Have you recently looked for a job? Do you remember the first time you searched for employment?
I’m sure you put in a lot of preparation. Did you polish up your resume? Maybe take some extra classes or get special certification for the career that you were perusing?
How about when you first realized which person you’d like to spend the rest of your life with?
You probably fixed up your appearance, wanting to show your best side. You must have made sure to brush up on your manners and etiquette.
When starting a new chapter in life, we know how important it is to prepare for what lies ahead.
This week’s Torah portion tells of how our father, Yaakov, set out to find a bride, begin a new career and establish the House of Israel. Leaving his sheltered life in his parents’ home, he must have spent a lot of time preparing for success in a new environment.
From the stories we read in the upcoming Torah portions, we know that Yaakov was traveling to Charan, a place where the business culture was very cut-throat and extremely unethical. Lavan, Yaakov’s uncle, boss and future father-in-law, was the shadiest of all. Knowing this, Yaakov must have prepared and done things to give himself a leg up.
Surprisingly, the Torah makes no mention of any preparation on Yaakov’s part. Instead, the details that are shared seem puzzling.
Upon saying goodbye to his parents, Yaakov spent years studying Torah before actually leaving for Charan. Then, after nearly completing his journey, Yaakov returned to visit the future site of the Holy Temple. There, he offered specific and special prayers for the success of his journey.
Prayer and Torah study?! What type of preparation was that?
After praying, Yaakov found a place to rest overnight. He set up a stone barrier around himself to hide from animals. However, he only surrounded his head with the stones. His body was left open, vulnerable and unprotected.
Why did he only surround his head? And what type of protection did that really provide?
Yaakov recognized that his journey wasn’t only a personal one. He knew that he was being tasked with establishing the Jewish nation, who would then be given the Torah, the purpose of which would be to elevate and transform the entire world. His children would be tasked with imbuing the coarse and physical world with spirituality and holiness through performing mitzvot with physical worldly objects.
Such a responsibility could be overwhelming. The constant need to engage with the coarseness of the world could possibly lead to succumbing to the physical temptations of the world.
So his preparations focused on setting his head straight and protecting and maintaining his priorities. The first steps he took were to strengthen his connection with G-d and pray for success to be able to interact and elevate the physical and mundane.
Today, it’s often tough to see the positive and inherent good in our surroundings. The world has never been more advanced, accepting and “aware.” Yet, the world is far from perfect and holy.
World hunger hasn’t been solved. Human trafficking of all kinds still exists. Crime is rampant wherever people live. Basic freedoms aren’t enjoyed throughout large parts of the world. Racial, religious and political hate, as well as many other forms of hate, are still very real. It can feel impossible and overwhelming for us to be able to make a difference or bring about true change through our actions.
When we feel that way, we need to take a page from Yaakov’s playbook and remember our priorities.
We can do so by setting aside time -- daily, weekly or as often as one need -- to connect with G-d. Let’s remind ourselves of our higher purpose in life and of the trust that G-d put in us the ability to make the world a better place.
And then, when we interact and connect with others, we can share that positivity and holiness. One interaction at a time, we’ll feel fulfilled, our friends will feel great and the world will truly be a holier place. JN
Rabbi Moshe Levertov directs the Jewish Care Network in Phoenix.