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Ap. 7-A Parashat vaYeẓe (Gen. 28:10 – 32:2) and its Haftarahs

Yitzhaq Hayut-Man 25.11.2012 21:33
Ap. 7-A   Parashat vaYeẓe (Gen. 28:10 – 32:2) and its Haftarahs - Book of Genesis - Future Bible - Bible study - Tribes of Israel - New Israel - Jewish-Christian

The Parashah deals with Jacob's troubles and the birth of his sons, but the Haftarah addresses mainly his grandson Ephrayim - giving a prophecy about the integration of Ephrayim with Israel.

Parashat vaYeẓe (Gen. 28:10 – 32:2) and its Haftarahs

Dr. Yitzḥaq Ḥayut-Man

During this yearly reading of the Pentateuch I try to examine the connection between the weekly portion (Parashah) and its addendum from the Prophets (Haftarah) – and to learn what the significance of this addition is concerning the present and the future.

The Parashah of vaYeẓe contains a great number of fascinating stories: 1. Jacob's dream at Bet-El about the connection of heaven and earth; 2. By the well and Jacob's falling in love with Raḥel (Rachel); 3. Jacob's labors to Lavan for gaining Le'ah and Raḥel, as a story of deception and devotion; 4. The competition in bearing sons – four to Le'ah, two to Bilha, Raḥel's maid, two to Zilpah Le'ah's maid, then a pause; 5. The story of the mandrake in the field and the birth of additional two sons and a daughter to Le'ah and eventually one son to Raḥel; 6. Jacob’s work with Lavan’s sheep and his own, with deception in revenge; 7. Jacob’s escape from Lavan and the stealing of Lavan’s household idols; 8. The confrontation with Lavan and their covenant.

This Parashah contains plots and emotions that provided, and will still provide, for many novels. But what is the most important aspect of the Parashah? We shall examine the Haftarah (which is “the bottom line”), and try to find through it what is the essence and the purpose of the Parashah.

There is something outstanding in the Haftarah of vaYeẓe – namely getting out. The major cultural division among Jews is between Sephardic (in effect Jews from Islamic countries) and Ashkenazi (if effect Jews from Christian countries). The Sephardim start the Haftarah in Hoshe’ạ 11:7. Some of whom end at 12:12, whereas the Ashkenazi start reading it at the next verse 12:13, with the words "And Ya'ạqov fled into the country of Aram". Most of the Sephardim end their reading at 13:5, whereas the Ashkenazim continue till the end of the Book of Hoshe’ạ – at 14:10. There are even some who are not contents with this and continue with two verses of the next book, the redeeming prophecy of Yo’el (2:26-27). This partial overlap makes, maybe unaware, a theme of continuity in spite of the change of participants, like a kind of relay race.

The one sentence that ostensibly connects between the Parashah of vaYeẓe and the Haftarah from Hoshe’ạ is the one that the Ashkenazi Haftarah, “And Ya'ạqov fled into the country of Aram, and Yisra'el served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep” (12:13). It obviously refers to the flight of Jacob to Ḥaran and his marriage there. But when we read attentively, we find that Jacob is a pretty marginal figure in the Haftarah, and his name appears just one more time, earlier, in the section that is read only in the Sephardic synagogues. It appears there in a secondary function and it too is derogatory: “The Lord has also a controversy with Yehudah, and will punish Ya'ạqov according to his ways, according to his doings will he be recompense him” (12:3). Compared with this poor rating, the name "Ephrayim" (Ephraim)  appears no less than 14 times and it certainly constitutes the subject of the prophecy (he and not Yehudah {Judah}, who also received only two mentions in the haftarah).

The name “Ephrayim” was not given by his mother, like most of the sons of Jacob, but by his father “And the name of the second he Ephrayim, for God has caused to be fruitful (hiphrani) in the land of my affliction” (Gen. 41:52) – and his birth is not reported in Parashat vaYeẓe – but the verse is very suitable to the main contents of the parashah, which is the great fertility – and at the land of exile and affliction in particular.

Ya'ạqov began at Ḥaran to fulfill the first of the commands of the Torah, "Be fruitful (peru), and  multiply…" (Gen. 1:28).[1] Yishma'el has gained a dozen sons before Ya'ạqov and so did Abraham's brother Naḥor. The formation of Yisra'el is the third Biblical attempt, the successful and complete of forming an ideal multi-tribal frame of Twelve.[2]

This fertility (piryon) at the house of Ya'ạqov did not occur in peace and idyllic conditions, but through the struggle between the sisters, who eventually brought the completion. We may also recall at this stage that in contrast to Yishma'el and Naḥor, that all whose sons were born abroad, the final son of Ya'ạqov was born in the Land of Israel.

