My sermon for this past Shabbat’s auf ruf
This week’s Torah portion features one of the best love scenes in the entire Torah. Jacob, after fleeing from the wrath of his brother and having the dream of the ladder with ascending and descending angels, arrives in Haran, seeking out his uncle Laban. Upon arriving there, he sees his cousin Rachel coming to water her sheep. Rachel could not water the sheep until all the shepherds roll the stone off the well. All the shepherds are needed to roll the stone, indicating its immense size. However, in a moment of passion Jacob rolls off the stone all by himself! He then waters all of the sheep, kisses Rachel and cries.
What a romantic scene! The knight in shining armor comes to chivalrously help the maiden in need and has a moment of superhuman strength to accomplish the necessary task. He then gets the girl, brings her home and decides to marry her. However, the task is not so easy. Uncle Laban makes Jacob work in the family business for 7 years, promising that he will give Jacob his beloved Rachel after that point. Jacob agrees and has so much passion for Rachel that the years pass by as if they were days. However, Laban tricks Jacob, giving him a veiled Leah instead! Jacob marries the wrong girl and is forced to work an additional 7 years for his beloved Rachel.
This story illustrates what I believe is a crucial life lesson: marriage takes hard work (literally)! What begins as a moment of passion, an infatuation or crush over another in a fairy-tale serenity will eventually be beset with the work involved in maintaining a marriage. That does not mean that the initial passion is forgotten or that the love goes away: the text indicates that Jacob stayed in love with Rachel for his entire life. However, that initial love blossoms into something even more beautiful: the creation of a new household. Two become one.
This line of thinking is consistent with the first line of the commentary: “And Jacob went out from Beer Sheva and he went to Haran.” Commentators ask why both parts of the verse are necessary? Surely it would have been enough to just say “Jacob went to Haran.” This is further troubling to commentators because the Bible never specified when Avraham and Isaac went out, so why does it do it for Jacob?
An answer to this is provided by Ephraim of Luntshitz, a 16th century commentator whose commentary is entitled Kli Yakar. Ephraim said that unlike Abraham and Isaac, Jacob removed his thoughts from the place where his parents lived. He quotes the Yalkut Shimoni, a 13th century Midrash, which says that Jacob’s sole focus became his new home in Haran with Rachel and Leah. The midrash sees this as the central idea to be taken from the verse “A man should leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife.” Therefore, Jacob’s going out, as indicated in the verse, was not merely a physical journey but a transformed mindset, focusing on his present life conditions rather than his past.
I would emend the biblical verse to indicate that while one might physically leave his/her parents upon getting married, s/he does not leave the teachings and values that his/her parents have taught. These go forward to setting up the new marriage and the present-day family dynamics. We take what we learned from growing up with our parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and siblings as well as what we have learned from the world experience over the years and we add them to our household.
I think there is a lesson here for all of us: the importance of living in accordance with where we are now as opposed to where we were in the past. To be like Jacob and Rachel, like Robert and Bari, and go out into a new present reality, is a challenge, yet it is one that I think we should all embrace. This does not mean to completely disregard the past, nor does it mean to disregard the opinions from family members who know us, love us and care about us. What it means is to not let our past perceptions of ourselves get in the way of where we are now. Let us strive to be like Jacob and Rachel, continually basing our mindset on our present day reality. In so doing, we will always be prepared to embrace today as it truly is and to make meaningful decisions about our present day lives.