Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayetze
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

Our father Yaakov faced many difficult challenges in his long and tumultuous life. This week’s parsha highlights one of the major challenges that any individual can face – a physical and emotional disconnect from one’s family and familiar surroundings. To add to this challenge’s complexity there is the fact that he is forced to live in a very hostile environment. His work goes exploited and unappreciated, his wages and payment uncertain and constantly subject to change and readjustment and his family life is tense and sometimes even disruptive. In light of all of this the visionary challenge of expanding on the works of his parents and grandparents in developing a special people that will lead humanity to connect with its Creator seems to be almost an insurmountable one. Yet, Yaakov, who symbolizes truth and Torah in Jewish tradition, still somehow never loses sight of his true goal of nation-building and creating a unity out of the diversity of a large family and imposingly different personalities. That is what is meant by the truth of Yaakov. He is true to his own identity, refusing to remodel himself in the model of his father-in-law or the general society of Haran. He is true to his self-identity, his family’s traditions and faith. And he remains eternally true to his goals, the long-term vision of influencing all of humanity through his family and faith teachings. There can be no greater expression of truth that consistency in living a moral life and the expression of that truth in daily living and so-called "ordinary" behavior.

Over all of the length of Jewish history the major challenge faced by the Jewish people, collectively and individually, has been remaining true to itself. As a small minority forced to exist in a largely hostile world and environment some of the Jews always attempted to blend in and adopt the majority persona. When living in Haran then be like Lavan was their mantra. Again all of Jewish history clearly indicates that this was a faulty if not even fatal wrong choice. The only thing that works for the Jewish people, again collectively and individually, is being true unto itself and one’s self. We are witness today to the havoc wrought by all of the assimilationist trends and movements within the Jewish societies of various countries and cultures over the past two centuries. They were all so progressive and cutting-edge that they have practically conjured themselves into irrelevance and extinction. There are other movements and ideologies that walk the Jewish street today that have replaced those previously failed ideas and programs. But the test for their longevity and true success remains the same as it always has been – are they true to the tradition and vision of our father Yaakov. For that is the ultimate arbiter of Yaakov’s truth and eternal vision. Everything modern soon becomes obsolete and temporary popularity and faddishness recedes into the ridiculously absurd dustbin of failed ideas. Judaism is not opposed to change and progress. But it is above all necessary to remain true unto itself.
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