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Parashat Vayetzei

December 2, 2022
8 Kislev 5783
Genesis 28:10 - 32:3


Dear Friends,

are short this time of year and demands that we keep going even as darkness falls. Although recent sunsets have been glorious, we are being asked to be resilient and ignore the obstacles that this time of year represents.

With that in mind it seems fitting that our Torah portion, Vayetzei, "he went out" (Genesis 28:10 - 32:3), focuses on Jacob’s journey from the home of his parents to his uncle’s house and then back home again. It is a journey twenty years in the making.

When we look at Jacob, what do we see? He is certainly not perfect and his life’s journey is filled with obstacles, whether having the woman he loves substituted for her older sister, being cheated by his father-in-law or, in upcoming parts of his story, being told that his favorite child has been killed. He does not face all of these moments with equanimity. Yet he does experience two episodes that have transcendent qualities. And, of course, we have taken on the name that he is given -- Israel. 

What is there about this imperfect man, this trickster, this man who survives one calamity after another, that we should look to him for inspiration and hope? He is resilient. He manages to go forward, to keep going in the face of obstacles. His life has many dark episodes and yet he seems to be strengthened and have learned from those moments of transcendence, although the lessons are not immediately absorbed. Of all of the patriarchs, he is the great survivor.

Let us look at the moment at the beginning of his journey when he dreams an incredible dream. Jacob is our man of the moment. As he awakens from his dream, one senses that he does not know what to make of it. He wakes from his dream and says “God was in this place and I, I did not know.” Jacob does not know what to make of this experience even as he provides an offering to the Divine. Our tradition offers different explanations of Jacob’s insight of God’s presence and his not knowing. Jacob is in a place of deep confusion and uncertainty. He is graphically reminded of both the potentiality of the Divine within himself, as well as the understanding that he is more than his own ego and the awareness of the difficult work that he needs to do to feel the presence of the Divine. But this knowledge is not apparent all at once.

The part of Jacob that we can look to for support is his resilience and his ability to grow and change. Unlike his grandfather Abraham, who comes across as serene even when offering his son or his father, and Isaac who is withdrawn, Jacob loved, feared, and spent more time away from his homeland than any other patriarch. Jacob endures and persists -- qualities that speak to us in the moment in which we find ourselves. His survival instincts are to be admired. But he does more than survive -- he recovers.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l so eloquently put it “to try, to fall, to fear, and yet to keep going: that is what it takes to be a leader…” And I would add that it is the ability to recover and be resilient is what we need at this moment.

May we have the strength to believe in ourselves and do what needs doing in our lives and in the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784