Vayeitzei: Clinging to Magic

April 15, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Posted in Vayeitzei | 1 Comment

(This blog was first posted on November 22, 2009.)

And Laban went to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole the terafim that belonged to her father.   (Genesis/Bereishit 31:19)

terafim—household gods, idols, statues

Rachel was the favored wife of Jacob, who had pledged himself to worship the god of his fathers.  One might expect her to follow her husband’s religion, and eschew other gods.  So why did she steal her father’s terafim when Jacob and his household secretly fled from Laban?

Some commentators have speculated that Arameans, including Rachel, believed terafim were oracles, whom Laban might consult to see which way Jacob and his family fled.  Others have written that the terafim represented ownership of property, so by stealing the terafim Rachel was stealing the titles to the livestock and goods that Jacob took with them.

Rashi said Rachel removed the terafim in order to stop her father from worshiping idols.  But if that were her motivation, one would expect Rachel to secretly destroy or get rid of the statues during the ten days before Laban caught up with them.  Instead, she kept the terafim hidden in her tent.

Nevertheless, it cannot be a coincidence that seven nights after Laban loses his household idols, just as he is about to catch up with Jacob, he hears the voice of God, Elohim, in a dream for the first time in his life.

But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream that night, and He said to him: Guard yourself, lest you speak with Jacob for good or bad.  (Genesis/Bereishit 31:24)

(Later in this Torah portion, in 31:30-32, Elohim means gods, in the plural.  But the Torah more often uses the word Elohim to refer to one God, the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This is clearly the meaning of the word in 31:24, since the rest of the sentence says He came, and He spoke, not they.)

Once Laban no longer has his household idols, his protective magic, he is able hear God in a dream:  an inner voice telling him to guard his own behavior, and to be neutral and careful when he speaks to Jacob.  The next day, Laban becomes a rational man, giving up his “rights” for the sake of peace (Genesis 31:43-44).

If Rachel had ditched the terafim would she have heard God’s voice, too?  What kind of person would she have become?  If you lost your terafim, your idols, your titles, your protective magic, what would you be able to hear?

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  1. […] Rachel steals actual objects: figurines of gods cast in bronze, molded in clay, or carved out of stone. These small sculptures were commonly found in houses throughout Mesopotamia and Canaan during the second millennium B.C.E. Scholars still do not know their purpose, but they may have been used for divination or to protect the household. (See my post: Vayeitzei: Clinging to Magic.) […]

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