Feet on the Ground, Head in the Sky
Our parasha begins with Yaakov on the run; every aspect of his life is complicated. Although he leaves his hometown laden with blessings, at least some of these blessings were obtained under false pretenses. His relationships with each of the members of his family are clouded by these blessings, as is the journey on which he has embarked: Why is he going? Has he set out to find a bride, or is he a fugitive hoping to escape his brother’s wrath? Is he heeding his father’s wishes or his mother’s advice?
How had things become so complicated? Yaakov’s life had once been simple, straightforward; he had led a spiritual and cerebral existence, happily ensconced in the tent of study. How had things come so far? How had his situation become so impossible? His mother had instructed him to dupe his father; heeding her instructions would have been wrong, and disobeying her instructions would have been wrong. What choice did he have? And worse, how would this affect his relationship with God? Now that the deed was done, how would God react to these blessings and the way they were obtained? Would blessings attained in this manner have any potency or validity? Perhaps Yaakov could take solace in the fact that his departure for Padan Aram was something both his parents agreed upon, albeit for different reasons.
In fact, Yitzchak and Rivka seemed to see their sons from totally different perspectives. Fortunately, readers of the text can pinpoint the crucial point of departure between these perspectives: Yitzchak saw his two sons as part of one family. His own early experience may have reinforced his desire to keep his sons together, united. Despite their different personalities, Yitzchak saw Yaakov and Esav as brothers, members of a single family and progenitors of one nation. It was his sincere hope that each of them would perfect their unique attributes, and together, as a united team, they would divide between them the responsibilities and capabilities that would bring God’s blessing to fruition. Yaakov envisioned a partnership between the spiritual man of the tents and the powerful man of the fields.
Rivka’s perspective was totally different. She saw her two sons as progenitors of two separate nations. Her insight was based upon “inside information:”
“God said to her, 'Two nations are in your womb. Two governments will separate from inside you.” (Bereishit 25:23)
Rivka understood that the personalities of her two sons were irreconcilable; these two nations would be in conflict, not in harmony. They would be working towards opposing goals, not as two halves of a united whole. This insight compelled her to push Yaakov into Yitzchak’s room, to insure that her spiritual son would be given the blessings of physical and economic strength that would insure his survival. For his part, Yaakov much preferred to be a man of the tents, an occupation and outlook that surely conjured up memories and comparisons to his illustrious grandfather Avraham. On the other hand, Esav bore a striking similarity to Avraham’s nemesis, the first “great hunter” - Nimrod. Yitzchak envisioned a partnership between these titans. If Yaakov and Esav could join forces, bringing together the great spiritual power of Avraham with the great political and military might of Nimrod, unparalleled greatness could be achieved. Rivka understood that this merger was not to be; both of these roles would have to fall on the shoulders of Yaakov alone.
Yaakov obeys his mother and defers to the Divine insight she possesses. Despite Yitzchak’s great utopic dream, Rivka has clarity of vision and purpose. Yaakov must step up and accept the dual role, despite his own proclivities and preferences. He must acquire both blessings - the physical, political and economic blessing that Yitzchak had intended to give to Esav, as well as the spiritual blessing– the promise God had made to Avraham which included inheriting the Land of Israel – that had always been intended for him. The question is – will God agree? Will He stand behind both of these blessings, or will the subterfuge involved in obtaining them invalidate one or both?
And if God does agree, how will Yaakov live up to this dual task? How will he reinvent himself? Can this man of the tents now become a man of the field? Can he live up to the challenges that these blessings will inevitably bring in their wake? How will Yaakov deal with the tension between the two opposing aspects of his life?
All of these questions are answered in the beginning of this Parasha. God appears to Yaakov and assures him that the blessings given to Avraham – all of the blessings that Yitzchak had given him – will indeed come to fruition. Yaakov is the chosen one, and he will be the patriarch of a great nation that will inherit the Land of Israel.
The specific vision that Yaakov sees, of a ladder reaching from the ground up to the heavens, is particularly apt. With this image, Yaakov is able to process and assimilate the upheaval in his life, and to begin to forge his new reality. From the moment he leaves his father’s home, Yaakov becomes immersed in an unfamiliar reality – the life of the man of the field. Yaakov understands that he will have to find a way to do what Esav would not: To create harmony between the physical, mundane life of the field and the spiritual life of the tents of study and prayer. The vision of the ladder is, at one and the same time, an expression of Yaakov’s mission, and an expression of God’s assurance that Yaakov is capable of fulfilling this mission – of creating a merger of these two opposites, the physical and the spiritual. This is the life to which Yaakov will aspire, and the imperative he bequeaths to each and every one of his descendants: His feet planted firmly on the ground, and his head reaching up to the heavens.
For a more in-depth analysis see: http://arikahn.blogspot.co.il/2014/11/audio-and-essays-parashat-vayetze.html