Vayetze and Thinking Beyond Ourselves

Yesterday, as I drove my son to his weekly volunteer activity, I listened to Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary) on the radio. He made a guest appearance to support Hungerthon; an annual radio drive to support the organization initiated by Harry Chapin decades ago. Despite his advanced age, Yarrow sang bits from his most popular songs. More important, his objective was to encourage support for Hungerthon; and to extol the generosity of Harry Chapin. Yarrow, when asked to sing Puff the Magic Dragon; sang the melody with words about making donations to help eradicate hunger. During the interview, he urged all listeners to become more engaged in social action on behalf of our society. In the course of praising the remarkable Chapin of blessed memory; Yarrow mentioned how Chapin would often donate his entire fee to charity. I thought the conversation was timely; as the radio spot occurred just as my son headed to Alley Pond Environmental Center to volunteer his time. Here was Yarrow (as always) speaking not about himself; but about our making a deeper commitment to tikkun olam; the repair/improvement of our world.

Ironically, Yarrow could have been speaking directly to the characters in this week’s Torah portion Vayetze. From the beginning of this portion until its conclusion; the theme of self-centeredness is constant. Uncle Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah rather than Rachel (the woman of Jacob’s desire). Later on, Laban urges Jacob to remain with him just because Jacob is good for business. Jacob schemes to increase his personal flock beyond what was rightfully his. Tension exists between Leah and Rachel. Finally, Jacob escapes from his uncle’s clutches; but not before Laban and company pursue him with harmful intent. About Jacob’s children: We only learn about their birth and the meaning of their names. In future episodes however; we find these children to be totally selfish and lacking any social consciousness.

Although the portion narrates the saga of Jacob with a sympathetic tone; we are struck by the total lack of inter-connectedness within his and Laban’s families. In a subtle way, Vayetze is not only about narrating a story; it is about a family devoid of compassion and a sense of responsibility toward one another and toward the society around them.

Peter Yarrow’s message would have served them well…

I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom and Happy Thanksgiving!

Rabbi Klayman