Vayetzey (Genesis 28:10 – 32:4)

Reading Time: 3 minutes

GOOD MORNING!! Our Light up a Life volunteering programme is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. It’s an opportunity for the Jewish community – and other faith communities – to give back, in a small way, to a country that has welcomed us with open arms. At the moment, we have over 400 volunteering opportunities over the Christmas week from hospitals to hospices to old age homes to the homeless. Anyone is welcome to volunteer, of course, the reason that our focus is faith communities is because whilst Christmas is a holiday and family time for Christians, it is not necessarily so for Jews amongst others. So, with volunteers in shorter supply than usual in the UK, it’s a great opportunity for us to step in and do our bit.

I do it every year and it’s always the highlight of the holiday season for me. Even better than the John Lewis advert or the Queen’s Speech! The website has just gone live, so almost everything is available if you sign up now. If you are in London at that time of year, please do sign up (there are family volunteering opportunities also). You will not regret it!!   

torah portion

Jacob leaves Canaan for Haran, arriving 14 years later. On the way, he experiences his famous vision of the ladder stretching to heaven. He arrives at the home of his lovely (not!) uncle Laban, whom I talked about last week. 

Jacob wishes to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel. He works seven years for her and then Laban substitutes Leah under the chuppah. He works another seven years for Rachel. He fathers eleven sons and a daughter. Jacob works for Laban for another six years, during which time, he makes Laban into a very wealthy man. 

Finally, the time has come and he packs his bags and begins the long journey home to Israel.  

davar torah

In next week’s portion, as Jacob returns from Haran, he thanks God for all of the blessing that he has been showered with. He looks back in retrospect and says that, ‘I crossed the Jordan river (into Haran) with my staff alone’. The Rabbis explain, perhaps metaphorically, that in this week’s portion, he was met at the Jordan river by Esau’s son, Eliphaz, who robbed him of all that he had – including the clothes on his back. As such, he left Israel, with nothing more than a staff. 

And in this portion, Jacob accumulates. Firstly, he travels to the school of Shem and Ever and spends fourteen years gathering wisdom. He arrives in Haran and marries two wives and two concubines and fathers twelve children. And, during twenty years of hard work, he becomes the wealthiest man in town. Whereas he had left Israel with the skin on his back, he returned stuffed to the gills.

I see this as something of a metaphor for our own lives, my own certainly. We come to this world naked – with nothing. And we spend our years accumulating. We accumulate friendships; we accumulate family; we accumulate wisdom; we accumulate love; we accumulate possessions; we accumulate experiences. Like Jacob, each and every one of us in our lives gets to have SO much (even if at times, perhaps regularly, we think it is not enough!!)

I recall my wife and I leaving Israel for the UK twenty-five years ago with, metaphorically, not a lot more than the clothes on our backs. And I often reflect on how, like Jacob, God has blessed me. I have eight wonderful children, a son and daughter in law, both of whom I respect and love deeply and three precious grandchildren. I have not one, but two, sets of wise and loving in laws. I have set up four successful organisations and positively affected the lives of many around me. I have close, deeply valued and deeply beloved friends. And when I look over the davars I wrote 20 years ago and compare them to today, I feel they are the musings of a little boy, compared to those of a developed (or hopefully developing) man.

Like Jacob, I feel so deeply grateful.

Of course, there is much I could complain about if I so desired. But I do not desire. Gratitude brings me so much more pleasure than complaint, so why would I willingly choose the latter? 

Jacob arrived in Haran with nothing – and left with a cup overflowing with blessing. Each and every one of us arrives with nothing, we cross our Jordan River, into this world, with not even the clothes on our backs – and we get to leave fully laden. What a life! What a world! So much for which to be grateful. 

Shabbat Shalom 

 Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

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