Blog Vayetze Kislev 9 5780 בלוג וַיֵּצֵא, ט’ כסלו תש”פ
When I say that I do not like religion, I mean that people confuse religion with having a relationship with the Creator. Religion gives people all the answers but I, as a rabbi challenge you to think for yourself. Religious leaders can be very wise or holy, but they are only expressing their opinion about what the Creator is telling us. We are each special, having been made in His likeness and image with a unique purpose and the Creator speaks to each of us in ways that we can understand if we take the time to look…through chance meetings, circumstances, or even when someone says something resonates with us.
Jacob fled in fear from his home and his brother Esau. He left behind everything he knew. His father Isaac had advised him to escape to his mother, Rivkah‘s family, far away from the Canaanite women. Isaac held onto the hope that his line and calling would continue through Jacob. I can relate to Jacob; it is scary to leave home, without knowing where you are going or if there is anyone you can trust. We look for signs that God is with us on this journey. Jacob stopped at a place … “makom – מָּקוֹם”… a word that is repeated three times for emphasis. The translation says that he used a stone as a pillow. He utilized the stone as a pillar, “matseva – מַצֵּבָה”, a standing stone to mark a special place, as at the graves in every Jewish cemetery. It was used in the desert to protect the person from creatures such as scorpions or snakes. He fell asleep and had a dream, “chalom – חֲלֹם”, an indication of how the Creator spoke to him. He saw messengers, angels, ascending and descending on a ladder. These messengers were going up to Hashamayim, to heaven where the Creator would give them a message to bring down to Jacob. He was telling Jacob that he was not alone, that he had a special role to play, and repeating the same promise that his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham had received.
Jacob’s prayer in response, began with a conditional “if” for the Creator. Biblical Judaism interprets this differently than Rabbinic Judaism. Jacob was asking for a sign to be sure that God would be with him. The Creator never expects us to be perfect in the way man does. The words of Rabbi Yeshua “be perfect as my father in heaven is perfect” was misquoted. He was quoting words from Leviticus 19:2 “be holy as I am holy” which refers to being separated. If the Creator was asking us to be perfect before we could to be in a relationship with Him, not one of our forefathers would have attained this. That is the picture which Jacob paints for us. He used to follow people; first, he followed his mother who asked him to deceive his father and later we see that Jacob followed his uncle and later his father-in-law Lavan, who deceived him. There is a Hebrew expression, “midat keneged midat – מידה כנגד מידה” – measure for measure – we get what we give. Jacob finally understood that everything he had, came from the Creator without whom, he could not succeed in anything, but first, he would have to deal with his humanity. His problems weren’t solved instantly. He would have to go through many trials before he was able to change.
Rivkah came from a family where deception was normal, and this was passed on to Leah and Rachel who together with Lavan, played a part in the deception of Jacob on his wedding night. Jacob had deceived his father and brother, stealing the rights of the firstborn and now he would taste his own medicine and marry the firstborn, Leah. Let us remember that the stories of our forefathers show us that our pedigree is far from perfect, but the Bore Olam is always with us when we fail, and He always allows us to return to him to make things right. In spite of everything he went through, Jacob was sent back to his land. Up to that time, he had been loyal to people; now he would be loyal to the Creator. He would have to gather his courage and leave Lavan, using deception once again allowing Lavan to also receive just measure for what he had done. Rachel also shows us how imperfect we are. She was Jacob’s beloved, but when they left to return to Israel, she stole the family idols. Sadly, Jacob spoke out without knowing what she had done and condemned to death the one who had lied, in this case, his beloved Rachel. Our words carry consequences.
We tend to idealize the heroes of the Bible, but the Torah shows them as they were so that we can relate to them in our own lives and learn from them that our Creator accepts us for who we are. We don’t need to seek perfection; what we need to do is to come before him in humility and honesty. That’s how we do teshuva, return to him and he is faithful to cleanse us and help us to begin again, to continue.
As Jacob returned to his land, we also return. If we are doing wrong, we need to stop and make things right, here and now. It is a constant struggle to find balance in our lives but when we are honest with ourselves and the Bore Olam, there is hope for growth and change. We begin by deciding to not lie to ourselves about who we are. That is what Jacob had to do. Then we can see that the God in whom we trust is the God of Beginning again.