Therefore, Ya'ạqov succeeded where Abraham failed: Abraham was the husband of the barren Sarah, who brought to him her maid servant Hagar, so that Abraham was married to two women who did not get along with each other and when Yitzḥaq was born, Sarah expelled Hagar and her son. Ya'ạqov, by comparison was married to two sisters, also one barren and one fertile. Each one of them did as Sarah initially did, and brought her maid servant to Ya'ạqov to bear children for her name. But unlike Sarah, the two competing women accepted willingly the sons of the maid servants and did not torment the mother or expelled the sons. And thus, precisely out of the fierce competition between the two sister-wives there were born ten sons, and at last God opened also the womb of Raḥel for the birth of Yoseph, the beloved late child of Ya'ạqov (the next birth, and therefore the completion to the dozen, was by Raḥel already in the Land of Israel). The composition of Israel emerged from strife and vicissitudes – indeed "thou hast contended with men (and with women) and hast prevailed" (paraphrase on Gen. 32:29)

But in the land of affliction, in exile, were born only 11 of the ideal dozen. The return to the Land of Israel "O Yisra'el, return" (Hoshe'ạ 14:2) is what would bring the completion of Israel to the ideal pattern of the dozen. What was thus formed was the basis, not for a monolithic empire but to a covenant of nations that can contain changes and contrasts and bring them to balance.

A striking feature of the extended haftarah is the reference to Israel under several names – 14 times it is Ephrayim that is referred (soon we return to its significance), 6 times is "Yisra'el" mentioned, whereas "Yehudah" and "Ya'ạqov" are mentioned twice each (totaling 24 mentions).

And here we return to the prophecy of Hoshe'ạ in the haftarah: the Talmud and Midrash say that "there were many prophets who rose to Israel, twice the number of those who left Egypt" and (their prophecies) were not written. The criterion to inclusion in the canon was "a prophecy needed for (future) generations was written; and that which was not needed (for future generations) was not written".[3]  To what extent is the prophecy of Hoshe'ạ needed for future generations, namely to our time? Recall that it is mostly admonishment to Israel (and as noted, mainly to Ephrayim, as the representative of the majority of the Tribes of Israel) and call for repentance-return (same word in Hebrew - Teshuvah) – "Oh Yisra'el, return to the Lord thy God; for thou hast stumbled in thy iniquity" (14:2).

But apparently the Ephrayim and their seed and of the tribes with them have disappeared, so what is the point to preserve admonishments and messages of redemption to them?

To understand this one needs first recall the meaning of the name "Ephrayim", who was actually born in another generation than the sons of Ya'ạqov and this is related in another Parashah, but who represents the principle of fertility. The Biblical Tribe of Ephrayim was indeed the leader of the greater kingdom of Israel, that included ten of the tribes. The Kingdom of Ephrayim –Israel has long disappeared, but it is pertinent that for about a hundred years there is an apparent revival movement of Ephrayim. This movement has many expressions, and I shall mention here just a few: There are, for example, gentiles who feel a close relationship to the modern Israel and uphold "The Two House Theory" of reconciliation between the (Jewish) House of Judah and the (gentile) House of Yoseph. Members of the Mormon LDS Church (whose prophet was called Joseph Smith) regard themselves as Israelites and especially as of the Tribe of Ephrayim. Mr. Ya'ir Davidiy  rote several books of research about the "Lost Ten Tribes" and claims that these tribes went North and then West and became the peoples of Europe. In his book "Ephraim", Davidiy equates England with the Tribe of Ephraim and the USA as formed largely of the issue of the Tribe of Menashe  Whatever the historical validity may be, the fact is that there are many who would like to believe, and who regard themselves as Israelites even without the Halakhic Rabbinical-Jewish conversion. There is also a theory concerning an "Israelite Conversion" that is different from the current Jewish conversion, claiming that it should be enough for an Israelite to be committed to the Mitzvoth (Commands) and Halakhot (rulings) that were in effect at the time of David and Shlomoh (King Solomon) before the kingdoms separated and the Israelite tribes were exiled.

The Lord of Israel appears in the Haftarah from Hoshe'ạ as willing to accept all who return to Him whatever were their backslidings. The ideal Israel is not merely Judah, but also has the component of "Ephrayim", the symbol of fertility and addition from abroad. Israel can have many non-Jewish Zionist subjects, even as a world-wide Diaspora.


[1]  The continuation of the primeval command is , "Be fruitful (peru), and  multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it", which often seems problematic in the global context, but it seem s more reasonable in the context of the Land of Israel – when the replenishing is indeed by twelve diverse
"tribes" of its residents. 

[2]  To understand the great significance of the dozen, see:  John Michell and Christine Rhone: Twelve Tribe Nations, Thames and Hudson, 1991. See in particular John Michell: The Dimensions of Paradise, (Thames & Hudson, 1988). See the summary of the book at 

[3] Talmud Bavli, Megilah 14a, and Midrashim – Shir haShirim Raba 4, Seder Olam Raba 21. According to a midrash, the same number of male prophets there were prophetesses. 

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