It’s funny to me how we disregard clichés. I know they can seem trite, hokey, or overused… but often the whole reason they ARE clichés is because their sentiments
ring true! Yet, even when we acknowledge their wisdom, we just do NOT want to learn their essential lessons. Take, for example, the phrase (stated in a myriad different ways): It’s not the destination that counts, it's the journey. A Bat Mitzvah student at Ohev recently focused her whole (terrific) D’var Torah on this concept. We’ve heard it countless times, it makes a lot of sense… and yet, we often struggle to live by it anyway. Why?
Our Torah portion, Va-Yeitzei, is essentially one, drawn-out, decades-long, dramatic odyssey. To really ensure that you, the reader, know this, the Torah includes a subtle, clever bookend on either side of
the journey. The second verse of our entire parashah states, "He [Jacob, fleeing from his brother, Esau] came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set." (Gen. 28:11) Then, in the very next verse, he has his famous dream, in which angels are going up and down a ladder that reaches from earth all the way up to heaven. Jacob begins his long journey to find his uncle, Laban. He arrives, becomes a successful sheep herder, acquires four wives, has twelve children, and eventually escapes Laban's greedy clutches and makes his way back to his birthplace. There, as the Torah portion ends, we read: "Early in the morning, