Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3)
Becoming an Entrepreneur of Self
This week’s Parsha ends with the pact made by Yaakov (Jacob) and Lavan (Laban) in Gilead. Yaakov and his family left Lavan’s home without telling him, and Lavan pursued and ultimately caught up with them. A formal treaty was made; neither would harm the other or his family. Afterward, the Torah relates,
Laban arose early in the morning and kissed his sons and daughters and blessed them; and Laban went and returned to his place. And Jacob went on his way, and angels of G-d met him. (32:1-2)
The difference between the way Lavan and Yaakov continued on from their encounter is significant. Lavan was the father in law of Yaakov and had witnessed his son in law’s unusually honest business ethic for the twenty years Yaakov and his family lived with Lavan. Yaakov told Lavan, “I put in an honest day’s work. I worked in the night; I worked in the day; I worked in the heat; I worked in the cold.” (31:37-42). Yaakov was a man of G-d whose actions were testimony that he was not pious only in relation to G-d, he was honest with his dealing with men and women also. In Judaism, if you are serious about prayer and other spiritual matters but are not honest in business and personal relations, then you have utterly missed the mark. Yaakov is our model for being right with G-d and man.
We would expect that someone who hosted a person like Yaakov in his house for twenty years to be affected for the better. He would learn to better his ways somewhat, and become wiser through his prolonged exposure to the wisdom and behavior he sees. Lavan, however, took leave of Yaakov and “returned to his place.” He went back to his previous position of beliefs and personality characteristics. Nothing positive had penetrated. Some people are so inspired by a person or event that they make a life change for the better; Lavan had daily exposure to a great man but it had no effect on his behavior and when they parted, Lavan fell back into his morally deficient self-he “returned to his place.”
Yaakov (Jacob), on the other hand, persisted and went “on his way.” The journey never ends for a righteous man or woman. (S)He is always in process of learning and looking for growth opportunities; ways to improve themselves with still greater spiritual accomplishment. The same way an entrepreneur is constantly on the lookout for new talent, resources, and technology, so too is the path of the man or woman who seeks peace of mind and tranquility. If a woman worked for years on her anger and releasing the resentments that were so toxic for her, she is to be commended. However, if she is really serious about her spiritual self, she will still be on the lookout for methods and techniques to ensure that potential feelings of hatred leading to anger are neutralized as fast as possible. She will never let up from her quest for emotional and spiritual growth. When a person (1) chooses to grow in this way, (2) does everything in his or her ability to achieve it, and (3) prays to G-d for success in it, (s)he will be successful. [We are not referring to sickness or other things determined by G-d. We are speaking specifically about one’s ability to control one’s thoughts, actions, and especially how to react to the daily barrage of challenges each of us encounter.]
What happened to Yaakov (Jacob) when he went “on his way;” the way of the entrepreneur of spirit and emotion? His quest was immediately answered with a spiritual encounter-“and G-d’s angels met up with him.”
There are many points in life when two people are in the same situation but their choices set each of them on a different path. Two longtime friends discover that each has been plagued by fear; they decide to go to a lecture on the subject. One person is motivated to seek therapy and other methods to learn how to deal with and eventually overcome the fear whereas the other decides that the emotional commitment and facing the truth involved are not worth it. Two people can be exposed to a person or event, yet one will “return to his place” whereas the other will go “on his way.”
Two characteristics of habitually unhappy people are stagnancy and complacency. There is a lack of motivation for ambition to progress, advance, grow and improve. They stubbornly and arrogantly insist upon the adequacy of their current standing, and so they stay in place.
The fact that Lavan “returned to his place” even after his experiences with his righteous son-in-law showed what kind of person he was. People with an interest in learning and growth would relish the opportunity to bask in the presence of a towering figure like Yaakov (Jacob), and return from such an encounter with a spiritual charge. But Lavan simply “returned to his place,” unaffected by his exposure to the righteous patriarch. Contrast that with Yaakov, who could never just “return to his place” and remain where he was; he chose to go “along his way,” moving forward along the lifelong pursuit of being and remaining significant.
It is no coincidence that Yaakov’s personality is often associated with his dream of the “ladder stationed in the ground, whose head reached the heavens” (28:12). He exemplifies the desire to constantly rise and ascend, to achieve heavenly perfection even though he was stationed here on earth. Our nation bears his name – we are called Am Yisrael-the people of Israel (Jacob’s name was changed to “Israel.”). As such we bear the responsibility to follow his example and live lives characterized by constant progress and growth.
Next time you are inspired by a person or event that causes you to reconsider an impulse, urge, or even general ideology, ask yourself, will I leave this place and “return to my place” or will I “go on my way,” the way of way of self-realization and growth? Although it might not be as pleasant at first, it is the surest path to happiness and the serene state of mind we all desire.
(Source: based on
Meshech Chochmah, 32:1-2)