Thursday, November 26, 2009

Parashat Va-yetzey's Enlarged Final Peh


In this week's parsha, Va-Yeytzey Be-reyshit/Genesis 30:42, in a Chassidic Sefer Torah one will find an enlarged letter Fey Sofit in the word u-ve-ha-atiF.

וּבְהַעֲטִיף הַצֹּאן, לֹא יָשִׂים; וְהָיָה הָעֲטֻפִים לְלָבָן, וְהַקְּשֻׁרִים לְיַעֲקֹב.

’...but when the flock were feeble, he didn't put them in; so the feebler were Lavan's, and the stronger were Ya'aqov's."

This word עטיף atif is traditionally translated as "weak" or "feeble", and the shoresh, root of this word, עָטַף ataf, means to wrap, to cover, to package, or to envelop. So we have sheep and goats which are not weak in the normally understood sense of being fragile or undependable; rather, we have sheep and goats which are עֲטִיפָה atifah, bound or restricted by something: perhaps a sickness, or a genetic condition.

This pasuq, verse, is part of the story where Ya'aqov is preparing to separate himself and his household from the indentured servitude of his father-in-law/uncle, Lavan. Starting in verse 25, right after Rachel finally gives birth to Yosef, Ya'aqov approaches Lavan to negotiate a separation settlement/agreement.

They agree that Ya'aqov can leave with his wives, children, servants, and livestock, provided that he only takes the sheep and goats which are striped, spotted, speckled, or dark. Why? Because their wool, hair and hides are worth less than those with a consistent and/or lighter complexion. The lighter and more even the goat's hair or sheep's wool, the easier to dye whatever colour you please, and sell in the markets. Also, spotted and striped in many breeds (perhaps the breeds Lavan was husbanding) are recessive genes, so Ya'aqov was claiming a very small percentage of Lavan's flocks as his compensation. Greedy Lavan agrees.

So what does Ya'aqov do to ensure his family's financial security? He does some hishtadlut which some may simply call "sympathetic magic". He takes the soft, new branches of almond and poplar trees and peels designs in the thin bark: stripes and spots. Then Ya'aqov sticks them in the earth around Lavan's flocks' watering toughs where the animals drink and mate, and like a shaman suggests that they produce more striped and spotted offspring.

Then comes our verse: when the sickly animals were at the troughs, he didn't put the sticks around, but when the robust animals were there, they were surrounded by these sticks. This was Ya'aqov's way of pulling the recessive striped and spotted offspring out of the strongest and best of Lavan's flocks for his wage.

So, what's with this enlarged final letter Feh?
Peh means mouth - and this enlarged letter is G@d's open mouth telling Ya'aqov in Be-reyshit/Genesis 31:3, "Return to the land of your fathers, and to your family, and I will be with you." Now that I've helped you get ready, Ya'aqov, it's time to move.

G@d was the shepherd here - the letter resembles a shepherd's crook which is enlarged to show that G@d was helping Ya'aqov in his task by making sure all the sick came to water together and all the healthy came to water at the same time so there was no mixing of the ill and the strong, so Ya'aqov would get only strong, healthy animals to take back with him to Israel. G@d was showing Divine chesed, loving-kindness, in aiding Ya'aqov in shepherding his animals, and then shepherding Ya'aqov and his family back home.

Copyright© A. Barclay

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