And Jacob left Beer Sheba, and he went to Haran. And he arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place. (Bereishis 28:11).
The Parsha opens with Yaakov Avinu leaving the security of his parents’ home and venturing into the great unknown in order to find his life partner (and escape his vengeful brother). The Torah relates the story of his grand vision in which Hashem promised Yaakov safety, security, and success.
Rashi comments on the placement of stones around Yaakov’s head:
He arranged them in the form of a pile around his head because he feared the wild beasts.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks, “if Yaakov feared wild beasts why did he not protect his body as well? If he believed that God would protect his body, why not believe that God would protect his head? And if he did not want to rely on a miracle to protect his head, then why rely on a miracle to protect his body?” The Rebbe explains that Rashi is conveying to us a profound life lesson. Yaakov understood that he was not simply making a geographic transition; he wasn’t simply making a move from his parents’ home to his uncle’s home. He was leaving the spirituality and holiness of a patriarchal abode and venturing into a place of deceit and deception. But alas, one cannot always remain in the safety of the spiritual cocoon. Life often requires and propels us into spiritually hostile environments, and we must strive to maintain our proper “hashkafos,” ideals and beliefs. This was the symbolism of Yaakov covering his head while leaving his body exposed. The body must enter into hostile environments, but the head, my thoughts, ideas, outlooks, and religious beliefs must remain protected, bolstered, and resistant to the external bombardment. As Yaakov prepared his body to enter the house and society of Lavan, he secured his head and spiritual identity.
We have a sacred mission to engage and contribute to greater society. We have the ability to make a difference not only in our small corner but in the lives of those around us. We have the capacity to be a light unto the nations. In order to make these contributions and effect change, we must often leave the wholesome cocoon of holiness and venture into the world and society around us. Whether we are venturing out for career, community needs, or education, we must make sure to properly bolster and strengthen ourselves before we take that first step. We must surround our head with the stones of Torah, avodas Hashem (service of God), commitment to mesorah (tradition), and connection to our people. Yaakov protected his head and returned to his land and his family, intact and spiritually strong. May we find success in all our life endeavors and keep our head protected every step of the way.
Yaakov received the blessings from his father but along with them, the scorn of his brother Esav. He fled to Charan to seek safety and sanctuary and a wife.
“And Jacob left Beer Sheba, and he went to Haran. And he arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place. (Genesis 28:10-11).”
The Talmud (Chullin 91b) paints a dramatic picture:
“And Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.” And it is written thereafter: “And he encountered the place, and he slept there, because the sun had set.” When Jacob arrived at Haran, he said: Is it possible that I passed a place where my fathers prayed, and I did not pray there? When he set his mind to return, the land contracted for him. Immediately the verse states: “And he encountered the place,” indicating that he arrived there miraculously. When he had finished praying and he wanted to return to Haran, the Holy One, blessed be He, said: This righteous man came to my lodging place and he will depart without remaining overnight? Immediately, the sun set before its proper time so that Jacob would stay overnight in that place.
Yaakov passed right by Mount Moriah, the site of the Akeyda (biding of Isaac) and future site of the Beis HaMikdash. Only upon arriving in Charan did he realize his “mistake” and turned back around to return to this sacred site. The Chiddushei HaRim (Rav Yitzchak Meir Alter, 1799-1866) asks, “Why didn’t Yaakov pray at this sacred site when leaving the Land of Israel? Why did he only realize the importance of praying in this spot after he had arrived in the city of Haran?”
The Rebbe answers with a profound insight. Yaakov maintained a constant focus on the goal at hand. He was told by his parents to travel to his family, and that was the objective. Nothing else mattered. He possessed a singular focus – arrive at the house of Lavan, find refuge and safety from Esav, and hopefully, a life-partner. Yaakov understood how easy it is to get distracted and lose direction. He would not let anything, even Har HaMoriah, shift his focus from the objective at hand. Often, we begin down the path of accomplishment only to become sidetracked and distracted. We lose sight of our original goal and can end up on a path which leads to nowhere. Yaakov teaches us the power of singular focus. Identify your goals and objectives, set your mind to accomplish them, and do not get distracted.
But there is a follow up lesson as well. After all, upon reaching his desired destination, Yaakov turns around and goes back to Har HaMoriah. Yaakov possessed the trait of intentionality. Intentionality means studying your patterns of behavior and deciding what you do and do not want to continue doing in the future. Leading an intentional life means, I do not just “go with the flow;” I decide what works and what does not. I decide what I should and should not be doing. In the moment that Yaakov arrived in Charan, the city of Lavan, he realized that although he had stayed true to his goal, he missed out on an incredible opportunity – to pray at the site of his father’s near death experience and future site of the Beis HaMikdash. At that moment, Yaakov had a choice, he could say “oh well, better luck next time,” or he could actually do something about it.
Yaakov’s actions model for us a meaningful, two-pronged approach for successful living. First, stay focused. Identify your goals, dreams, and aspirations, and do not get distracted. Do not let other things, even meaningful things, come between you and your primary life objectives. Second, live life with intentionality. At times, I begin down a road because I think it is correct and meaningful. At times, I work towards certain objectives and goals because they feel right and fulfilling, and I then realize I was wrong or that I am giving up too many other meaningful opportunities for this one pocket of meaning. And then there are times when those endeavors which were important in the past may not be as important for my future. Find the strength to pivot. Find the strength to do things differently going forward. Find the strength to go backwards if it sets the stage for dramatic future growth.
