31/929 To Dream, Perchance of Sheep

This is (hopefully) a daily series of short reflections in English on the daily chapter of Tanach in the (wonderful, wonderful) 929 Project. The initiative, and the ideas and opinions expressed here, are my own. If you haven’t heard of 929, you can learn more at 929.org.il


The tragedy of the second half of chapter 30 is Yaakov’s abandonment of family as his primary value (which I called “work for people”, and which we saw developed here), as he slips into a life of “people for work”, Lavan’s economic model of meaning. Yaakov’s descent down this slippery slope begins from his very commitment to family, from his desire to provide for his own household, but his machinations get the better of him, and we find him at the beginning of chapter 31, 6 years (!) later, inviting his wives to come speak with him “at his office”. For 6 years, Yaakov has lost sight of the purpose of his journey, he has forgotten his commitments, he has changed from a man who dreams of heaven, and angels, to a man who dreams of sheep and new money-making schemes. It’s a painful transformation to watch, and it’s one whose gradual phases we can, perhaps, even identify in the world around us, in people who have begun to confuse the means with the ends, who have somewhere along the way forgotten the journey they had initially set out on, forgotten the commitments they made at their journey’s beginning.  If we look to the chapter for an easy solution for this situation, unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll find it. Yaakov resorts to subterfuge, trickery, and thievery, the very things that had brought him to Haran, to try to extricate himself, and it’s not enough. Ultimately, only Divine intervention allows for the return of the primacy of family- the chapter ends with brotherhood where you wouldn’t expect it, and with tender intimacy, just as Yaakov’s story in Haran began. And it’s a good thing, because Yaakov will need this value for his reunion with his real brother in the coming chapter.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the rabbi of the Shalom Hartman Institute's Hevruta program, an educator Hartman Boys High School in Jerusalem, and an activist against Israeli weapons sales to human rights violators.