top of page

Vayetze. Which Yeshiva Did Yaakov Attend?

Our parsha opens with Yaakov's travelling to Haran. For the reader of peshat, the notable event that interrups his journey is the dream at Beit-El. But otherwise, his journey would seem smooth and relatively uneventful.

But Rashi suggests that Yaakov's journey to Haran was extended by 14 years! He took a detour to study in a Yeshiva:

וישכב במקום ההוא - לשון מיעוט באותו מקום שכב, אבל ארבע עשרה שנים ששמש בבית עבר לא שכב בלילה, שהיה עוסק בתורה

Rashi is drawing upon a Midrashic tradition that there was an institution founded by Shem, Noah's son and Ever, a place where the Avot (and, it would seem, their contemporaries) would study "Torah."[1]

But what would the have studied in Yeshivat Shem V'Ever? Why does Yaakov need to spend 14 years there? - After all, did he not have the best education at home? He would have studied with Avraham and Yitzchak! Of course, homiletically, the Midrash seeks to view the Avot engaged in a classic religious act – sitting in the Beit Hamidrash over a Gemara and learning Rashi and Tosefot! However if we may be less literal about this Midrash, we may suggest the following.

1. Even if a person has a solid religious tradition from home, as a young person seeks to build his or her independent life (Yaakov is leaving home and setting up his own family) they need to develop an independent, personal religious direction. And that involves seeking other teachers, alternative spiritual models. We can build upon our parents' Judaism but it isn't sufficient. We need to move away, to reexamine and to reconstruct our own personal Judaism on our terms. This needs to be done by studying and experiencing fresh and different religious environments.

We can build upon our parents' Judaism but it isn't sufficient. We need to move away, to reexamine and to reconstruct our own personal Judaism on our terms.

2. It is fascinating that there seems to be a Torah of the Avot, and then a Torah of Shem V'Ever which quite evidently represents a non-Jewish, universal monotheistic moral tradition. The thought that Yaakov would need to study at this institute of universal wisdom is a challenge for us. Does this mean that our parochial Judaism is insufficient as a preparation for our encounter with the wider world? Or possibly, along with our Judaism, we need to study other wisdom, to enrich ourselves with a broader view, a perspective from the "outside"? Or was Yaakov – on the way to Mesopotamia – seeking to ally himself with local monotheists? Or perhaps, in seeking a better preparation to confront the local challenges of Haran, he needed to study with people who had already contemplated and grappled with the local philosophies, and Yaakov needed their guidance.

Much to think about...

Shabbat Shalom

[1] Rashi's source is the Midrash in BR 68:11, (a tradition also mentioned by Seder Olam). For other references to Yeshivat Shem VaEver, see BR 52:11, 56:11 that Yitzchak studied there after the Akeida, 63:6 that Rivka consulted with Shem about her pregnancy, 63:10 that Yaakov studied there, 84:8, Shir Hashirim Rabba 6/6.


Join our mailing list

Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page