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RABBI'S COMMENTARY

                                           Vayaytsay: Jacob’s Wedding(s)

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

            Lavan, Jacob’s uncle and father of Leah and Rachel: I did my sister Rebecca a great favor in taking in her wastrel, thieving son, Jacob. I heard that he stole the birthright from its rightful owner, Esau, his elder brother! Unlike Eliezer, who came here years ago with a caravan of great pomp and treasure, Jacob appeared one morning, a filthy, broken-down desert refugee. Despite being new in town,  he had the audacity to boss around our local shepherds. The townfolk told me that, once Jacob spied my beautiful Rachel, he became strong enough to roll the boulder off the well’s mouth himself. Pah! I do not believe it—surely he must have pulled a conjuring trick!

            Rachel: Not so, my father! Jacob may look slight, but he is a man of great physical power. And I love him—

            Lavan: Go thy ways, Younger Daughter, go thy ways.  Give me peace to plan what to do about this rascal Jacob. (sotto voce) Great Baal in heaven! He has been living with me for a month now and doing nothing to earn his keep. I suppose I should marry him off—get him to produce some children, and increase our tribe, here in Charan.  Most importantly, I must marry off my elder daughter, my Leah. Sadly, she has not caught Jacob’s eye—that layabout gazes only upon Rachel. Leah, the elder, must be married off first. What to do? ( Jacob enters) Jacob, my nephew, my treasure! I see that my brother-in-law, Isaac, trained you well: you are a fair shepherd—almost a good one. What, shall you serve me for nothing? What will your wages be, my son?

            Jacob (to himself): Yes, Uncle Lavan; I have been chasing your sheep around the pasture for two months now, for no money. It’s time to pay the piper. (aloud) Milord Lavan, my kindly uncle, I will gladly serve you as a shepherd. You see that I have not lost any cattle, whether by starvation or the claws of wolves or jackals. Indeed, the goats and sheep I have led into the fields each day have multiplied, by the grace of GOD. Hire me, Uncle, and this will only continue, or even improve. It will be all to your profit, and mine.

            Lavan (to himself): Young whelp! Do not think that a youngster like you is able to trick me. I will count the cattle every morn and eve, just in case you become light-fingered and steal a few for some hidden corral of yours. Not for nothing am I the renowned master herdsman of Charan. (aloud) Well, Young Sir Jacob: I will pay you with food and board in my house. We will return to your allotment of cattle later. Not to change the subject, but have you not cast eyes upon my beauteous Rachel? Would it please you to marry her?

            Jacob (begins to tremble with anticipation): Yes, Uncle. I love Rachel with all my heart and will do whatever you ask for her hand.

            Lavan (smiling): Even to the extent of working for me for a short while—shall we say, seven years?

            Jacob (gulping): It is a long time, but not so steep a price for your daughter (he bows deeply).

            Lavan: Then, all is as it should be! (Claps his hands; his servant Doeg enters) Doeg, my Chief Steward! Inform the kitchen-women-slaves to begin preparations for the Grand Wedding of my daughter the Princess Rachel to young Master Jacob! (Doeg smiles and bows; turns to go) Oh, and Doeg (Doeg turns and smiles unctuously), I will be wanting the plot—um, arrangement!--that we discussed earlier. (Doeg bows and turns to leave). Oh, Doeg! And one more thing—if all does not transpire as I planned, I will whip you until your bones protrude. Ha! Go forth and act, my son (A visibly shaken Doeg exits).

            Jacob (suspiciously): Lord Lavan, what “arrangement” were you discussing with Doeg? You understand that I am doing all of this for Rachel’s hand in marriage, do you not? Seven years is a long time.

            Lavan (patting Jacob on the back): Fear not, Jacob! That was merely a reference to—to—the dainty viands you and Rachel shall enjoy—yes, the food at the wedding feast! Now, go forth, and rally your sub-shepherds to bring in the flocks. Can’t be losing any of my cattle now, ha-ha! Every goat, every sheep is precious.

Scene: Night, following the Sabbath: the Wedding Ceremony of Jacob and Rachel.  The open plaza of Charan is illuminated by torches. Townsmen stand around, drinking liquor, gossiping, singing, and praying to Marduk, chief god of the Babylonian pantheon, that he bless the happy couple.. Enter Jacob, Lavan, and Doeg; Jacob is dressed in beautiful wedding-garments and is escorted by Lavan and Doeg.)

            Doeg: How dost thou feel, Young Master Jacob? (Jacob stumbles) Softly, softly, Master! Thou mustn’t trip and fall—not on this night of all nights.

            Jacob: I feel—I feel very dizzy, Doeg. What was in that mug of barley beer you gave me before, while I was dressing? (burps) I think that it made me sick.

            Lavan: It’s just your nerves, Jakey. Here: drink this (Jacob sniffs it suspiciously). It will straighten you out.

