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How the Light Gets In
Why Jacob? That is the question we find ourselves asking repeatedly as we read the narratives of Genesis. Jacob is not what Noah was: righteous, perfect in his generations, one who walked with G‑d. He did not, like Abraham, leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s house in response to a divine call. He did not, like Isaac, offer himself up as a sacrifice. Nor did he have the burning sense of justice and willingness to intervene that we see in the vignettes of Moses’ early life. Yet we are defined for all time as the descendants of Jacob, the children of Israel. Hence the force of the question: Why Jacob?
The answer, it seems to me, is intimated in the beginning of this week’s Parshah. Jacob was in the middle of a journey from one danger to another. He had left home because Esau had vowed to kill him when Isaac died. He was about to enter the household of his uncle Laban, which would itself present other dangers. Far from home, alone, he was at a point of maximum vulnerability. The sun set. Night fell. Jacob lay down to sleep, and then saw this majestic vision:
The True Heir
When Jacob outsmarted Esau and received his father Isaac's blessings, Esau was outraged. "He cried out a great and bitter cry, and he said to his father, 'Bless me too, O my father!'… And Esau raised his voice and wept." Esau had been anticipating these blessings for many years, and for decades long Esau had feigned religious observance because he wanted his father to believe that he was worthy of these blessings. He was utterly devastated when he realized that he, the on-the-ball, worldly hunter, had been outwitted by his religious "goody-goody" brother.
It is remarkable that this person who was a murderer, rapist and glutton was so eager to receive the blessing of a tzaddik (righteous person). Esau wasn't out for a large inheritance; after all, Isaac was an elderly, blind person who had nothing to offer other than his blessings. Rather, as someone who was raised in the households of Abraham and Isaac, he was well aware of the value of a tzaddik's blessing. Esau was a Jew who was born to a Jewish mother, and therefore possessed a Jewish soul which imbued him with a strong belief in G-d and the super-natural. His "Jewish heart," however, did not manifest itself in his immoral lifestyle, which was contrary to all he had learned in his father's home. He knew what was right, but was unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to live an ethical, spiritual life.
The Divine plan determined that Jacob, not Esau, receive the blessings. For Jacob was a Jew not only at heart, but in practice as well. With faith alone we cannot accomplish the mission of revealing G-dliness in this world, and transforming ourselves and the world around us into a Divine abode. Only through actually practicing Torah and mitzvot can this goal be achieved.
In microcosm, many can relate to Esau's dilemma. Most people know what is proper, but oftentimes lack the strength and willpower to implement that which is proper into their daily lives. We must always remember that only the practice of Torah and mitzvot makes us a worthy receptacle for Divine blessings. Faith isn't a product of our labor; it naturally exists within every Jew due to our G-dly soul which was instilled within us. Blessings must be earned. Only the hard work of applying the faith in everyday life makes a person worthy of all of G-d's blessings.
I don’t think that a week passes when I don’t see some advertisement for a miraculous product that will make me look or feel years younger. Expensive creams that will take years of wrinkles off my skin, wonder diets or special exercises that will shape my body to make me look drastically more youthful ...
And have you ever noticed that it is a societal faux pas to ask anyone beyond their teens what their age is? Too many of us remain at 21++ years, without the willingness to publicly acknowledge the passage of time.
Let's face it: our society as a whole adores and pursues youth.
But what is it about youth that makes us yearn to be young again? And is there something about old age that deserves more respect and reverence?