How to Fortify Yourself Before Facing
By Simon Jacobson
November 22, 2001
Everything that happened to the patriarchs is an indication
for their children
Midrash Tanchuma Lech Lecho 9. Bereishis Rabba
All the events that happened with the Patriarchs
[Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] come to teach us about the future
were shown what would happen to their descendants
- Ramban Lech Lecho 12:6. Bechayei on this weeks
[Jacob] dreamed and saw a ladder standing
on the ground and its top reached up toward heaven. G-ds
angels were ascending and descending on it (this weeks
portion, Genesis 28:12) He was shown the future empires
that would rule the world
Midrash Tanchuma beginning of this weeks
portion. Pirkei Drebbi Eliezer ch. 25 (cited in Bechaya
and Ramban ibid). See Rambam Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 7:3)
Since September 11th I have been
spontaneously writing a running commentary on the historical
events of our times. Being trained in Torah study my entire
life, I naturally gravitate to the Bible and its commentaries
to make sense of this chaos and uncertainty.
One can sense that there is something happening
that is unfathomably larger than any one man or even
all of us together can comprehend. When events reach
and affect a critical mass, as the events since September
11th have done, it is simply impossible to predict
or even project what will happen. Particularly when the enemy
is so obfuscated cloaked in the shadows of deep-rooted
religious beliefs; ideologies that are foreign to many of
us; expressed in the twisted arms of terrorism; a war being
fought in unfamiliar hills of the Middle East and Asia --
no one can imagine what, if anything, will come next.
When conventional paradigms dont work,
we have no other choice but to step back and look for a new
perspective, and it always helps to stare into history and
connect the dots. For me this means delving into the Torah,
a document that has been traveling with us for thousands of
And in it we do find all the seeds for the characters
and players of today. Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac,
To my own surprise each week as I sit down to
study the weekly Torah portion, the Biblical stories all come
alive in context of todays events.
But, as complacency began to creep back into
our lives, and we all so want to return to some semblance
of normalcy (whatever that means), to the world of September
10, I must confess that my own denial began whispering
intriguing thoughts in my ear, seducing me into the lull of
what more is there to say? You have already outlined
the major players: Abraham, father of nations; Ishmael, father
of Arabs/Muslims; Isaac, father of Jews; Esau, father of the
West and their interactions which foretell the events
of our times. What more can possibly be said?!
Yet, I have a self-imposed necessity to give
my weekly class in New York City, and must therefore look
into the Torah portion, and there lies the undoing of my complacency:
When you read the continuing saga, you just cannot ignore
its profound relevance.
And so, my commentary continues.
After Esaus notorious marriage to Ishmaels
daughter (at the end of last weeks portion), the Torah
gets back to Jacobs journey to Charan, which as you
may recall was for two reasons: 1) To escape the wrath of
his brother Esau following Jacobs stealing of his blessings
2) To find a wife for himself.
Vayeitzei Yaakov mBeer Sheva
vayelech Charono, Jacob leaves Beersheba and travels
toward Charan. In this journey Jacob has his renowned dream
where he sees the vision of a ladder standing on
the ground and its top (head) reached up toward heaven. G-ds
angels were ascending and descending on it.
G-d then promises Jacob, I am G-d of
Abraham your father and G-d of Isaac. I will give you and
your descendants the land upon which you are lying. Your descendants
will be [plentiful] like the dust of the earth. You shall
spread out to the west, to the east, to the north and to the
south. All the families on earth will be blessed through you
and your descendants.
G-d continues: I am with you. I will
protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this soil.
I will not turn aside from you until I have fully kept this
promise to you.
The parsha continues with Jacob going on his
way, arriving in Charan, marrying and building his family
there eleven of the twelve tribes. Jacob spends twenty
years in Charan, working for his father-in-law Laban as a
sheperd, tending to his large flocks. This weeks chapter
concludes with Jacob and his family leaving Charan and returning
to the land of his fathers, Canaan, only to confront Esau
in next weeks Torah portion.
Jacob and Esau represent two nations
in a perpetual struggle (see last weeks article). In
cosmic terms they embody the battle between matter and spirit,
between your body and soul, between the G-dly and the mundane.
In historical terms the battle between religion and
science, between faith and modern (Western) culture, between
the religious and the secular. In personal terms the
battle between selfishness and dedication to a higher calling.
