We learn by Parshat Vayeitzei, and in earlier parshiot of Berasheit, that Yaakov represents the middot of Emet for Klal Yisroyal. Truth, and the pursuit of it, is shown to be a slippery path for Yaakov and there is much to be learned from his decisions and the way he carried through with those commitments.
Last week, we met our “Man of the Tents” and witnessed him trading his older brother’s firstborn rights for a bowl of soup, conspiring with his mother to acquire this same blessing from his father, and running for his life to a foreign land. The truth of all this is found in the big picture, it is said, and that the ends DO justify the means.
We catch up with Yaakov this week and find him being cheated right-and-left by his mom’s brother, Lavan. There’s the whole seven years of work for a wife, then switching to the other sister at the wedding, then another seven years for the one he loved thing. Then the rivalry between four wives. Don’t forget being sold for flowers from one wife’s bed to the other’s. Then, the speckled sheep version of the supernatural truth. WOW!
Yaakov was a mess. Could you imagine? Is this is where truth gets you, what makes a paragon of truth? We’re going to have to take a hard look at this.
Just for fun, I looked up truth and found: “the quality or state of being true,” which is just about useless. True means: “in accordance with fact or reality” and that is sure to be a problem, since my main argument comes from an old book believed by the Orthodox Jews to be written on a mountain by Moses as dictated by God himself.
That being what it is, we plow ahead to find the “fact or reality” in Yaakov’s life that we can yank into our own and become a bit more true. Through all the machlochet of his interactions, one thing stands clear; Yaakov did not argue with his fate or bemoan the injustice of it all. He stood there and took it like a man, unlike me, I must add.
When I converted to Orthodox Judaism back in’93, The Beit Din asked me why I would ever want to become a Jew. Didn’t I know that people kill Jews and hate them and that it will mess up your life and everything you know? I was 33 at the time and knew a lot. Heck, I had been to college a bunch of times and had read the classics. Smart guy about to get dumb real quick.
This is what I said: “I have always thirsted for God and found the other religions of the world to be hollow and false when compared to the truth the Jews posses. If you were to send me away a hundred times, I would come back again because I have no choice.”
All these years later, that attitude remains. 25 years as a Frum Jew, hard years, learning years, and it remains. The quest for truth is a hard trail to shake and it has many twists and turns both deceptive and simple. Many would look at my existence and wonder where the truth is to be found in it, especially those who know me well. My own son said “You are wasting your life.” Ouch.
Maybe true, maybe not. Probably variable and ever-changing. Maybe non-existant. Who knows? Does uncertainty remove accountability? Does the road dead-end into frustration and uselessness, in truth? What makes a life worth living and who says so? What truth? Who’s truth? Mine? The one I make up?
Tough questions, and who am I to answer them? What have I gained from all of this that anyone would want anyway? I’ll tell you what; I have learned how to have a nice day sometimes. For me, that’s a big deal. Someone said “the truth will set you free” and I have found that to be a viable, albeit very slow and undependable, path to trod. Man, I can really relate with Yaakov.
If there is anything I want in life, it is the ability to “stand there and take it like a man” rather than deal with the pout and scowl I have to work with. My toolset is woefully inadequate for this truth business, but that doesn’t get me out of it. It just makes it suck.
So, let’s dust off that old book and see if there if there is something useful in it. The parsha begins with Yaakov’s head on a rock on Mount Moriah dreaming of angels going up down a ladder. Ramban and Ibn Ezra both point to this as evidence of God’s active participation in our individual lives, that “angels” climb up for instructions, then descend to execute them. Up and down, up and down, endlessly and constant.
Do we see these angels in our day-to-day and appreciate their efforts? I have found that to be a skill to be cultivated and that spiritual growth is not a matter of entitlement. There is a lot of pain there, and real happiness. There is joy and sorrow, fear and courage, dejection and encouragement, rejection and acceptance. It hurts to grow and change and become, sometimes way too much.
What’s to do? I don’t know. All I can share is my method and maybe you can find your own way. My secret is… ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER. Just keep going and you will get there. That’s what I choose to believe and that’s how I live my life. And, hope for the best. Don’t forget to hope for the best.