In this week’s parsha, Jacob leaves his hometown of Beer Sheva. He has just received a blessing that was intended for his brother Esau by impersonating him and deceiving their father. Jacob must forever leave behind everything and everyone familiar to him.
The story of Jacob is not a simple story of struggle and salvation. Hardship continues to pummel him over the next twenty years, beginning subtly during his first night alone, when he must use a stone as his pillow. The next day, his uncle Laban harbors him in a neighboring town. Although at first Laban seems friendly and hospitable, he deceives Jacob again and again. Laban tricks Jacob into marrying his oldest daughter Leah, when Jacob really wants to marry the younger Rachel, and he tricks repeatedly him in their business dealings. The level of distrust is so high that Jacob takes his household and flees in secret, for fear that Laban will renege on every promise he’s made.
Is this a Jewish lesson in karma? Maybe. But there’s another insight I take from this story. Throughout this chapter, we see Jacob’s troubles punctuated by moments of clarity, elation, and success. He does not let his troubles get him down; instead he accepts the situation he is in and remains open to spiritual signs, emotions, and opportunities. In his dream that first night, with his cheek against the rock, he sees angels moving up and down a ladder to heaven and feels the presence of G-d. His openness allows him to experiences love so profound that he lifts an enormous stone off a well with superhuman strength, and 7 years of labor feels to him like just a few days. He uses his time working for Laban to build his own wealth through some cunning sheep breeding practices. He meets angels again after reconciling with his uncle, and they escort Jacob and his family back to the holy land he had fled. He sires 12 sons – the population boost required to truly form the Jewish nation promised in the birthright he took from Esau.
It can be comforting to fit ourselves into the typical hero archetype – climb the mountain, slay the dragon, live happily ever after – life experience often tells a different story. I find that no matter how many times I rise to meet life’s many challenges, there is always another one coming down the pike. At times, it can be discouraging. Is life really just a series of struggles and disappointments? The story of Jacob tells us that it’s not. Though he labors in the physical world, he remains open to the emotion of love and to spiritual signs that make him feel at peace in the world. Jacob is a master of accepting the things he cannot change. It’s because of his acceptance that he is able to change the things that he can.
My kavannah for this week is the principle demonstrated by Jacob’s acceptance. It was only when he accepted sleeping on a pillow of stone that he glimpsed angels. When we accept the unchangeable, uncomfortable circumstances in our own lives, we become free to focus on all the positive things around us. Meditation is a time for all the complaints and disappointments in our minds to quiet down so that when we open our eyes, we are better able to navigate the challenges life brings us.