Now that the December Holiday season is upon us, one cannot turn on the television without a Christmas special on one channel or a Christmas movie on another channel. Perhaps the most beloved holiday movie in our home is Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”. In fact the first time the movie was on this year occurred earlier this week. With our children on the computer, the phone or the IPod, I happened to turn the movie on. I notified my children that “It’s a Wonderful Life” was on. I have never seen them stop doing whatever it is they were doing. Within a few seconds, our kids were on the sofa watching the movie. We have watched this movie dozens and dozens of times as a family. Often times our kids will ask us questions about the movie, it’s setting, and if life was really the way it is portrayed in the movie. For the first time, our kids picked up on something that I never really noticed. Until Jimmy Stewart’s character George Bailey gets married, his greatest desire is to leave home, go away to school, and make a life for himself in some other place besides Bedford Falls. This unfulfilled desire gnaws away at him and contributes to his sense of failure as an adult, as a husband, and a father. They wondered aloud why it is so important for George Bailey to have left home, and why is it such a source of frustration in his life? I explained that leaving home is important because it is vital to become an independent and confident person. I explained that we could talk more after the movie.
This Shabbat we read from Parsha VaYeitze. The focus of the narrative is upon Yaakov. For the first time, Yaakov will find out what it means to be alone in the world. He has left his mother, Rivkah, and his father Yitzchak, for the first time. In fleeing his brother Esav, Yaakov now embarks on a new phase of his life. For the first time, but certainly not the last time, he will have to face being alone. He will learn to be an independent individual. Yes, Yaakov will meet his future wives, his cousins Leah and Rachel. He will work for his father in- law, Lavan, and he will have children. The narrative will focus upon Yaakov’s life from young adulthood to becoming a responsible father, earning a living and all the trials, tribulation, and tensions of career and family. As Yaakov makes his way in life, hopefully he will learn more about himself. With each event, with each adventure, Yaakov has an opportunity to become better connected, better connected to himself, and better connected to a covenant that his father bequeathed to him. Yet throughout the narrative he will learn to be alone, he will learn to become independent, he will learn, through trial and error, to whom he should spiritually cling: from Esav, to his parents, Lavan, his wives, and ultimately God.
At the conclusion of the previous Parsha, Parsha Toldot, we read that Yitzchak and Rivkah instructed Yaakov to go to Padan- Aram, to the house of Bethuel (Rivkah’s father’s home) and take a wife from there. We would expect Parsha VaYeitze to begin with Yaakov heading to Padan- Aram. Instead, VaYeitze begins: VaYeitze Yaakov M’Beer Sheva VaYeilech Charana – Yaakov departed from Beer Sheva and went toward Charan. Why doesn’t VaYeitze, say that Yaakov departed and went to Padan Aram? Why do we need to be told that he went to Charan what’s in Charan? Keeping in mind that Yaakov has never been away from home and although he is heading toward is mother’s family; even Rivkah knew enough to leave her family of origin. Now Yaakov, in order to preserve his life, must leave his family of origin. In Toldot, Yaakov was described as Ish Tam Yoshev Ohalim – a simple man of faith who dwells in tents (Gen. 19;27) The Talmudic Sages explain that Yaakov’s dwelling in the tents meant that he spent time in his parent’s tents studying and learning. However no learning would prepare him for what he would contend with when dealing with Rivka’s family and particularly her brother Lavan. Rabbi Kamenetsky, (1891-1986), explained that prior to arriving in Paddan Aram, Yaakov stopped in Charan to learn from Shem and Eber. Shem was Noah’s son, and Eber from the generation of the Tower of Bavel. Both were considered righteous and wise men who lived in unsavory environments and managed to retain their sense of righteousness. Yaakov sought their practical wisdom prior to his encounter with Lavan and dealing with becoming independent in an unsavory environment. He will also need the wisdom of Shem and Eber to help him eventually return home. As a result of Yaakov’s detour, Yaakov understands that he must maintain a relationship to God, and he understands that he will need to find his way home when the time is right.
As we watched the movie, I suggested that George’s he wished that he never had been born, symbolized his leaving home and all the lives he touched when he left only to return when he returns to real life. For Yaakov, he needed to leave his physical home, but clearly he took with him the values and the learning that he acquired from his family. He took God with him as well as the sense of the land. He took with him a desire to return home. I reminded our children that part of becoming independent is knowing what to bring and what to leave, what wisdom is helpful and which superstitions are foolish. For both Yaakov and George Baily, part of the independence that they achieve is deriving their own faith based upon not only what they learn from their families but from their own experiences. Hopefully, our children, as they strive for their own sense of independence will make stops along the way in order to learn, test, and discover faith for themselves. Of course when they are all finished, hopefully they will come home every so often to visit.