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Healing and Repairing

Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )

by Aish.com

On the run from a vengeful and possibly murderous brother, Yaakov runs out of daylight and is forced to stop for the night, with no shelter. Using rocks as a pillow, he is overcome by sleep. Like so much of Yaakov’s life, even running away was complicated.

Yaakov had received two independent sets of instructions from his parents; in a sense, he was on a dual journey. He was following the directives of his mother to escape Esav’s fury,1 and the instructions of his father2 to find a suitable wife in the home of Lavan, his maternal uncle.3 Perhaps he allowed himself a moment to savor the irony: finally, both parents had instructed him to do the same thing, even if their motivations were different.4

(10) Yaakov went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. (11) He came to a certain place, and stayed there all night because the sun had set. He took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. (Bereishit 28:10,11)

Years earlier, his grandfather’s servant – probably Eliezer5 – was sent on this same trip, but that earlier journey was described quite differently. While the servant was accompanied by an entourage, carrying precious gifts and jewels – a showy caravan designed to impress upon the prospective bride’s family that the marriage was advantageous, Yaakov has nothing.6 Perhaps the speed of his departure prevented him from taking appropriate provisions; for whatever reason, he is forced to lie on the ground, like a vagabond, heading out of the land that would one day be known as Israel, a land that would one day be his.

On the other hand, although Yaakov leaves with nothing in hand, he holds something intangible. He has the blessings, and a promise that the future will look very different than the present. His father had given him two blessings: the first, intended for Esav, was a blessing of wealth, of financial security and material bounty; the second, always and exclusively intended for Yaakov, was the blessing of Avraham, which included the inheritance of the Land of Israel. But for now, he was leaving the “promised land,” and despite these blessings, he was empty-handed.

Sleep overcomes him and he has an epiphany. He sees a vision of a ladder, he sees angels dancing up and down the ladder,7 and he sees a vision of God.

(12) He dreamed. Behold, a stairway set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven. Behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it. (13) Behold, Hashem stood above it, and said, “I am Hashem, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land whereon you lie, to you, will I give it, and to your seed. (14) Your seed will be as the dust of the earth, and you will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. In you and in your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed. (15) Behold, I am with you and will keep you, wherever you go and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.” (Bereishit 28:12-15)

We know little of Yaakov’s inner spiritual world up to this point. His entire reputation is based on one phrase, half of one verse.

When the boys grew up, Esav became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Yaakov was a mild (innocent) (unblemished) man- (tam) a dweller of the tents. (Bereishit 25:27)

Yaakov is described as tam, but this description is unclear: Does it mean that he is innocent, lacking guile or even lacking depth of perception? “Does it perhaps imply that he is a complete or unblemished personality? Should this description be seen as a contrast to the description of Esav?8 Aside from being tam, Yaakov is described as a man who “dwells in tents.” Rashi cites the rabbinic tradition that delineates a vast distance between the two brothers: Esav is a murderous hunter, while in the rabbinic reading, Yaakov is a yeshiva student:

AND THEY GREW … – ESAV WAS – So long as they were young they could not be distinguished by what they did and no one paid much attention to their characters, but when they reached the age of thirteen, one went his way to the houses of learning and the other went his way to the idolatrous temples.

A CUNNING HUNTER literally, understanding hunting – understanding how to entrap and deceive his father with his mouth. He would ask him, "Father how should salt and straw be tithed"? Consequently, his father believed him to be very punctilious in observing the divine ordinances.

A MAN OF THE FIELD – Explain it literally: a man without regular occupation, hunting beasts and birds with his bow.

A PLAIN MAN – not expert in all these things: as his heart was his mouth (his thoughts and his words tallied). One who is not ingenious in deceiving people is called tam plain, simple.

