After a long, wild week and a half of traveling, when I was sitting in the shul of my hometown Bal Harbour, Florida, listening to the baal korei read parshas Vayeitzei, I finally had some time to think over the events of the parsha and see the parallels in the conversations of this past week.
Parashas Vayeitzei shows a sort of coming of age of Yaakov Avinu, we see this beginning with last weeks parsha, where Yaakov is an ish tam yoshei ohalim, the yeshiva bochur, who’s all of a sudden thrust into a whole intrigue and drama with his brother Esav, then spends 14 years in yeshivas Shem and Ever, then again is taken out of that Torah environment and faced with the struggles of living in the home of Lavan the rasha for all those years. The mefarshim point out a very interesting contrast in terms of the content of his dreams throughout the course of the parsha. Psychology tells us that dreams are the manifestation of a whats occupying a person’s (sub)consciousness. At the beginning of the story, after the time he spent learning for a few years, he experiences a prophetic dream and visions of Hashem and the angels, whereas later on in the story, we see his dream consists of different types of sheep which is directly connected to his business dealings with Lavan. At first, his dream in Beit El is spiritual in nature, but as he spends more time in chutz laaretz in the home of the materialistic and deceptive Lavan, his dreams and thoughts shift to a focus on olam-hazeh-dik matters. At that point Yaakov realizes its time for change.
While theres no question that Yaakov did indeed work and was heavily involved in his monetary dealings during that time period, (and its important to note that never do we blame him for doing so,) however Yaakov sees the red flag when he’s reached the point that he realizes he’s so overly-involved with his wordily affairs that even in his sleeping hours he’s thinking and dreaming about his merchandise. That’s when he decides to re-evaluate the course of his life
Throughout my trip through America this past week, I was fortunate and zoche to speak and reconnect to a lot of close friends. A common complaint I heard from people was that as time goes by, people feel more and more caught up in the rut of school or jobs, work, schedules, and slowly but surely the initial passion and ideals of yeshiva and Israel fall to the wayside, at best, until you look at yourself a few years down the line, and you find that you’re very distant from what you had originally envisioned for yourself, the goals and direction of your life have diverged considerably from what you had before. The learning goals, the minyanim, the passion, the Zionism, the long tzitzis, the connection, the goal of being a ben Torah first and foremost, have seem to have been placed on the back-burner in terms of priorities. The problem isn’t that you have to spend the majority of your day doing school work, or at a job, or doing papers or reports, in fact, its a mitzvah to get an education and to make a living, ashreicha. Its not just good to do well in your job and school, its a chiyuv! And of course, to do so takes time and effort, thought, planning and a serious investment of time. Thats not the issue at hand. The problem is when your work takes the front and center role in your thoughts even in your free time, or during leisure hours, or in davening during your shmonah esreh, or in your conversations with close friends, or at a kiddish with your shul-friends, or when it fills the talk at your shabbos table. When you reach a point when even your personal dreams are bereft of any higher aspirations or content, that’s when you know you’ve started to dry up spiritually, thats when you know Lavans got a hold of you. When the dreams you have for yourself no longer include goals of growth in Torah and tefilah, and middos and yiddishkeit, thats when you have to follow in Yaakov’s footsteps and reevaluate and ask yourself, what do I need to change, what do I need to do, or not do to, in order regain that initial level, how can I, whilst living in my current condition and environment,with my current schedule and workload, still maintain that original spark and drive? Maaseh avos siman lebonim, lets use the example of Yaakov avinu, wake ourselves up, look at ourselves and see where we are now in terms of the people we once envisioned ourselves becoming, as the Jews we once saw ourselves becoming. Let’s make some time in our day for our spiritual aspirations, for rekindling that connection we may once have had, to start remaking ourselves and becoming who we were meant to be. Set up the chavrusas, make a few minutes for a small sefer, commit to tefilin daily, find out minyan times near you, let yourself have a focused, meaningful davening to Hashem without the distraction of a ringing cellphone and texting, dedicate a few minutes of your day for a hisbodedus, or cheshbon hanefesh, and become the highest levels of who we could be.Through our hishtadlus in shmiras hamitzvos, simchas hamitzvos and cultivating and working on our neshama, it should be a merit for the soldiers and people of eretz yisrael, and a merit for the rest of us to lead the most meaningful, enriched, spiritual lives that we possibly can.