ask for a pause between one chapter and the next to “take a break”.
May it be the will of Hashem that G-d’s promise to Yaakov will be fulfilled with us: “And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”