DWELLING IN TENTS – the tent of Shem and the tent of Eber.9

(Rashi Bereishit 25:27)

Citing the midrash, Rashi makes this determination before the boys are even born:

AND [THE CHILDREN] STRUGGLED – You must admit that this verse calls for a Midrashic interpretation since it leaves unexplained what this struggling was about and it states that she exclaimed "If it be so, wherefore did I desire this" (i.e. she asked whether this was the normal course of child-bearing, feeling that something extraordinary was happening). Our Rabbis explain that the word vayitrozitzu has the meaning of running, moving quickly: whenever she passed by the doors of Torah (i.e. the Schools of Shem and Eber) Yaakov moved convulsively in his efforts to come to birth, but whenever she passed by the gate of a pagan temple Esav moved convulsively in his efforts to come to birth (Genesis Rabbah 63:6). Another explanation is: they struggled with one another and quarreled as to how they should divide the two worlds as their inheritance. (Rashi Bereishit 25:22)

Aside from being somewhat anachronistic, the association of “man of the tents” with yeshiva study is not the straightforward reading (pshat), according to many commentaries. This phrase is often understood as a reference to Yaakov’s vocation: He was, according to this understanding of the text, a shepherd; he lived in tents and moved from place to place in search of grazing lands for his flock.10

In rabbinic tradition, shepherds did not always have a reputation for honesty; this description of Yaakov, then, may have been a far cry from indicating spiritual excellence. In fact, it may invite a precisely opposite interpretation: A “man of the tents” is a problematic individual,11 a vagrant who does not resect boundaries and who is often stigmatized as a thief.12

The text itself has offered very little information about Yaakov at this point, and his physical and spiritual circumstances are far less understood than we might have expected. Had God spoken to him before? What had he done to merit this epiphany? Shall we assume, on the basis of one (extremely challenging) reference to God that Yaakov was a spiritual person? The only reference to God made by Yaakov thus far was when he was impersonating his brother Esav, and trying to impress and mislead his father.

Yitzchak made no mention of God when he called in Esav.

(1) It happened, that when Yitzchak was old, and his eyes were so dim that he could not see, he called Esav his elder son, and said to him, “My son?” He said to him, “Here I am.” (2) He said, “See now, I am old. I do not know the day of my death. (3) Now therefore, please take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and take me venison. (4) Make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat, and that my soul may bless you before I die.” (Bereishit 27:1-4)

Yitzchak’s instructions, if fulfilled, will result in Esav receiving his father’s blessing – not God’s blessing. Yet when Rivka recounts what she heard, she editorializes and brings God, the source of all blessings, into the picture.

(5) Rivkah heard when Yitzchak spoke to Esav his son. Esav went to the field to hunt for venison, and to bring it. (6) Rivkah spoke to Yaakov her son, saying, “Behold, I heard your father speak to Esav your brother, saying, (7) ‘Bring me venison, and make me savory food, that I may eat, and bless you before God before my death.’ (Bereishit 27:5-7)

Yaakov’s exchange with Yitzchak accurately reflects what father had said – without any mention of God.

(18) He came to his father, and said, “My father?” He said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?”(19) Yaakov said to his father, “I am Esav your firstborn. I have done what you asked me to do. Please arise, sit and eat of my venison, that your soul may bless me.” (Bereishit 27:18-19)

Only when Yaakov is questioned by his father does he introduce God into the equation.

Yitzchak said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He said, “Because The Almighty your God gave me success.” (Bereishit 27:20)

Yaakov does not display a finely tuned God consciousness in his words, and the events of his life – the proverbial “body of work” of his actions up to this moment of revelation under the stars – have been complex at least, and perhaps even disturbing. Until this point he has taken advantage of his brother twice. The description of Yaakov as an ish tam does not solve this problem; it is a moniker we do not understand. While we may be able to qualify, rationalize, explain or even justify his actions, Yaakov’s behavior hardly speaks for itself as spiritually inspired or inspiring.

As Yaakov lies under the stars and God speaks to him, is he surprised, or has he been waiting for and anticipating this communication?

The verses offer us two separate issues to ponder: First, there is the vision that

Yaakov sees, of a ladder upon which angels are ascending and descending. Second, there is content, a specific message that God communicates.

