The Strangest Dream?: Vayetze 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When we try to convince others to agree with us, are there any intellectual methods that should be off-limits? What might they be?

Of all the characters in the Hebrew Bible, Jacob may be the best at manipulating (for good and bad reasons) others; in our portion this week, Jacob uses a dream that may or may not have happened:

The Pitch: “‘And in the dream an angel of God said to me, “Jacob!” “Here,” I answered. And he said, “Note well that all the he-goats which are mating with the flock are streaked, speckled, and mottled; for I have noted all that Laban has been doing to you. I am the God of Beth-el, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now, arise and leave this land and return to your native land.”’” – Genesis 31:11-13

Swing #1: “Perhaps Jacob is lying to his wives about God’s assistance as, earlier, he lied to his father, using an invented story about God to overcome their reluctance to leave home. Taking this dream as an honest report, however, it shows God active at the humblest level we have yet seen: as animal husbandry counselor. Why is God doing this? His allusion to Jacob’s vow and thereby to the demands made of him seems to contain the answer.” – Jack Miles, God: A Biography

Swing #2: “In the traditions about Jacob in the Book of Genesis, we have another component of the sanctity of Beth-el – the angel. This angel, who is designated as ‘The God of Beth-el,’ appears to Jacob in a dream in order to save him from Laban …  Thus the divine revelation of Beth-el was connected to what the Greeks called genius loci, an angel of the place.” – Israel Knohl, The Divine Symphony: The Bible’s Many Voices

Swing #3: “This reference to Jacob’s vow does not appear in the original account in which God tells Jacob to return home (Genesis 31:3). It is Jacob, in fact, who fills in this detail – he must pay off what he has promised – when he explains to his wives why he must return. The narrative thus suggests, most subtly, the workings of Jacob’s subconscious mind, the guilt that he feels at a profound ambivalence he senses in himself.” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Beginning of Desire

Late-Inning Questions: To what extent do our commentators seem to believe Jacob is telling the truth? To what extent do they believe he is stretching it? Does the end (getting away from servitude in Laban’s household) justify the means? When, if ever, is it all right to stretch the truth to get out of a bad circumstance?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re excited for another edition of Jews, Brews, and ’Ques on Sunday, December 3rd. This event is a fun and relaxing way to support the synagogue while eating scrumptious food prepared by teams from across Charleston. I’m also proud that we’re donating a portion of our proceeds to funds that benefit victims of recent hurricanes. Get your tickets before they disappear!

The Big Inning at the End: One of the wildest Thanksgiving stories of recent memory occurred in 2003, when Theo Epstein, then general manager of the Boston Red Sox, had to endure spending the holiday weekend in Curt Schilling’s home so he could convince the star pitcher to pitch for the Red Sox. What is your craziest Thanksgiving story?

Shabbat Shalom!