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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Through the Lens

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Parshat Veyeitzei : Genesis 28:10-32:3

Dear Readers,

This post is not poetry, but asking you to be the imaginary photographer in this parsha of action and family building. There was no photographer to witness Jacob's encounter with the angels on the ladder.There were no photographers then to record the nuance of hope and despair that must have appeared in this household during the years that his wives gave birth. I hope that you will read on and join me in "imagining" the many images of Parshat Vayeitzei. Perhaps this is a different way to experience the parsha?!? As we read the parsha this week I hope that you will read it as though you were all there with Jacob, with Rachel and Leah, visualizing their hopes, frustrations and disappointments.

One last thing about this was my first time using Generative AI to create images for the (OY!) images you see here. I have to admit that I spent a good hour trying and retrying to achieve these two images. The results are poor, but I will go with them now and count this post as an experiment. I'll keep trying to get the image of the ladder the way I want it to be, but for now....

Let us hear good news soon.



Through the Lens

Through the lens we learn to see

expose, illustrate, open.

Put a camera in a photographer’s hand

and let her share what she might observe for there is so much to see in Parshat Vayeitzei.

1. Jacob left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. Would the photographer sit by Yaakov, and capture his expression as he slept and dreamt?

Did he stir in his sleep? Did he speak as he dreamt?

He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and messengers of God were going up and down on it.

Would the photographer see the ladder of angels or would it be invisible to her and through the lens she could see only a clear night sky?

2. Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely יהוה is present in this place, and I did not know it!” Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.”

The photographer stays close to Jacob and waits for him to awaken. She records his eyes as he startles awake at dawn. They are wide and full of wonder. She photographs him searching his surroundings, kneeling on the ground and looking upwards, wondering if that brilliant ladder still extended from heaven to earth. She photographs him pouring golden oil from a small flask onto a flattened black stone. Perhaps in this image one can sense a change in Jacob's character? Has he transitioned from a young man dependent on his mother to a new man? Has his encounter ignited something in him? Courage? Independence?

3. While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s flock—for she was its shepherd. And when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his uncle Laban, and the flock of his uncle Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone off the mouth of the well, and watered the flock of his uncle Laban.

The photographer follows Jacob on his journey and senses Jacob's solitude, his loneliness. When they finally arrive to the well it is full daylight, so the light is full and the first images of Rachel are very bright, so we cannot yet see her beauty, but we can see her character. Rachel is surrounded by sheep, some brown and some white, and dust kicks up off of the ground around her. The photographer turns and takes an image of Jacob as he first views his bride to be. He has stopped in his tracks and watches as she approaches.

4. Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older one was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes; Rachel was shapely and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he answered, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”

The photographer continued to follow Jacob through his years at his Uncle Laban's home as his life was entwined with four women and multiple sons.

Here is an image of Jacob toiling. He is now far from the man who cooked stew. Instead he works day after day. He builds muscle and strength.

Here is a portrait of Jacob leaving his tent the morning after his marriage to Leah instead of to the promised Rachel.

Leaving the tent, a look of anger mars his face as he strides toward his father in law's tent. Leah stands in the doorway as he leaves, her eyes reddened with tears.

And here are the images of the sisters, Rachel and Leah.

Two sisters, older and younger, one shapely and lovely and one with imperfect eyes.

Two sisters married to the same man. One a clear favorite. One fertile and one barren.

Two sisters, joined by shared blood, but rivals. Were they bitter toward one another?

Would the photographer ever capture them sitting arm and arm, as sisters do, for a moment forgetting their differences and recalling their shared childhood or would she always find them far apart, preferring never to see each other?

One images shows Rachel and Leah casting jealous glances at one another.

Other images show them glancing from afar at one another,

How would the photographer capture the sadness in Rachel’s eyes when Leah repeatedly conceived and she did not? Could the lens find the sparkle of excitement in Rachel's face at finally becoming pregnant?

How would the photographer capture Leah, at once the most fruitful, but always less loved? Would she find moments when Leah sits in front of a mirror in her darkened tent, rubbing her cheeks to appear more beautiful? Applying kohl to her eyes so they would be looked at with affection?  Could she capture in an image Leah's sense of triumph as a mother, mixed with fear, jealousy and loneliness?

5. So she gave him her maid Bilhah as concubine, and Jacob cohabited with her. Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. And Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; indeed, [God] has heeded my plea and given me a son.” Therefore she named him Dan. Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. And Rachel said, “A fateful contest I waged with my sister; yes, and I have prevailed.” So she named him Naphtali. When Leah saw that she had stopped bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as concubine. And when Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son, Leah said, “What luck!” So she named him Gad. When Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son, Leah declared, “What fortune!”

In a camp with four wives and many children, the photographer has much to focus on.

Images of sons playing together. Images of mothers looking on as their children play, proudly observing their height and prowess. How they looked directly at their children and how they looked sideways at each other.

It is possible to capture jealousy through a lens, if the photographer looks hard enough.

Here is the image of Rachel, nursing her newborn son, a queen among women as her husband stands by, crooning to the son of his favored wife.

An here is an image of Dinah, the one daughter, looking on as her brothers play in the field. She appears to the side of the active group and stares down at the ground as though contemplating. We wonder what she is thinking.

6. After Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Give me leave to go back to my own homeland. Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served you, that I may go; for well you know what services I have rendered you.”

Last in this imaginary set of images, the photographer strives to capture Jacob, the man who has gone from a dweller in tents to a man who has worked for years, has fathered many and learned the art of negotiation from his many wives. This portrait, shows how Jacob is no longer the smooth young man, but is a man set in his ways. His hair is graying now and he has a worried look, only smoothed when he sees his infant son Joseph. Perhaps he is now the man ready to meet his brother Esav.

The photographer has done her job for now. Some part of this family's complex life has been documented. There is always more to photograph; new ways to show the weight and complexity of relationships, but for now her job is complete.



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