Everything cocooned must transform and emerge.
by Jhos Singer
Shabbat Shalom Chaverim—
This week’s Torah portion, Va’yeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3), follows Jacob on his journey away from home and hearth, and into his life as an independent adult. On the first night, he finds himself way out of his comfort zone. He sleeps alone, in the wilderness, a stone for his pillow. And there he dreams an amazing but also unsettling dream in which God promises him everything he has every wanted: land, status, protection, and power. And he wakes up terrified.
“And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said: ‘Surely there was the presence of the Divine in this place—and I didn’t recognize it.’ And he was afraid, and said: ‘How full of awe is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!’ And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.” (Genesis 28:16-18)
The next day, he continues on his way until he arrives at a place where sheep are waiting to be watered. He asks the shepherds if they know his uncle, Laban. They answer, “Of course, and here comes his daughter Rachel right now.”
“And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.” Genesis 29:11
Recognizing Jacob as a kinsman, Rachel brings him home to her family. And so his 36-hour solo journey ends, and the next chapter of his life begins.
The name of the portion, “Va’yeitzei”, means “and he came out”. In last week’s reading this same verb describes the individual births of the twins Jacob and Esau. This edict—that the human experience is built on a pattern of leaving safe, protected, and dependent places for a life of unbounded growth—finds us over and over again as we make our way though our time in the body. It reminds us that every womb has boundaries that limit growth within; at a certain point, everything cocooned must transform and emerge. And every birth comes with some grief or insecurity or solitude—because to be born is to leave something, someone, someplace behind. Jacob has the unique role of being a second born twin. His first experience of birth is not leaving his mother’s body, but being left by his brother. Torah hints to us that in the womb of wild solitude, Jacob undergoes a second birth, breaking free from his role as son, brother, child.
Wrapped in rock and the vast night, his dreams and reality collide. It is here that Jacob finds humility, a glimpse at who and what he might now become. His foibles and puerile concerns fall away as he enters a new life, staring at a frighteningly expansive horizon. As his life takes several twists, oscillating between triumph and setback, Jacob learns how to navigate a non-linear existence. He is the biblical embodiment of staying the course, making amends, and transformation. When we meet him at the beginning of this story he is a treacherous brat; but by the end of the reading, he is a conscientious and courageous adult. It is an amazing, and hard won, metamorphosis.
Torah unflinchingly illuminates the rigors of being human–our weaknesses, and strengths; our moments of vulnerability and vision, loneliness and love. But we are in a constant state of flux—fear gives way to awe, isolation transforms into connection, the child in us matures.
May we find vision in the night, courage in the wilderness, and growth when we least expect it.