Weekly D’var: Parshat Vayetzei – Leora & Carly, Queen’s Hillel

Parashat Vayetzei covers a significant period of Jacob’s early adult life. At the beginning of the parsha, we read about the Patriarch’s journey as he parted ways with his brother Esau and set off alone to stay with his uncle Laban in Haran. By the end of this 20 year stint with his uncle’s family, however, a rather different Jacob is now homeward bound, but this time he is no longer alone. Not only has Jacob married both Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel, but he’s got an entire brood of nearly a dozen children now too. Added to this burgeoning family is all the household service staff, and of course, let us not forget about Vayetzei’s painstaking description (in detail) of all Jacob’s goats and livestock. It is safe to say that if Jacob arrived at Haran a solitary pauper, he left having amassed riches and kin befitting a Patriarch.

Jacob may have begun this journey with only a stone on which to rest his head and ended it with an entire community of brethren in tow, but parashat Vayetzei is more than just Jacob’s rags to riches story. If anything, the life lessons Jacob learns during this time are about understanding the value of patience, consistency, honest hard work, knowing when to ask for help (specifically from God), and the value of purpose. Jacob learns how to improve his own standing by negotiating his wages and responsibilities with his father in law, Laban. Furthermore, he also learns what it means to be in love and the lengths one will go as a consequence of it (like work a total of 14 years for Laban so that he could call Rachel his wife). Jacob learns how to be shrewd and clever with the cultivation of his flock, growing his goats in number and improving their stature and sturdiness. Jacob also learns what it means to be a father for the first time. ( and the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh …etc. You get the idea.) And finally, Jacob has his very first, and a little later, his second, transcendental encounter with God learning about the sacred Covenant which he has inherited from his forebears and the responsibility he has to uphold it for future generations. Easy to say that this is a hefty realisation to take on. All these changes to Jacob’s life had a powerfully transformative impact on how he saw himself and his purpose in life. Parashat Vayetzei is arguably a story of Jacob’s maturation from Isaac’s second son, the one who snatched his brother Esau’s birthright at the end of last week’s portion Toldot, to Jacob becoming the ultimate Patriarch, fathering the Twelve Tribes that would come to constitute the Nation of Israel.

Watching Jacob navigate the trials and tribulations of growing up independent of his parents mirrors the experiences of many young Jews who choose to leave their parents home to travel to a far flung city for several years of academic study. But here too, characterising ‘a university experience’ as a time of academic study alone does not do it justice. Universities are also proudly distinguished social platforms that allow students to explore their passions, discover their talents and learn new skills. And of course it’s made even more complex by the fact that the average student is usually at the age of maturing into an adult. There is so much more to a university experience which in many ways parallels Jacob’s own experience in this Torah portion. Student life is about self discovery, learning to stand on your own feet, meeting new people and navigating the choppy waters of student social spaces, campus culture and intersectional identities. Some find love, others find friendship and others too find themselves.

In reflection of her past four years at Queens Carly notes:

When we think about university as students, for the most part, we think of it as a fun opportunity to be away from home, meet new friends, and maybe party here and there. While that can all be true, I think we often neglect a massive part of university, and that is the extent to which we mature. Most of our undergraduate programs are four years long, and a lot of personal development happens throughout that time. From personal experience, I came to Queen’s four years ago with a beautiful ignorance to what independence and “adult life” is since I had never really experienced it in high school. Throughout my four years at university I made friends and lost others, found clubs on campus that speak to my interests and value what I can bring to the table and others that took advantage of my skills, but most importantly, I found myself. Similar to how Jacob did not grow and mature without the guidance of the angels and God, I did not figure out who I was alone. I encountered phenomenal mentors along the way, some of which I also consider my friends. They helped me realize what I’m passionate about, taught me how to utilize my lived experiences for the greater good, but also, helped me understand that it is okay to take a step back here and there. What I am trying to say is that growing up, maturing and figuring out who we are, it all takes time, experience, and guidance.

Reflecting on Parashat Vayetzei, we may now also reflect on our own experiences growing up and becoming independent adults. It reminds us that no matter where we started, whether it be with interesting family dynamics as in the case of Jacob, or leaving home for the first time without any experience of independence, we are all able to learn and grow into new people.