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Parashat Toldot – November 2, 2013 – 29 Heshvan 5774
Rebecca, agonizing from being pregnant with twins, is told by God that her older child will one day serve the younger child. Rebecca favors Jacob, the younger twin, while Isaac prefers Esau, a brash hunter who brings his father game. One night, Esau returns home famished and agrees to give Jacob his birthright in exchange for stew.
Isaac’s ventures during adulthood mirror those of his father;; he pretends his wife is his sister to protect his family from King Avimelech. Later, Isaac and Avimelech make a treaty surrounding the wells that Isaac had dug.
Fearing imminent death, Isaac asks Esau to hunt him game, after which he would bless his elder son. Rebecca overhears and tells Jacob to kill an animal and impersonate his brother. Isaac is blind and, though suspicious, gives Jacob the blessings he had intended for Esau. When Esau returns and learns what had happened, he threatens to kill his brother. Jacob flees Be’er Sheva to look for a wife, while Esau, after disappointing his parents by marrying a Hittite woman, finds another wife among the family of Ishmael.
Parashat Vayetze -November 9, 2013 – 6 Kislev 5774
Stopping for the night on his way from Beersheba to Haran, Jacob dreams of a staircase reaching to heaven. Angels ascend and descend the staircase (sometimes described as a ladder). In the dream, God “stands” nearby and repeats his covenantal blessings and promises to Jacob. Upon waking, a startled Jacob expresses his awe at God’s presence and at the holiness of the site, which he names Beth El – “the House of God.” He erects and anoints a dedicatory pillar, using the stones on which he had slept and experienced his revelation, and he makes a seemingly conditional vow of devotion to God. Arriving in Haran, Jacob meets a number of shepherds at a well, who identify Rachel to him. He tearfully introduces himself and kisses Rachel, who informs her father of his kinsman’s arrival. Jacob agrees to work for Laban for seven years, in exchange for marriage to Rachel (whom he prefers over her elder sister, Leah) at the end of that time. The years pass quickly, but on the wedding night, after the marriage is celebrated, Laban substitutes Leah for the intended bride. Jacob, who has perpetrated his share of familial deceptions, is now the victim of deceit. An aggrieved Jacob is permitted to marry Rachel, as well, waiting for Leah’s “wedding week” to conclude, and obligating himself to an additional seven years’ servitude. The tension between the sisters and co-wives finds expression in the inequality of their childbearing. Leah gives birth to Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. An envious Rachel gives Jacob her servant Bilhah as a concubine and surrogate, and Bilhah gives birth to Dan and Naphtali. Leah follows suit, giving Jacob her servant Zilpah, who gives birth to Gad and Asher. Rachel, still childless, buys mandrakes from Leah in exchange for transferring that night’s conjugal rights to her elder sister. Leah goes on to bear Jacob three more children: two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah. Each child’s name reflects each sister’s continuing desire to secure Jacob’s love and marital validation.
Parashat Vayishlah -November 16, 2013 – 13 Kislev 5774
Finally free from serving his father-in-law, Laban, Jacob is informed that Esau and 400 men are on the way to visit him. Ja- cob springs into action in three ways: He separates his traveling party into two groups, prays to God for safety and prepares gifts for his brother. Jacob, now standing alone, is met by a mysterious being, and the two wrestle until daybreak. Jacob proves to be stronger and demands a blessing, and the unknown being changes Jacob’s name to Israel, because he had “striven with beings divine and human, and … prevailed.” Esau arrives with open arms, kissing Jacob and speaking of jour- neying together. Jacob, however, insists that Esau accept his gifts and asks to travel at a slow pace behind Esau’s company. Jacob and Esau reunite only once more: to bury their father, Isaac.
Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is raped by Shekhem, the son of the Hivite chief. Shekhem wants to marry Dinah, and Hamor asks Jacob to promote marriage between the Israelites and the Hivites. Jacob approves, provided that Hivite males are circum- cised. Simeon and Levi slaughter the Hivites recovering from their circumcisions, and pillage their camp.
God tells Jacob to return to Bethel, where he is blessed once more, reminding him of the covenant promising his offspring the land of Canaan. Rachel gives birth to her second son, Benjamin, but dies immediately afterward.
Parashat Vayeshev-November 23, 2013 – 20 Kislev 5774
Jacob gives Joseph a colored coat to show that he is Jacob’s favorite son. Joseph tells his brothers of dreams that his family
will serve him. Enraged, the brothers plan to kill Joseph, until Reuven begs them not to; instead, they sell Joseph into slavery, and tell Jacob that Joseph had been killed by an animal.
Judah refuses to have his third son marry Tamar after his first two sons, who had been married to her, die. Tamar dresses as a harlot and seduces Judah. When Tamar is discovered pregnant, she is saved from execution only after Judah acknowledges he is the babies’ father.
Joseph, now in Egypt, serves Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh. Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph;; when he refuses her advances, she accuses him of rape. Joseph is imprisoned. While there, Joseph correctly interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker. But while the baker is executed, the butler forgets Joseph once he is restored to his post.
Parashat Miketz – Shabbat Hanukkah November 30, 2013 – 27 Kislev 5774
Pharaoh is disturbed by his dreams, and his butler finally suggests that Joseph be summoned from prison to help. When Joseph explains that the dreams foretell seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine, Pharaoh appoints Jo- seph as second-in-command of Egypt, and Joseph successfully ensures that Egypt has food during the ensuing years.
Facing famine in Canaan, ten of Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt in search of food. The brothers don’t recognize Joseph, and Joseph withholds his true identity. Joseph imprisons Simeon and sends the rest of the brothers home with food, telling them not to return until they bring Benjamin with them. Despite Jacob’s protests, the brothers return with Benjamin. Jo- seph is pleased, and he releases Simeon and sends the brothers back with food again, but also plants his goblet in Benja- min’s bag. The brothers fear that Benjamin will be imprisoned in Egypt permanently.