Standing up for Peace
On the run from his home (more specifically his brother), Jacob headed to his Uncle Lavan’s house. After ‘stealing’ the blessing designated for Esav and fearing for his life, Jacob must leave behind the comfortable protection of his loving parents, heed the lessons they had instilled in him, and learn to think on his feet.
We are told of the dream he had while resting on his journey, of angels travelling up and down from heaven to earth and where God appeared to him, promising that where he lay would be the land for his future generations. He then meets Rachel, a young girl who reminds him of his mother, and together they eventually have a son called Joseph to continue Jacob’s lineage.
Jacob is forced to work for seven years in order to marry his beloved Rachel, but is tricked into marrying her older sister Leah, and therefore must work a further 7 years before being allowed Rachel’s hand in marriage. Lavan then convinces Jacob to work another 6 years, after which Jacob’s now much larger family leaves for his hometown.
Through a single instance we can learn so much about Jacob’s character. When he arrives in Charan, he meets a group of shepherds who are waiting to move a heavy stone covering a well, in order to water their flocks. Only when they all convene together could they move the stone. When Rachel arrives, Jacob immediately rushes to her aid for fear that the shepherds would mistreat her and he single-handedly moves the stone and then waters her sheep.
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch who lived in Germany around to 200 years ago comments that there are two interesting values to note about Jacob. Firstly, his enthusiasm for work and action, and secondly his sense of justice and moral integrity. Even though the matter did not affect him personally, he was quickly able to help Rachel, lend a hand and save her from a strenuous task and uncomfortable surroundings. He also had an overwhelming sense of integrity and justice, believing that the motives of those around her were treacherous and deceitful, therefore wanting to put right any wrongdoings.
On the one hand, we could say that Jacob was a model citizen, running to aid a young and innocent girl. Alternatively, we could look deeper and say that Jacob was beginning to show attributes much like that of Moses, who would save the daughters of Jethro from a band of evil shepherds in the sedra of Shemot. Moses became our greatest leader because he cared for every single person, just like a shepherd tends to each sheep in his flock. Jacob’s care and righteousness meant he was driven to actually step up and defend others. He put himself in harm’s way to protect people he had not even met, all because of his incredible sensitivity and need for justice.
The lessons from our forefathers should resonate with us. Jacob was multi-faceted and bore many traits to learn from; here we see how important it is to stand up to help and defend others. Whether it is at work, home, school, or even in social surroundings, there are times we find ourselves faced with the dilemma of getting involved or sitting quietly on the side lines. We have to use our intuition and sensitivity to know when it is appropriate, but our rabbis teach us that we clearly have an obligation to mediate between people, and to defend those in need.
Together we can bring about Shalom – peace. It is something we pray for every day, but just like Jacob, we can not only pray for peace, we must stand up for it as well.
We continue the famous story of our forefather Jacob. In fear for his life and on the run from his brother, he continues to the house of his uncle, where he will meet his beloved Rachel. Together along with Leah, they will slowly form the foundations of the Children of Israel.
But as we know it is not a simple journey and many tests will push him off course, but with strength of character and determination, our hero finds his path and starts his own legacy.
On the way he comes to the place where his grandfather Abraham bound his father Isaac. This special place was where our holy temple once stood and will please G-d stand again, and in that place feeling its enormity and holiness, Jacob prayed.
Before going to sleep, Jacob gathered some stones so he could lay his head, and then had the famous dream of the Angels and the ladder. Interestingly enough, the verse specifies that as he lay, he placed the stones around his head. Rashi (who provides a major commentary on the Torah) explains that he did this to protect himself from wild beasts. If the intention of the stones was for protection, why only protect his head?
From here we see there is something important to learn about our heads. In our spiritual life we celebrate the beginning of each month, ‘Rosh Chodesh’ and of course place much importance of our new year – ‘Rosh Hashanah’, but physically in our bodies the head is what drives us. With clear thought and concern using our brains and logic we can navigate the most difficult decisions by letting our power of thinking guide us.
These two combined help us to understand both our physical and spiritual obligations. Physically we must think before we act, emphasise our need for understanding and seek out truth. Spiritually we must live life in renewal. We learn from the Rosh that we are not just having another month or another year, but a new month and a new year. This is our renewal. We live life in the now and for the future, learning from our past and improving on it. This renewal can be as frequent or scarce as we make it, but we have the obligation to reflect and review our lives and always strive for greatness.
From Jacob we learn that he wasn’t ignoring the rest of his body, but signifying his head to remind us of these important facets in our lives.