“And Yaakov went out” – This seemingly innocent opening of our parasha is really not as simple as it may appear. Think about it: From where is Yaakov going out, and where is he going to? He is departing from Yitzchak and Rivka’s warm home, from the cozy tent (as the verse says, “he dwelled in tents”), from a pure and wholesome environment (and Yaakov was “tam”, meaning wholesome or pure). And where is he headed? To a cold, cruel world of murderers and swindlers. Yaakov, a wholesome, pure man, whose only desire is to serve God, finds himself fleeing from his brother who wants to kill him. He is on the way to a place he is not at all familiar with. Sure, it’s his uncle. But what kind of uncle is this? Lavan the Aramite, the cheat and scoundrel. Does Yaakov really need all this grief?
Remember, Yaakov tried to avoid all of this in the first place. It wasn’t his idea to steal the blessings, which was what got him into this mess in the first place. It was his righteous mother who incited him to do it. Yaakov wanted to sit in his tent, to bask in the radiance of his father, to absorb Torah from him, to elevate himself spiritually. And now? He is alone and unsure of his destination, with but a stick in his hand. This is a situation he never dreamed he would find himself in. And again, where is he headed? To his uncle. If he only knew what waits for him there. With brothers and uncles like that, who needs enemies? How are we supposed to understand this? Why does God wish to see Yaakov go through all these difficult circumstances? Esau, Lavan, and let us remember his greatest sorrow of all – the loss of Yosef. Why doesn’t God allow this righteous man, whose entire life’s goal is to sit in the tent of Torah and serve God – why doesn’t God allow him to fulfill his aspirations? Instead, this man of enormous potential must waste his thoughts and his efforts in scheming how to avoid his murderous brother. Is this not a waste of talent. Isn’t there a more optimal way this spiritual giant can utilize his time? What is the reason for all these trials and tribulations which befall Yaakov, turning his life into one of brutal hardships, a life he himself later sums up as: – “few and evil have the days of the years of my life been.”
No Tranquility for The Righteous
In order to understand, “And Yaakov went out”, we must understand “And Yaakov sat”, which is two parashas ahead of us. On this seemingly mundane phrase, “And Yaakov sat”, the sages tell us: “Yaakov desired to sit in peace, but there sprang upon him the troubles of Yosef. When the righteous desire to sit in tranquility, the Almighty says: Is it not sufficient for the righteous that which is prepared for them in the world to come, but they seek to sit in tranquility in this world too!” (Rashi, at beginning of parasha)
What is so wrong about wanting to sit in tranquility? Don’t the righteous deserve it? This is basically the same question we have been asking all along. And the answer is a resounding, No! The righteous are not supposed to sit in tranquility. Yaakov was put on this earth to be a “And Yaakov went out” man, and not a “And Yaakov sat” type of person. This is a novel idea in this generation. For up to now, we have been taught that the complete Jew is one who spends all his time learning in the Beit Midrash. Not true. There is a time for sitting in the Beit Midrash, and a time to go out to the people. People are suffering. There are ideals that must be fought for. There are problems that must be solved.
Yaakov as a Symbol For Us
Therefore, it is wrong to think that Yaakov “went to waste” wandering and investing energies to foil con-men and murderers. All these experiences, which may seem as needless aggravation and wastes of time, bring the Jew to loftier heights. A Jew who must face all this while remaining steadfast in spreading God’s word and doing the right things; who takes on the wicked and does it all out of a connection to God and guidance from the Torah he is engrossed in during every moment available to him – such a Jew reaches far greater heights than the one who dismisses himself from such “politics”, and enters only the Beit Midrash.
Yaakov is a symbol for the sons who succeed him, the nation of Israel. Yaakov does not sit in tranquility. The days of Messiah have not yet arrived. Jew! In this world there are problems which are sometimes difficult, and one must deal with them, and if necessary, to fight them. This is part of your destiny. Why do you think there is Esau and Lavan in this world? For you! They did not sprout up by themselves. God created them! They exist in order to harass the wholesome Jew. They exist to test him. And the tests are difficult ones. True, you do not have to go and look for tests. But don’t worry, because they will find you. Each one according to what has been designated for him. But take comfort, Jew: In the end, these tests and trials mold you and give you the chance to reach greater heights, and to prove your faith and trust in God. And that is what being a Jew is all about.
The “gedolim” of all generations, who are our guiding light from the days of Avraham until today – they are people who never fled from struggles. When Yaakov starts to fatigue, and it happens, God throws all kinds of events his way – events which awaken him from the cocoon of tranquility he tries to curl himself into. They awaken him and say: Yaakov, Yaakov, there is no rest in this world. Don’t worry, don’t take it too hard – if you only knew what awaits you in the next world! And then he is awakened and inspirited, anxious to do battle. We are amazed to see Yaakov, this pure and simple man being forced to deal with the devious Lavan, and overcoming him. Sure, Yaakov is “tam”, but when he leaves his tent, he knows how to deal with evil…