(13) Behold, Hashem stood above it, and said, “I am Hashem, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land whereon you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed. (14) Your seed will be as the dust of the earth, and you will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. In you and in your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed. (15) Behold, I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.” (Bereishit 28:13-15)

The heart of the communication is a reiteration of the blessings Yitzchak had bestowed upon Yaakov: The Land of Israel would be his, his children would be numerous, and God would protect him. But there was also much that was left unsaid: The blessings which Yitzchak intended to give to Esav, which were surreptitiously taken by Yaakov, were not reiterated; those ill-gotten blessings are not mentioned. For that matter, we remain unsure of the significance of Yaakov buying the birthright; that, too, is never addressed. Undoubtedly, Yaakov hears the thundering silence. There are things which he has done, things that lie in the grey areas of morality, which are not “rubber stamped” or approved after the fact. The blessings for physical bounty and power which he has taken are not necessarily his at all.

This may be a part of the message of the vision, as well: The angels ascend and then descend the ladder, indicating that the heavenly blessings of bounty must first be earned down on earth. This may be a visual representation of the rabbinic teaching that every good deed creates an angel13 who then ascends to heaven and reports before the Divine Throne, and then brings the reward for that deed down to earth. Whether or not this philosophical construct of the mechanics of reward and punishment lie in the subtext of these verses, we cannot help but wonder what the vision of the angels – who unexpectedly begin their circuit on the earth below and then ascend to the heavens – meant to Yaakov, who hears God’s resounding silence regarding the stolen blessing.

Yaakov awakes and expresses his amazement, but the source of his excitement is unclear. Is it the very fact that God has communicated with him, or is it the particular location where he had this vision which elicits his response?

Yaakov makes a vow, and continues on his journey.

(1) Then Yaakov went on his journey and came to the land of the children of the east. (2) He looked, and behold, a well in the field, and, behold, three flocks of sheep lying there by it. For out of that well they watered the flocks. The stone on the well’s mouth was large. (3) There all the flocks were gathered. They rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again on the well’s mouth in its place. (4) Yaakov said to them, “My relatives, where are you from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” (5) He said to them, “Do you know Lavan, the son of Nahor?” They said, “We know him.” (6) He said to them, “Is it well with him?” They said, “It is well. See, Rachel, his daughter, is coming with the sheep.” (7) He said, “Behold, it is still the middle of the day, not time to gather the livestock together. Water the sheep, and go and feed them.” (8) They said, “We cannot, until all the flocks are gathered together, and they roll the stone from the well’s mouth. Then we water the sheep.” (9) While he was yet speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she kept them. (10) It happened, when Yaakov saw Rachel the daughter of Lavan, his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Lavan, his mother’s brother, that Yaakov went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Lavan his mother’s brother. (Bereishit 29:1-10)

When he arrives in Lavan’s town Yaakov displays great strength; once again, we are force to wonder just how different Esav and Yaakov truly are. Yaakov behaves in a manner that conjures up memories of his mother’s behavior as he waters the parched flock. Without a word, Yaakov shows that he is worthy, that he is the son of Rivka. For the first time, Yaakov displays a character trait we have not yet seen in him. Now, Yaakov performs an act of chesed.

The text of the verses that follow paint a striking picture, a complex personality profile: Yaakov is destitute; he is both humble and willing to work, and most importantly, his love for Rachel is absolute. Again, the scene must be contrasted with the servant of Avraham. This time there is no jewelry, only seven years of labor to earn the hand of his beloved Rachel in marriage.

