After-School Education

Rabbi Shua Brick, Jewish Studies Teacher 

We open up this week’s installment of the biblical stories with a patriarch on the run. Jacob is fleeing his childhood home after robbing his older brother Esau of his birthright and is heading toward his uncle/future father-in-law’s home.

Tradition tells us that there is a gap here in the narrative that is easy to miss. They claim there are fourteen years missing in Jacob’s story based on their analysis of time markers in his narrative. Further, they claim, that those years must have transpired between the end of last week’s portion and where we pick up this week.   

To solve this problem they evoke an ancient Rabbinictradition that there is this special Jewish school ran by Shem and Eber, the son and great-great-grandson of Noah respectively, the line of Noah that leads to and includes the Jewish people. They claim that Jacob spends these missing fourteen years in the mythical study hall of the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever. 

As Jacob seemed to have ample time to study with his father and grandfather at home, what special education would Yaakov be seeking at this special educational institution? 

Rabbi Yaakov Kamentzky zt”l attempts to explain this peculiarity as he tries to solve another mystery. The Jacob we knew from last week’s Torah portion is unrecognizable compared to the Jacob we see in this parsha. Where last week he was micro-managed by his mother and seemed far less capable than his brother, this week we read stories with superhuman strength, cunning negotiations, and unprecedented agricultural proficiency.  What explains this transformation?

These two mysteries together suggest that perhaps the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever was not the bookish study hall that we are familiar with today but an institution that prepares its students for the world outside of its walls. I often theorize about what those classes were like, what they included, and what their content and curriculum looked like. It leaves me with questions about what are things we can only learn at home, or solely when away from home, and what lessons prepare someone for the life ahead on the outside of educational frameworks? What was the magical secret to that transformational Yeshiva of Shem and Ever?