I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you
Section One (Parsha Debrief):
This week’s parsha Text contained: a dream about a ladder and angels, a wedding of deception, the birth of several children including Dinah, spotted and speckled flocks, and another encounter with angels.
Our Midweek Reading Guide pointed to the potentially huge chiasm spanning our entire Torah portion (Genesis 28:10-32:2). So, let’s dive in and let the chiasm speak for itself!
This chiasm was originally discovered by the folks at Aleph Beta. The chiastic structure actually continues moving inward, but I want to stop here and focus on how Genesis 29:22-24 and Genesis 30:22-24 parallel each other.
In Genesis 29:22-24, Laban shames Rachel. She was likely ready and excited to marry Jacob. A feast was prepared. Laban gathered the town people. The party was ready to start… then Laban likely forced Rachel to sit alone in an undisclosed location while her older sister stood in her place.
In the parallel Text, Genesis 30:22-24, someone else gathers (it’s the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 29:22). This time, it is God gathering. And, what does God gather?
God redeems Rachel’s earthly father and makes her whole. That’s who God is — a redeemer!
Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):
This week we are going to focus on the complement Gospel Text, Matthew 2:13-23. In it, I think we find something familiar, yet profound.
A chiasm. But, not just any chiasm — one strikingly reminiscent of our parsha chiasm.
Both Jacob and Joseph encounter angels in a dream. Both Jacob and Joseph leave a place, then set out for Israel. Both Jacob and Joseph take their offspring and wife. Both Jacob and Joseph are being chased.
And, at the center of both — Rachel and her children!
Here, in Matthew 2:18, the center is a quote from Jeremiah 31.
A voice was heard in Ramah,
a lament with bitter weeping—
Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted for her children
because they are no more.
As if on cue, the Jeremiah 31 Text also connects back to the scenario in our parsha Text. In Jeremiah 31, we find markers being set up, a call to return to the cities of youth, flocks of sheep, and a reference to Ephraim, who is Rachel’s firstborn’s firstborn.
What makes the connection between the parsha Text and Matthew Text so important?
The linchpin — a prophet’s message.
That message details God’s relationship with His people, bringing His people home, turning lament to joy, repentance and restoration, and a new covenant!
We see Jacob make several questionable decisions last week and this week. Yet, God says to Jacob, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you (Genesis 28:15).
In Genesis, a ladder shows up and God returns Jacob to the promise. In Matthew, God shows up and returns His people to the narrative – that was put within them and written on their hearts.
Section Three (missing the mark):
Instead of returning God’s people to the narrative some pastors end up looking a whole lot like Laban – focused on what they can get people to do for them. We’ve already discussed why Laban is not worth imitating. This week’s Text confirms that Laban only appears to be hospitable, but is not truly a person of loving-kindness.
When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him, hugged him, and kissed him. Then he took him to his house, and Jacob told him all that had happened. Laban said to him, “Yes, you are my own flesh and blood.” After Jacob had stayed with him a month, Laban said to him, “Just because you’re my relative, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”
Instead of Rachel whom he promised Jacob for seven years of work, that evening, Laban took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob (Genesis 29:23).
Laban cheated Jacob, changed his wages 10 times. And, God had to stop Laban from harming Jacob (Genesis 31:7).
Although Jacob bore the loss if Laban’s flocks were torn by beasts, Laban still demanded payment from me for what was stolen by day or by night. (31:39).
If God wasn’t with Jacob Laban might have sent him off empty handed after 20 years of hard work (Gen. 31:42).
Now maybe we have a better understanding of why Jacob lifted his voice and wept after seeing and kissing Rachel. It wasn’t a joyful cry.
In fact, it’s the same exact cry we saw in Genesis 21:16 when Hagar cried out in the wilderness and the same exact cry we saw in Genesis 27:38 when Esau watched his father’s blessing disappear.
As Rabbi Fohrman notes, Jacob cried because — a poor man is as good as dead when dealing with the Labans of the world.
Labans take advantage of others.
Section Four (real-world applications):
Is the ladder in Jacob’s dream a stairway to Heaven? Is earth our temporary home?
Or, is God after restoration in which Heaven comes to earth?
I think the ladder invites the latter 😉
Rabbi David Fohrman points out an important difference between Jacob’s two encounters with the angels in our parsha Text. On the front-end, Jacob is merely an observer. However, on the back-end, Jacob is a participant in the interaction.
Jacob learned valuable lessons under Laban’s oppression. At the end of our parsha, Jacob and his family are returning to the land of Canaan. Next week we will see something extraordinary that happens along the way. Here, the Text suggests Jacob is becoming the ladder in real-life. At the end of our parsha, the angels are no longer on a ladder in a dream — they are encountering the ladder in real-life.
The reason we are a deemed a treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation is not because we get to enter the pearly gates. Rather, we exist to become the ladder. The ladder connects Heaven to earth. The direction matters!
We bring the divine to earth through acts of loving-kindness.
Next Week’s Readings: Genesis 32:3-36:-43; Luke 2:1-40