(11) Yaakov kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. (12) Yaakov told Rachel that he was her father’s brother, and that he was Rivka’s son. She ran and told her father. (13) It happened, when Lavan heard the news of Yaakov, his sister’s son, that he ran to meet Yakkov, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Yaakov told Lavan all these things. (14) Lavan said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” He lived with him for a month. (15) Lavan said to Yaakov, “Because you are my brother, should you, therefore, serve me for nothing? Tell me, what will your wages be?” (16) Lavan had two daughters. The name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. (17) Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and attractive. (18) Yaakov loved Rachel. He said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter.”(19) Lavan said, “It is better that I give her to you, than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.”(20) Yaakov served seven years for Rachel. They seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had for her. (Bereishit 29:11-20)

The days and years fly by; at last, Yaakov the earnest, honest, hard worker, reminds his boss that the time for his marriage has arrived:

(21) Yaakov said to Lavan, “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.” (22) Lavan gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. (23) It happened in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him. He went in to her. (24) Lavan gave Zilpah his handmaid to his daughter Leah for a handmaid. 25) It happened in the morning that, behold, it was Leah. He said to Lavan, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” (26) Lavan said, “It is not done so in our place, to give the younger before the firstborn. (27) Fulfill the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you will serve with me yet seven other years.” (Bereishit 29:21-27)

In the morning Yaakov is shocked to discover that he has been played for a fool. Lavan had deceived him; the woman he found in his bed was Leah, the elder sister of his beloved Rachel. Yaakov is outraged; he confronts his father in law, and demands that Lavan explain his audacity and duplicity. Lavan’s response is a slap in the face:

(26) Lavan said, “It is not done so in our place, to give the younger before the firstborn. (27) Fulfill the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you will serve with me yet seven other years.” (Bereishit 29:26,27)

Lavan snaps back at Yaakov: Here, we maintain the proper order between siblings, we protect the natural rights of the elder before the younger.

Although Yaakov knows that he shouldn’t be shocked by deceit when dealing with a person like Lavan,14 it is not Lavan who is on his mind. Yaakov intuits that this is a punishment from God for his own act of deception.15 In the darkness of the night, he was blind to the true identity of his companion. He had been unable to distinguish between the two sisters, just as his father had been blind to Yaakov’s true identity when he impersonated his brother Esav.

The unlikely marriage of Yaakov and Leah began with a strange point of commonality: each of them had impersonated a sibling to fool an unsuspecting victim. Perhaps he and Leah could somehow make their marriage work, for Yaakov could not judge her without judging himself.

Yaakov invested seven more years of work to earn the hand of Rachel in marriage. Yaakov, who perhaps more than anything desired an uncomplicated life, suddenly found himself entangled in incessant complexity and intrigue. Being married to two sisters would be quite a challenge. Especially when we realize that each sister wanted what the other had.

(28) Yaakov did so and fulfilled her week. He gave him Rachel his daughter as a wife. (29) Lavan gave Bilhah his handmaid, to his daughter Rachel, to be her handmaid. (30) He went in also to Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah and served with him yet seven other years. (31) Hashem saw that Leah was hated, and he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. (Bereishit 29:28-31)

Rachel desperately wanted a child,16 and Leah, who had many children, pined for her husband’s love and affection.17

The tension reaches a crescendo on what appears to be a completely ordinary day, which differs in only one small detail: On this day, Leah’s eldest son Reuven finds a particular plant, and brings them to his forlorn mother18:

(14) Reuven went, in the days of wheat harvest, and found duda’im in the field, and brought them to his mother, Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s duda’im.” (15) She said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you also take away my son’s duda’im?” Rachel said, “Therefore he will lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s duda’im.” (16) Yaakov came from the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, “You must come in to me; for I have hired you with my son’s duda’im;” and he lay with her that night. (Bereishit 30:14-16)

These dudaim,19 which have been associated with mandrakes, have been reputed to possess several qualities:20 they are an aphrodisiac21 and enhance fertility,22 but they are also reportedly a hallucinogenic substance.23

Apparently, Leah wants the aphrodisiac to attract her husband who loves another more than he loves her. Her sister, the “competition,” wants the duda’im to resolve her infertility.24 One wonders, what Reuven was doing with them himself – other than helping his mother? Could the other properties of the duda’im25 shed light on the episode between Reuven and Bilhah, explaining Reuven’s clouded judgment and enflamed passions?26

