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Torah Sparks

November 16, 2002 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Genesis 28:10 - 32:3 (Hertz, p. 106; Etz Hayim, p. 166)
Triennial Year II: Genesis 30:14 - 31:16 (Hertz, p. 111; Etz Hayim, p. 176)
Haftarah - Hosea 12:13 -14:10 (Hertz, p. 118; Etz Hayim, p. 188)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(28:10-22) Jacob sets out for Haran, fleeing Esau. He stops for the night, and dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending. God renews for him the covenant promise given to Abraham and Isaac. Jacob names the place Beth El - "House of God."

(29:1-30) Jacob arrives in Mesopotamia. He meets Rachel, his cousin, and Laban, her father. Jacob agrees to work for Laban for seven years in exchange for marrying Rachel, but Laban tricks him into marrying Leah, Rachel's older sister. Jacob is forced to work another seven years for Rachel.

(29:31-35) Leah gives birth to four sons - Reuben, Simon, Levi and Judah - but Rachel is barren.

(30:1-13) Rachel, jealous of Leah, gives Jacob her maid Bilhah, who bears him two sons, Dan and Naphtali. Rachel adopts the sons as her own. Leah, apparently no longer able to bear children, does similarly with her maid Zilpah, who also bears two sons, Gad and Asher.

(30:14-21) Leah and Rachel quarrel over some mandrake roots, believed to cure barrenness. Leah has two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun.

(30:22-24) Rachel finally has a son, Joseph.

(30:24-43) Jacob wants to return home to Canaan, but his father-in-law Laban dissuades him. Jacob stays and succeeds in greatly enriching himself.

(31:1-16) Jacob realizes that his increasing wealth is causing animosity among Laban's sons and decides to return to Canaan.

(31:17-21) Without telling Laban, Jacob gathers his herds and flocks and leaves. Rachel takes Laban's teraphim - household idols.

(31:22-32:3) God warns Laban not to harm Jacob. Laban pursues and overtakes Jacob. In an impassioned speech, Jacob rebukes Laban for his devious ways. Laban and Jacob make a covenant of peace.

Torah Text Being Considered

Now he heard the things that Laban's sons were saying: "Jacob has taken all that was our father's and from that which was our father's he has built up all this wealth."

Jacob saw Laban's face and behold it was not as it had been in the past. (Genesis 31:1-2)


  1. From this verse we see the importance of being able to notice the emotional state of another person from the expressions on his face. Lavan did not say any unkind words to Yaakov. Nothing verbal was communicated that would imply that Lavan felt resentment or animosity towards Yaakov. Nevertheless, Yaakov was sensitized to the look on Lavan's face. From here we can also see how careful we must be with our own facial expressions... in causing pain to others (Zelig Pliskin in Growth Through Torah on Gen. 31:2)
  2. Shammai says: "Make your Torah study a fixed duty, say little and do much, and greet all people with a cheerful countenance." (Avot 1:15)
  3. The strong desire towards helping others, laudable though it is, may eventuate into a personality so intent on giving that it ignores the recipient. Though it is prudent to "say little and do much" (above) it is absurd to extend this principle to one's approach when helping someone. To be abrupt when giving... is to depersonalize the process of sharing. Therefore, "greet all people with a pleasant countenance". You are helping people who are deeply sensitive and need the warmth of your sincere countenance as much as they may need your help. Always be aware and attentive to the people you relate with, and ensure that sharing itself is not dehumanized. (Reuven Bulka on Avot 1:15)

For discussion:

It is understandable that one should mind their own facial expressions, but is it realistic to counsel that we "greet all people with a cheerful countenance"? Isn't that being a bit too saccharine?

Do you happen to have some kind of "trick mechanism" that helps make you look like you have sort of a pleasant smile on your face always, ie. "a cheerful countenance"? Want to tell us how?

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