The battle between Esau and Jacob lays the ground
for all the battles to come in future generations. By understanding
this conflict and how it is dealt with, we can learn how we
should act when facing our own challenges, our own version
of the Jacob/Esau confrontation.
The battle lines between Esau and Jacob are
drawn in last weeks portion, when Jacob buys
the birthright from Esau and then proceeds to steal
his blessings (in Esaus words: first he took my
birthright and now he took my blessing). Esau is furious
and wants to kill his brother.
But before a confrontation takes place Jacob
is sent away by his parents to Charan to get married. During
the twenty years that Jacob is away he is in essence preparing
himself for the final and inevitable confrontation with Esau.
Spirit and matter are diametrically opposed
to each other. Before you are ready to confront the harsh
material world, you must bolster and strengthen yourself by
building a home and family, a nurturing oasis a secure
launch pad, if you will, which imbues you with confidence
to achieve all your goals. A soaring bird must have a secure
nest. A true home is a place where you are completely comfortable.
A healthy childhood is the time in your life when you are
nurtured and protected. This allows you to build strength
and develop resources, defensive and offensive tools to then
go out into a difficult adult world and not only not be hurt,
but with the power and confidence to transform the material
world into a Divine home.
Before Jacob could face Esau, he built his home
in Charan. No small feat, mind you. Charan is a corrupt place.
Charan actually means wrath of G-d,
signifying the G-dlessness of Charan. Laban is an artist of
deceit and deception. Jacob does not have an easy time. Nevertheless
he prevails and builds a home, a powerful and nurturing domain.
Jewish mysticism teaches that there are stages
in refining yourself and the world. First Jacob begins with
the relatively easier task with Laban in Charan, and only
then can he approach the more difficult Esau challenge. Jacobs
work in tending to Labans flocks of sheep represents
the building of the spiritual cosmic order, the structure
and building blocks that give us the tools to then enter and
transform the material universe and confront the Esaus
of our lives.
Thus Jacobss journey to Charan in this
weeks Torah portion signifies the beginning of each
of our journeys into the real world. Following Esaus
attempt to join forces with Ishmael against Isaac and Jacob
by marrying Ishmaels daughter (see last weeks
article), Jacob escapes to build a home and fortify himself
in order to be able to face the Esau battles ahead.
As Jacob leaves Israel (Canaan) to travel to
Charan, G-d shows him a vision of angels climbing and descending
a ladder. He shows him the rise and fall of nations to come,
how they would climb and dominate the world, and then fall
a similar vision to the one G-d showed his grandfather
Abraham (see previous article titled Abrahams
Vision). And G-d tells him not to be afraid. I am
with you. I will protect you wherever you go and bring you
back to this soil. I will not turn aside from you until I
have fully kept this promise to you.
By showing Jacob this vision G-d is preparing
him as he prepared Abraham for what is to come,
and is giving him, and all of us, the tools to face these
challenges and prevail.
The message for each of us today is clear:
To face the battles of life you must first fortify
your inner life. You must build a strong inner core
a home and family that provides you with the security and
confidence to handle any force or enemy from without.
As we face enemies known or unknown,
and especially the worst enemy of all, the enemy of fear and
uncertainty we must build inner security, a safe home.
A true home begins in your soul. You must have
a place inside of you where you are completely comfortable.
Peace at the center a place where you feel at home
with your calling and your purpose. You must make your peace
with G-d, peace with your soul peace with the mission
for which you were uniquely chosen and sent to earth.
When you allow G-d in, G-d tells you: I
am with you. I will protect you wherever you go. No
matter the challenge, regardless which enemy or which battle
when you connect to G-d you have the power to overcome
and conquer with a buoyant spirit anything and everything.
Jacobs vision promises us that the nations
that dominate the ladder will ultimately fall. When you lack
faith and trust in G-d, then you become enslaved and victimized
by dominating nations and forces around us.
Prevail will be those that climb the ladder
together with G-d. With faith in G-d you can conquer all,
and you then climb the ladder and never descend.
 See maamar im lovon garti Ohr
HaTorah Vayishlach 231a. 5742. Vayishlach 5666.
 Bechaya and Ramban on our portion, 28:12.
 See Vayikra Rabba 29:2.