            Jacob: Isn’t this the same stuff you gave me before? (He hiccups)

            Doeg: O say na say, Master: that is a drink of my own devising, from a most secret family formula. It is meant for one’s wedding, and gives one enormous powers for after.

            Jacob: I hope that it cures what the first drink caused.

            Lavan: O and it will, Jacob; it will. Just swig it on down. Hark, here come the priests!

(A priest and a group of acolytes march into the plaza, followed by teenagers beating drums and blowing flutes and horns. They stop and sing together:)

O mighty Ashtoret,

With Baal you join

And may our nuptials

Your favor purloin!

O strengthen the Bridegroom

Prevail o’er the bride

And bless them with children:

Let your spirit bide.

(Jacob wavers; both Lavan and Doeg hold him up; Lavan whispers fiercely in his ear:) Play the man, play the man, Master Jacob! For you shall, this evening, light such a candle, as the world shall never put out. Increase and multiply—increase the tribe!

(The drums give a mighty crash, then fall silent. The music changes to something light and pastoral. The maidens, accompanying the bride, are all dressed identically.)

            Jacob (squinting at the bridesmaids): I am confused. Which of those girls is my Rachel?

            Lavan: Such is the custom in our place, to dress all of the women identically to the bride. This way, the Evil Eye will not know which of them to afflict, if any.

            Jacob: My head feels so swollen, as if it might explode.

            Doeg (chuckles): Then all is as it should be. Ha!

(Lavan pushes Jacob under the bridal canopy, where a sub-priest catches him and prevents him from falling. The Chief Priest winks at Lavan.)

            Jacob (to the Priest): What was that wink? What trickery have you worked out with Lavan? What--?

(Doeg moves forward softly like a jungle cat, and lightly raps Jacob on the back of the head with a concealed blackjack, catching him when he falls. He then addresses the priest: Your Worship, my master Jacob has succumbed to the effects of too many drinks, poor fellow. I beg you, go on with the ceremony, and I will answer for him.

(The masked Bride trembles a little, but nods beneath the massive headdress she is wearing. The Priest proceeds into the ceremony:

            Mighty Baal, Comely Ashtoret! This blessed company stands in awe of your strength and beauty. We beseech you, look down from Heaven upon this worthy couple—Lord Jacob and Princess Le—Rachel! Let the chorus sing your praises….(blackout of scene)

(Next morning: head aching, clothes disheveled, Jacob rushes into Lavan’s house:

            Lavan! I am Jacob, both your son-in-law and nephew—how could you plot against me? I worked for seven years for Rachel’s hand, not Leah’s! What are you going to do about this? Where are you?

            Lavan (enters, picking his teeth with a toothpick): Such a wonderful breakfast—Jacob, my son! Why did you and your bride not join us? We have a custom here of feasting with the happy couple for seven days after the ceremony.

            Jacob: Yah, I know all about your customs. How could you lie to me about my bride’s identity?

            Lavan: Well, as Chief Magistrate of Charan, I passed a law stating clearly that we cannot marry off the younger before the elder. It applies to you, Jacob.

            Jacob (wavering; the effects of the liquor have not completely worn off): When did you pass that law?

            Lavan (dissolving into laughter): Yesterday, Jacob; just yesterday. (Jacob bursts into tears)

Jacob: This is all because of what I did to my brother, Esav. Woe! My head is aching….

 

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OUR RABBI - David Hartley Mark

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Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Rabbi David Hartley Mark was born in New York City, and grew up on the Lower East Side, that legendary Jewish immigrant neighborhood, attending Hebrew Day School. He was first from his school, the East Side Torah Center, to attend Yeshiva University High School for Boys—Manhattan. David attended Yeshiva University, where he attained a BA in English Literature, a BS in Bible and Jewish Education, and a Hebrew Teacher’s Diploma (HTD). He spent his third year of college at Bar Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, where he developed a fluency in Hebrew, and toured around the country. He has also attained a Certificate in Advanced Jewish School Administration from the Hebrew College in Brookline, MA.

David attended the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he earned an MA degree from Queens College, as well as an M.Phil. degree, majoring in 17th Century English, specializing in the work of John Milton, as well as the Romantic Poets. A year teaching Hebrew School in a Reform temple in Brooklyn convinced him of his great love of Judaism, and he began attending the Academy for Jewish Religion, Yonkers, NY, where he was ordained a rabbi in 1980.

 

He met Anbeth, who was hired as temple secretary the same day he was hired to teach. They were married in 1978. They have two grown children, Tyler and Jordan, as well as a grandson, Aidan.

 

Rabbi Mark served pulpits in Warren, NJ, Fayetteville, NC, and Portsmouth, NH, in which last pulpit he spent 22 years, a record for that state. Seeking warmer climes, as well as closer family members, he and Anbeth took the pulpit of Temple Sholom in 2009. He also fulfilled a lifetime dream of teaching English at Keiser University in Ft. Lauderdale.  

 

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