July 15, 2019

Weekly Parsha: Vayeitzei

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

“Jacob kissed Rachel, and he raised his voice and wept.” –Genesis 29:11

Yafa Benaya
Arevot Women’s Beit Midrash, Sephardic Educational Center

Jacob is a deeply conflicted introvert who lacks the ability to express emotion. Could anything or anyone tap into the emotional side of this seemingly stone-cold individual?

At a well covered by a heavy stone, Jacob discovers his feelings. It begins when he gazes at Rachel for the first time. Something about her inspires him to “roll the stone from the well’s mouth,” a metaphor of sorts for Jacob pushing away the stone-cold barrier that lies between him and his emotions. Beneath this stone, he discovers water.

“Water wears away stone,” says Job (14:19). In ancient traditions, water represents the soothing feminine aspect of our emotional depths. When we plunge into these waters, we discover our souls.

The uncovering of the tender, feminine waters hidden beneath the stone leads to Jacob’s next action: he kisses Rachel, which brings him to tears. Through these tears, for the very first time, he raises his voice and cries. From the water beneath the well to the water of his tears, Jacob’s encounter with femininity washes away all of his stony rigidity. In its place, Jacob finds the soft voice of his soul, pleading for a place to call home. The man whose emotions were like stone, who indeed once “took a stone and put it under his head” to rest (Genesis 28:11), finally finds the true resting place for his heart — Rachel.

Tzvi Freeman

From the womb he had been locked in bitter struggle with a brutish twin brother. He was wounded, but he could not feel his wounds. The flight from his home and family had left him scarred, but he could not see his scars. 

In Rachel, his cousin and soulmate, he saw himself, all of himself, as one who unexpectedly notices his reflection in a mirror and reels back at what he sees. For there, in that innocent daughter of a corrupt father, that pure soul lost in a decadent society, that rose among the thorns, there he recognized the angst deep within his own heart. He kissed her forehead and his tears burst forth like a geyser. 

Jacob, the Zohar tells us, bore the face of Adam. As Adam contained every soul of humanity, Jacob contained every soul of the Jews. 

If so, his tears are our tears. They are the tears shed by our souls that have descended from their home of pure, blissful light to enwrap themselves within the meat and bones of a human frame, within a brute beast that knows nothing more than its own pleasure and refuses to look up at the stars in wonder and awe.

And in those tears lies our redemption. For in that bitter cry the soul finds herself united with her Beloved once again, and from there she draws the strength to marry heaven and earth, soul and body, beauty and beast. 

For that, after all, is why we have come to this world.

Rabbi Cantor Hillary Chorny
Temple Beth Am

A few weeks ago, I was taking a shared Lyft ride from a late-night shivah minyan. Someone was already in the back seat, so I hopped up front next to the driver — a middle-aged African American woman who looked like she’d had a long day. We rode in relative silence. 

At some point, I was bored enough to comment on the weather, saying that I’d missed it during the decade I’d lived away from L.A. “Where’d you live?” she asked politely. “D.C., a couple years in Jerusalem, New York …” She perked up. “Jerusalem? What brought you to Jerusalem?” I explained that I’m a rabbi and my studies had taken me there. She nodded. More silence. Then she said, “Say, have you ever heard of [a large Jewish camping organization]?” Surprised, I replied that of course I knew it. As it turned out, she managed their office for three years and we knew plenty of the same people. We joked, chatted and swapped stories for the rest of the ride.

R’Tanchuma describes the specific type of kiss that Isaac gave Rebecca as a kiss of kinship. Today, we do this with our words: signaling, or (among Ashkenazim) “bageling,” to establish the common ground of shared experiences. It’s easy to live out a lonely existence, to pop in the earbuds on a Lyft ride and explore this city without connections. But what if you went about your life in search of those very connections?

Rabbi Scott Bolton
Congregation Or Zarua, New York

The last time I saw a Jewish bride kiss a Jewish groom was at a wedding I performed on a Saturday night. What a kiss! What love! 

I reminded the couple that the Talmud (in Tractate Brakhot, “Blessings”) says that the quietly pious one, no matter how religious or dedicated he may be in his heart and soul, has nothing over the one who expresses his love of God outwardly. If our love is left on the level of vision and theoretical ideas, we miss the point of coming together with the one we love. Kiss. Embrace. Hold hands  — even when you are a little annoyed. Sit closer. Look into each other’s eyes. Sit next to one another. Recall the moment under the wedding canopy and actively renew your loving relationship. 

Jacob, the man, lifted his prayerful voice. Jacob, the man, cried tears and, as the Talmud says, “the Gates of Tears always remain open.” To make this world a true marriage between Am Yisrael and the Holy One, between all of humanity and God, we need to bring our visions of love to the level of expression. Our voices should rise in prayer, and we should remember the permission we have to cry. The next generation is in the balance, just like it was with our ancestors Jacob and Rachel. And we know that, according to the prophet, she cried too.

Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn
B’nai David-Judea Congregation

It’s arguably the most romantic moment in Torah. Jacob sees Rachel at the well, removes a heavy rock from its opening, and kisses her. But why does the verse tell us that, immediately after doing so, he raises his voice and weeps? 

Rashi explains that Jacob saw in a prophecy that Rachel would not be buried with him, and so he cries. This answer contextualizes our verse in Jacob’s greater story, but it also points to a truth we all face: when we love deeply, we can lose deeply. 

Love makes us lift our voices, perhaps even find the Divine voice within ourselves and another. But in the end, we are still human. And so, Jacob weeps because his love makes him acutely aware of what he has to lose. It would follow then, that loss (or distance from Rachel in the grave) would dissuade him from love. But after our verse, he does the exact opposite! 

He spends years laboring for the very love that made him weep. Why? To model a profound wisdom: whether we have had our hearts broken, mourned a loved one’s death, or are currently afraid of getting hurt, loss cannot keep us from living and hoping. And so, as we hear Jacob’s voice rise up (and yes, also weep), may we each be so courageous and blessed to open our hearts to the vulnerable love Jacob knew. For it is a holy privilege to love each other fully in the time we have.