The two sisters barter between them, and a deal is struck; Yaakov is moved like chattel (or worse) and perhaps not for the first time, the sisters decide among themselves with whom Yaakov will sleep.27 As a result of the deal they strike, each gets what they she was seeking: Leah is given quality time with Yaakov,28 while Rachel gets the cure that she believes will help her achieve her goal of motherhood.29

We wonder if the act of being bartered reminded Yaakov of his own bartering, when he exchanged some beans for his brother’s birthright? There is at least one linguistic clue that points us in this direction:

Yaakov came from the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, “You must come in to me; for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” He lay with her that night. (Bereishit 30:16)

Yaakov cooked a stew and Esav came from the field, and he was exhausted. (Bereishit 25:29)

In both of these instances it seems that the object that was “sold” in exchange for produce was not the sort of thing that can be bought.

(30) Esav said to Yaakov, “Please feed me with that very red stew, for I am exhausted.” Therefore, his name was called Edom. (31) Yaakov said, “First, sell me your birthright.”(32) Esav said, “Behold, I am about to die. What good is the birthright to me?” (33) Yaakov said, “Swear to me today,” and he swore to him and sold his birthright to Yaakov. (34) Yaakov gave Esav bread and lentil stew. He ate and drank, rose up, and went his way, and Esav despised the birthright. (Bereishit 30:34)

Does Yaakov sense the irony of two siblings, the younger and older, once again trading for something sacred? Does Yaakov experience catharsis, sensing that he deserves this treatment?30 Is his lack of resistance an indication that he knows that he must accept it, just as he accepted his marriage to Leah? Although his statement to his father, “I am Esav your firstborn,” may have been technically true after he purchased the birthright, Yaakov understands that as a result he must live the life of that firstborn as well – and that includes being married to Leah.

Though Yaakov could perhaps defend his actions, he most certainly lived with the consequences. The wealth that he accrues, perhaps by virtue of having received the blessing for physical plenty, comes only as a result of twenty years of hard labor, and even then, only when he manages to outsmart Lavan. We sense that all the trials and tribulations endured by Yaakov were designed to repair – to create what rabbinic literature describes as a tikkun – his questionable, though perhaps defensible, behavior of his youth.

Now that he has been somehow cleansed, uplifted, “repaired” through these “tikkunim” Yaakov is ready to return home. Esav is waiting for him, but this is not the same Yaakov. One more tikkun will still be needed before the confrontation with Esav – a powerful tikkun which will reveal that a new identity, a force to be reckoned with, called Yisrael, is about to emerge. That tikkun lies just ahead.31 That final tikkun can only be accomplished by a spiritually enlightened, powerful Yaakov who has faced his past and elevated it, is now ready to return to the promised land and set God’s promise in motion.

  1. Bereishit 27:42-45.

  2. Bereishit 28:1-5.

  3. Rivkah planted this idea is Yitzchak’s mind; see Bereishit 27:46.

  4. The text of the Torah notes Yaakov leaving twice, once at the behest of his father 28:5, and the second time in 28:10.

  5. The name of the servant is not mentioned throughout that mission (the entire chapter 24) – though God certainly helps him – so the name “Eli-ezer” seems quite apt.

  6. The Ibn Ezra (Bereishit 25:34) claims that Yitzchak had lost all of the wealth of his father, the Ramban (Bereishit 25:34) forcibly rejects this contention.

  7. For a description of the kinetic movement of the angels as dancing see Sichot Moharan section 86. This idea is expanded in my Echoes of Eden Bereishit 208,209

  8. See Toldot Yitzchak Bereishit 25:27.

  9. See the translation of Onkolus Bereishit 25:27

    And the youths grew; and Esav was a man of idleness, a man going out into the field; and Jakob was a man of peace, a minister of the house of instruction. (Targum Onkolus Bereishit 25:27)

  10. See Rashbam Bereishit 25:27, Ibn Ezra Bereishit 25:27, Bchor Shor Bereishit 25:27, Hizkuni Bereishit 25:27, Ibn Caspi Bereishit 25:27, Seforno Bereishit 25:27. See Bereishit 4:20, and the comments of Rashi.

