Vayeitzai -- Genesis 28:10-32:3

793px-El_sueño_de_Jacob,_by_José_de_Ribera,_from_Prado_in_Google_EarthAmerican feminist activist and writer Gloria Steinem (b. 1934) once observed:

Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming after all, is a form of planning.

Dreaming as imagination and planning is an integral element of the Jewish path. Jacob is the archetypal dreamer, just as Joseph later becomes a renowned interpreter of dreams. Similarly, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Abraham, Jacob also takes leave of his hometown of Beer Sheva to dream of something more — a Promised Land.

En route to Haran, Jacob encounters that place, falling asleep and dreaming of a ladder connecting heaven and earth. This powerful vision of angels ascending and descending upon the ladder serves as a further signpost for Jacob’s journey onwards to the Promised Land. The next morning, Jacob raises the stone upon which he laid his head as an altar and calls it Beth El.

While in Haran, Jacob devotes fourteen years to work and raising a family—including Leah’s six sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun along with daughter, Dinah; Rachel’s handmaiden bearing Dan and Naphtali; and Leah’s handmaiden, Zilpah, bearing Gad and Asher; and finally, Rachel bearing Joseph.

After this extended period, in a surprising turn for biblical narrative, Jacob yearns to return home. After repeated attempts at swindling Jacob to stay, Laban pursues Jacob but is warned not to harm him. Jacob and Laban make a pact on Mount Gil-‘Ed, allowing Jacob to continue in his ascent to the Holy Land, accompanied again by angels. Reflecting the ladder’s dynamic tension and two-way flow, Jacob's journey is one of both ascent and descent amid the joys and challenges of a familial life.

- Rabbi Glazer

Image credit: “El sueño de Jacob,” by José de Ribera, 1638