OzTorah: Torah reading – Vayyetzei.


At the end of the sidra, Jacob declares that a certain place is to be called “Machanayim” – literally, a double camp (Gen. 32:2).

Changing of the angelic guard, from the 1728 “Figures de la Bible”

This place was the border post between Israel and the neighbouring land. As Rashi explains, basing himself on earlier rabbinic sources, it was here that there was a changing of the angelic guard – the Diaspora angels who had hitherto escorted Jacob were now replaced by the angels of the Holy Land.

No human being is ever alone: God is with him or her, generally by means of the appropriate corps of angels. But the Diaspora angels have a different task to that of the angels of the Holy Land, because the challenges of each place differ as do its spiritual opportunities.

The duality of Israel and Diaspora has marked Jewish history from ancient times, though the role of each partner is constantly changing.

In the early days of the State of Israel the give-and-take between them generally showed the Diaspora as the givers, since Israel could never have survived without the material support of its friends in other countries.

Now – in a spiritual and cultural sense – it is Israel that has become the dominant giver, and its influence on Jews in other lands is often one of their great mainstays.


A strange discussion happens in this week’s reading between Jacob and his wives, Leah and Rachel. They go away from the house to talk, so as not to be overheard or interrupted.

Jacob tells them of God’s command to return to the land of Canaan. They agree, but not for the reasons we might have imagined. Our expectation is that they would say,

“God has sent you a command and that’s all we need to know. If God says to do something, it has to be done!”

What they actually say is that there is no point in staying where they were because their father Laban was deceitful and there was no extra benefit in remaining there. Moving to Canaan would be no worse than staying put and could even be better.

What was their criterion? Material well-being and physical comfort. No mention of God, spirituality, or obedience.

What was going on in their minds? The answer might be that they were still at an early stage in their spiritual development. At this point they weighed their observance of Divine commands not on Divine considerations but on physical conditions.

Their experience was a prelude to the attitude of human beings throughout history. Obeying a command was and is for less than fully idealistic motives, but at least they were fulfilling the command, and once again we see the rabbinic words come true,

“Start by doing a good deed for an ulterior motive and you will come to do it for a higher motive” – “mittoch shello lishmah ba lishmah” (Pes. 50b).


Why is there a difference between Gen. 28:11, which says Jacob made a pillow out of “some of the stones of the place” (plural) and Gen. 28:18, which says “he took the stone” (singular)?

Rashi, utilising the Midrash, says that the stones began quarrelling for the right to have Jacob’s head rest on them, and God had to stop the quarrel by merging all the stones into one stone.

In contemporary Jewish life, we need a similar lesson to be forced upon us by the Almighty.

Every type of Jew believes that they are more crucial to the community – the machers argue that without them everything would grind to a halt, the community professionals think nothing would happen unless they kept the wheels of communal life oiled, the rabbis are certain that it is they who are indispensable, synagogal and organisational backbench members know that without them there simply would not be a community.

Unlike Jacob’s stones, they do not usually indulge in open quarrelling, but they waste valuable time and energy on self-promotion.

None of this gives the Almighty any great nachas, so He must surely want to make them stand together as part of one community. Not only are they all needed, but they have to learn to find strength in unity.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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