  11. Seforno Bereishit 25:27, sees the relaxed life of the shepherd as a perfect life for spiritual contemplation, R’ Dovid Tzvi Hoffman Bereishit 25:27 makes a similar point.

  12. See Talmud Sanhedrin 57a, and Rashi’s comments, Avodah Zarah, 26a, Shulchan Oruch Chosehn Mishpat 34:13.

  13. Mishna Avot 5:11, instead of “angel” the text reads “advocate”.

    Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov said: he who performs one commandment acquires for himself one advocate.

  14. Lest one think this statement contains an unfair assessment of Lavan, a careful reading of Lavan’s role which includes “mirroring”, manipulation and deceit, can all be discerned in chapter 24.

  15. See Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai (Chida) in his Nahal Kedumim Parashat Vayetze.

  16. Bereishit 30:1-2.

    Rachel saw that she had not born children to Yaakov, and Rachel became envious of her sister. She said to Yaakov, "Give me children! If not, I am dead! Yaakov grew angry at Rachel and he said, "Am I in place of God who has kept from you fruit of the womb?

  17. The pain of Leah is particularly felt when she names her children.

  18. Tzror Hamor Bereishit 30:14

  19. Aryeh Kaplan in “The Living Torah” notes on this verse:

    duda’im
    (Targum; Ibn Ezra; Radak, Sherashim; Josephus). Dudaim in Hebrew, from the word dodim denoting passion or carnal love (Radak, Sherashim; cf. Ezekiel 16:8, 23:17, Proverbs 7:16). It was called this because of its use as an aphrodisiac and fertility potion (Midrash Ne'elam, Zohar 1:134b). The mandrake (mandragora officinarum) is a herb of the beladonna or potato family. It has a thick perenial root, often split down the middle, like the lower limbs of the human body. Stalkless, it has large leaves that straddle the ground and violet flowers (cf. Rashi). In the spring, its yellow fruit, the size of a tomato, ripens. This fruit can have an intoxicating fragrance (Song of Songs 7:14).

    The variety found by Reuben was a rare, extinct species that gives off deadly fumes when pulled from the ground (Midrash Aggadah on Genesis 49:14, quoted in Tzeror HaMor as Midrash HaGaluy; Toledoth Yitzchak on Genesis 49:14. Cf Niddah 31a; Josephus, Wars 7:6:3). In the Talmud, there appears to be a dispute as to whether Reuben brought home the violet flowers, the fruits or the roots (Sanhedrin 99b). Other sources indicate that he brought home two fruits (Tzava'ath Yissachar 1:3,5,7; Josephus, Antiquities 1:19:8).

    Obviously, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs knew how to use these plants in mystical ways (Genesis 30:37). Still, Rachel did not bear children because of the mandrakes, but because of her prayers (Genesis 30:2, 30:22; cf. Zohar 1:157b). According to one ancient source, Rachel did not eat the mandrakes, but offered them to God (Tzava'ath Yissachar 2:6).

  20. See Seforno Bereishit 30:15, Alshech 30:14,15

  21. See Zohar Berirshit 140b,165b.

  22. See R’ Dovid Tzvi Hoffman

  23. See “The History and Uses of the Magical Mandrake, According to Modern Witches” BY ANGELICA CALABRESE JANUARY 12, 2016 https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-history-and-uses-of-the-magical-mandrake-according-to-modern-witches

    “In the Bible’s Book of Genesis, mandrake root helps Rachel conceive Jacob, and in Greek mythology, Circe and Aphrodite are thought to use it as an aphrodisiac. But its powers are not only mythical: a member of the nightshade plant family, mandrake contains hallucinogenic and narcotic alkaloids. Dioscurides, a first-century Greek physician, tells us that a “winecupful” of mandrake root (that is, mandrake root boiled in wine) was used as an anesthetic in ancient Rome. But be careful, he warns – take too much, and one might end up dead.&rdquo



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