Parashat Vayetze 5779
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
“Two are better off than one” (Kohelet 4:9)
This week’s parashah tells us that Jacob ran away from his family’s home because he feared that Esau would kill him after Jacob tricked their father into giving him the blessing, the blessing that should have been given to Esau.
Jacob, our patriarch, reached Haran, where his mother’s family lived. He saw Rachel there, and it was love at first sight. It is written in the Torah: “Jacob kissed Rachel and broke into tears.” (Bereshit 29: 11). He was so excited to find the love of his life that he cried with emotion.
After that, Jacob made an agreement with Laban, Rachel’s brother. Jacob would work for him seven years in order to marry Rachel. The Torah says, “Jacob loved Rachel so answered, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel” (Genesis 29:18).
This verse is very special, given that there are few places in the Torah that use the verb ‘to love’ between a man and a woman. We could say that Jacob was the first romantic lover to appear in the Torah.
The parashah tells us that Jacob worked for Laban for seven years, as he had promised, and the text adds a very interesting quote: “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” (Idem, 20).
Jacob loved Rachel so much that he didn’t realize how hard he had worked and the time passed quickly. Despite the fact that Laban cheated him, giving Jacob Leah instead of Rachel, Jacob decided to work another seven years to marry his beloved Rachel. His love for Rachel made Jacob’s life happy and meaningful.
Thinking about the love between Rachel and Jacob, it is interesting to note that in Judaism, in contrast to other traditions, ascetism and celibacy are not cherished values.
Since the beginning of the Torah, God tells us that it is not good for human beings to be alone (Bereshit 2: 18).
There is a beautiful expression in the book of Ecclesiastes that states: “Two are better off than one, in that they have greater benefit from their earnings. For should they fall, one can raise the other; but woe betide him who is alone and falls with no companion to raise him! Further, when two lie together they are warm; but how can he who is alone get warm?” (Kohelet 4:9-12).
The author of the book of Kohelet clearly cherished the union and relationship between two people.
There is a Midrash that explains the verse “Male and female God created them” (Bereshit 1:27) saying that God created the first human being with two faces, and afterwards He divided it and gave human creature two backs, a female one and a male one (Genesis Rabbah 8:1).
According to this Midrash, a man alone or a woman alone constitutes only half of that unit. God created them with the desire to look for each other and to form a unit again.
In the book Song of Songs, we have the well-known expression: “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3), which is the leitmotiv of the book, highlighting equality, the beauty of human bodies and genuine love; full of passion, admiration, joy, respect for one another and mutual understanding.
On one hand, Judaism cherishes the relationship between two human beings. On the other hand, the tradition is aware of all the difficulties that having a relationship entails. It is not easy for two people, with two entire universes of ideas, experiences, preferences, and particularities to share their lives.
There is a passage in the Talmud (Masechet Sotah 2a) which states “It is as difficult to match a couple together as was the splitting of the Red Sea.”
In fact, the rabbis considered the existence of good relationships to be one of the most astounding of God’s miracles on our behalf.
There is an interesting story in Bereshit Rabba, 68:4:
A Roman Matron asked Rabbi Yosi ben Halafta, “In how many days did God create the world?” He said, “In six, as it is said, In six days God made…’ (Exodus 20:11) “And since then,” she asked, “what has God been doing?” “God sits [on the Heavenly Throne] and makes matches: the daughter of this one to that one, the wife [i.e. widow] of this one to that one, the money of this one to that one,” responded R. Yosi.
“And for merely this you believe in Him!” she said. “Even I can do that. I have many slaves, both male and female. In no time at all, I can match them for marriage.” R. Yosi responded, “Though this may be an easy thing for you to do, for God it is as difficult as splitting the Sea of Reeds.” Whereupon, Rabbi Yosi took his leave.
What did she do? The Matron lined up a thousand male and a thousand female slaves and paired them off before nightfall. The morning after, her estate resembled a battlefield. One slave had his head bashed in, another had lost an eye, while a third hobbled because of a broken leg. She said to them: “What do we have here?” and they each said to her: “I don’t want this one” [with whom you matched me].” Immediately, she summoned R. Yosi and she brought him to her and said: “Your God is not like our god, and your Torah is true, pleasing and praiseworthy. You spoke wisely.”
I believe that this story shows us, with humor, how difficult the relationship between two people can be.
We, human beings, have a paradoxical situation: it is not easy for us to live with another person but, at the same time, we feel best and happiest living together with our loved ones.
Thus, we can learn from all these sources and from this week’s parashah that we need to work hard, day by day, like our forefather Jacob did, in order to keep our relationships alive. We need to work daily to find mutual respect, understanding, appreciation, love, and happiness.
As Jacob’s love for Rachel made his life happy and meaningful, in the same way, deep and sincere relationships can give joy, happiness, gratefulness, blessings, and meaning to our own lives.
It is a miracle that two people can live together, and, at the same time, sharing our lives with our loved ones is one of the most precious and significant treasures we may have in our lives.