Run For Your Life — And Towards It


Candlelighting, Readings:
Shabbat candles: 4:26 p.m.
Torah: genesis 28:10-32:3
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13-14:10

(Ashkenaz); 11:7-12:12 (Sephard)
Havdalah: 5:25 p.m. 

Jacob is running for his life. He and his mother Rebecca colluded to deprive his older brother Esau of his father Isaac’s blessing. Jacob now sets out on life-changing journey to find himself and the direction his life should take.

His grandfather Abraham, too, had been called by God to leave his home and begin a life-changing journey toward a new identity. But Abraham had not gone alone and without means. He took his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, his servants and the wealth that he had amassed. In contrast, Jacob must go alone and poor in search of shelter and support in the land of his devious and scheming father-in-law Laban.

What does Jacob actually have to help him find his way? We soon discover that Jacob has the capacity to dream big dreams. Jacob’s big dreams gives him a life purpose that connects him to the two generations (Abraham and Isaac) before him and to the many generations of a world-transforming people of which he will be a patriarch. He renews the family covenant with a reality far greater than he is; without even knowing it, Jacob can sense sacred places, the places where his dreams connect Heaven and earth. Jacob trusts the relationship that come out of his dreams and lives his life faithful to its spirit, promises and demands.

Jacob also possesses the gifts of compassion and love. He will heroically help the vulnerable Rachel water her flocks. He will instantly love her and seek to marry her. But his way will not be easy. Tricked by an abusive but clever Laban, he will marry two wives — two sisters — who are both competitive and devoted to each other. Jacob, however, is no stranger to a complex and demanding family situation. He shows an impressive talent and ability to prosper within a confusing and often deceptive world run by self-seeking frauds and swindlers. Jacob does not expect a smooth path and an easy life. He is willing to work, serve and sacrifice for his love.

In the end, Jacob will once again run for his life, not from his brother, but from Laban, his powerful, menacing and dominating father-in-law Laban; not away from home but toward it. And this time Jacob will not go poor and alone. He will take his wives, his children, his servants, and his flocks and wealth. And he will take with him the uprightness that he has maintained throughout his trials. His journey has not been about “finding himself.” It has instead been about creating a character that connects him faithfully, responsibly and lovingly to others. It is this mature Jacob who will now have to face his brother Esau from whom he fled so many years before.

As we read the story, we cannot help but ask ourselves: What resources will help us with the difficulties and obstacles we find on our own life journey?

We must learn to dream big dreams that connect us to what came before us and what will come after. We need to find the people and places that take us out of the smallness of ourselves and help us join Heaven and earth. We must live lives of faithfulness to the promises and demands of our dreams. We must not expect an easy life, but instead develop the skills necessary for negotiating a difficult even dark world that is often unfair, confusing, painful and disappointing without losing our own integrity. And we must expand our capacity for compassion and love, and be willing to work and sacrifice in their service.

Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard is on the faculty of Clal – the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and is professor of Jewish law at Humboldt University School of Law in Berlin.