“And Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said, ‘Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know [it].’” (Genesis 28:16)
Yaakov Avinu experienced a most incredible dream. He had seen God perched on top of a ladder which extended to the heavens; he had seen the angels climbing up and down and had received a promise of security, safety and success from the Master of the Universe. Yaakov was not expecting such a revelation and so he awoke startled, “this is clearly a holy and special place, and I did not know.” The simple interpretation is that Yaakov was unaware of its holiness. Rashi explains that the dream took place on Mount Moriah, the site of Akeydas Yitzchak (the binding of Isaac) and the future site of the Temple. Yaakov remarks to himself, “Had I known this was such a holy and significant place, I would have never allowed myself to fall asleep here.”
The great Chassidic master, Rav Yisroel of Chortkov (1854-1934) explains Yaakov’s statement a bit differently.
“Acheyn yesh Hashem ba’makom hazeh (God is present, can be felt and experienced in this place.)”
“Va’anochi lo yadati” – I stopped focusing on anochi (myself). I did not know myself.
Yaakov ventured far away from the comforts of his familial home because he knew he had something great to accomplish. He understood that there was a magnificent destiny waiting to be seized and actualized. But it would not be easy, it would not be comfortable, it would require great sacrifice. Yaakov placed his self-interests on the backburner to maximize his life potential. Yaakov stopped focusing on anochi (myself) and instead focused his efforts on what God wanted from him. When he was able to subvert the anochi, he was able to acutely experience and feel the presence of God: “Indeed the Lord is in this place.”
Often, we experience conflict on communal and personal levels. In our communal lives, there is often a tension between what I want as an individual versus what is best for the community (whether this is the community of a Shul, school or organization). Too much strife occurs when we allow our personal interests to interfere with what is good for the collective. The only way to bring holiness into our communal lives is through “Va’anochi lo yadati,” putting our personal interests on the side and focusing on the needs of the tzibur (group). As individuals we experience this conflict as well. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (1707-1746) writes in his introduction to Mesillas Yesharim (Path of the Just) that a person must ask himself, “What does God want of me?” This is in contradistinction to the question we often ask ourselves, “What do I want out of life?” There are times when what I want for myself and what God wants from and for me are in conflict. Yaakov had this conflict as well. One would have to imagine that Yaakov would have much preferred to remain at home, build his family in the Land of Canaan and be with his parents as they grew old. But deep down, Yaakov knew that God wanted something different for him and his communal impact. Deep down Yaakov knew that destiny awaited, and it was across the river in a foreign land with hostile inhabitants. Yaakov put aside his anochi and found God.
There are times in life when the plan we have for ourselves is dramatically different than the plan God has for us. In these most humbling moments, we must find the strength to put aside the anochi of our personalistic self-interests and embrace the destiny God has waiting for us. If we can summon the strength to do so, we too will be able to say, “Acheyn yesh Hashem ba’makom hazeh” – I will feel the presence of God guiding and holding me everywhere I go and in every step I take.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur.
Sponsored by Rosalie Sklar in memory of her husband, Manny, Menachem Mendel ben Tzvi Hirsch z’l
And Jacob left Be’er Sheva and he went to Haran (Bereishis 28:10)
The dramatic journey had begun. Yaakov fled the familial home to escape the wrath of his older brother, Esav under the cover of going to find a wife from amongst his mother’s family. The journey was filled with twists and turns, ups and downs, yet Yaakov heroically clung to God and the ideals of his parents. Amid all the drama, the commentaries ask a simple question: why must the Torah state that “Yaakov left Be’er Sheva (Va’Yetzei Yaakov M’Be’er Sheva)” and that “he went to Haran (Va’Yelech Charana).”? Once you state the second part of the verse (that he went to Charan), it is obvious that he left Be’er Sheva. Why include a seemingly redundant phrase?
The Beis HaLevi (Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, 1820-1892) explains that people make life changes for different reasons. There are times in life when one’s objective is to get away from his current circumstances. We don’t have a specific destination; we just know that we don’t want to be “here.” Our circumstances are so compromised that we must get away, take flight, and leave. The destination is unimportant, we just need to leave. And there are times when one is not looking to escape from his current circumstances. His current circumstances are fine, but he is not looking to live a “fine” life, he is searching for greatness and holiness. We can live out our lives in our current situations, but we choose to journey to something better. We need to journey to reach an important destination; there is somewhere else we need to be. Yaakov’s journey had both elements. He left home at the behest of his parents. His mother commanded him to leave the familial home to save his life. The destination was unimportant; Yaakov couldn’t be in Be’er Sheva. On the other hand, Yitzchak tells his son to specifically travel to the home of Lavan to find a wife. Yaakov tried to accommodate the wishes of both parents. “And Yaakov left Be’er Sheva,” he was running from danger thereby accommodating the wishes of his mother. “And he went to Haran,” he was journeying specifically to find a wife, in accordance with the desires of his father.
The Beis HaLevi not only provides us with an important textual insight but provides us with an important life lesson as well. There are two types of journeys we take throughout life. The journey “from” and the journey “to.” There are times in life when our circumstances are unhealthy and difficult, and we must extricate ourselves from them to each become a whole person. We take flight from our current reality to escape negative circumstances. But there is a danger when you are only running from something. You can end up without direction. On the other hand, there are times in life when we realize that life can and should be more. And we decide to grow and improve. We leave our current situations to expand our hearts and souls, but if we don’t know where we are going, if there is no life itinerary, we can end up spinning our wheels and experience mounting life frustration. It is not just enough to journey “from,” we must also journey “to.” We must create a plan that includes our intended destination. Where do I want to go? Who do I want to be? And then we can each answer the question, how can I get there?
Sometimes we must leave our Be’er Sheva, our current circumstances. We must resist the temptation to only “journey from” and find the courage to “journey to.” If we want the journey to be successful we must identify our destination and chart our course. May we be privileged to find the strength to embark on the journey and may God grant us the wisdom to reach our destination.