David Curwin
David Curwin

Between Toledot and Vayetzei

At first glance, the transition from Toldot to Vayetze appears seamless. Yaakov steals the blessings, Esav wants to kill him, his parents send him away – and then in the beginning of Vayetze, Yaakov leaves. But a closer examination of the verses shows that it’s not so simple.

At the end of Vayetze, we read that Yitzchak sent Yaakov away:

“So Isaac sent for Jacob and blessed him. He instructed him, saying, “You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women. Up, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and take a wife there from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.’” (Bereshit 28:1-2)

“Then Isaac sent Jacob off, and he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau.” (Bereshit 28:5)

From this it would seem that Yaakov left at the end of Toldot. But at the beginning of Vayetze, once again it says he left:

“Jacob left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran.” (Bereshit 28:10)

Not only is there repetition of his departure, but his destination is different in each verse. In Bereshit 28:1-7, it says that Yaakov went to Padan Aram. But in Bereshit 28:10, it says he went to Haran.

Haran is actually mentioned earlier, when Rivka first tells Yaakov to leave after she becomes aware of Esav’s plans to harm him:

“Now, my son, listen to me. Flee at once to Haran, to my brother Laban.” (Bereshit 27:43)

Prof Yonatan Grossman (both in public lectures and his book on the stories of Yaakov), says that the difference between Haran and Padam Aram represent two different aspects to Yaakov’s journey.

Yaakov flees to Haran to escape the consequences of his dealings with Esav. But he is sent to Padan Aram to properly find a wife, unlike the improper wives that Esav took.

Grossman follows these two different motivations throughout the rest of the Yaakov narrative. “Fleeing Yaakov” is nervous about being pursued – and so will just sleep anywhere along the way. Yaakov sent by his father should have no such concerns, and like Avraham’s servant could walk proudly.

It’s worth reading Grossman’s explanation in its entirety, to see how these two aspects play out in fascinating ways (particularly in regard to his relationship with Rachel and Leah). But even with just this introduction, it’s evident how the break between Toldot and Vayetze alleviates some of the difficulties that arise when encountering two intertwined stories.

About the Author
David Curwin is a writer living in Efrat. He has been writing about the origin of Hebrew words and phrases, and their connection to other languages, on his website balashon.com since 2006. He has also published widely on topics relating to Bible and Jewish philosophy.
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