Shavua tov, everyone,
This week we read Vayetze; the words “and he left” referencing Jacob leaving his family home, encouraged, if not advised by both his parents, Rivka and Isaac, to leave their family home. His brother Esau is furious with Jacob for “stealing” the blessing and birthright that he thought, as the eldest twin, was his to have. It was time for Jacob to leave.
Jacob had cooperated with his mother’s disguise of himself, pretending to be Esau and Isaac thus granted him the birthright, even though Isaac said, the voice is that of Jacob. Deceit and deception will follow Jacob in Vayetze, as he meets, and immediately falls in love with Rachel. He asks Lavan, Rachel’s father for Rachel’s hand, but Lavan has other ideas. He substitutes Leah for Rachel under the wedding canopy, later justifying his actions that the older sister must be married before the younger. Siblings, their rivalry, and deception make for a very engaging read this week! But Vayetze takes us much deeper, into the very realm of our souls.
We learn from our tradition that every journey in the realm of external space has a corresponding inner journey. The landscape of our experience in the world is mirrored in the landscape of our souls. So it was for our ancestor Jacob when he set out from Be’er Sheva to go to the land of Charan, the place of his ancestors.
At the outset of Vayetze, the sun is setting, and Jacob seeks a resting place upon the hard ground, placing stones around his head. He is on Mount Moriah, the site of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, his father. We can only imagine the swirling of emotions within Jacob as he lay on the ground. Physically he is on his way to Charan. But Jacob’s inner journey is to find reconciliation, wholeness, sh’laymut.
When Jacob comes to this place, Torah says, vayifga bamakom, he encountered the place. The word makom, a word of layered meaning, and it appears in some form eleven times in the parasha. Makom means place and it is also one of our names for God, reflecting an omnipresence, a Place in the world. Jacob encounters his place of struggle, along the road and within himself. Jacob struggles to reconcile his separation from his family – perhaps from himself. This is to be the nature of Jacob’s life, our ancestor and namesake Israel, and so for ourselves. Yet it is within our struggles we find our pathway to our own wholeness.
On Sunday, I taught about creating an ethical will, a practice that we can take back to the time of Jacob – albeit on his deathbed. Jacob greets each of his sons, and leaves them with a message. We too can take up this practice.
Vayifga bamakom, encountering those places within – and sometimes without, the places and persons that have helped us along our pathways, help us become who we are today. Jacob’s mother asked “Why am I?” Jacob, and we in our turn, attempt to answer that question by asking ourselves how do we encounter the Place. What imprint do we want to leave after our death? Rashi teaches that when a righteous person leaves a place, the “imprint” of their being remains. In absence there is presence.
Kol tuv, dear friends.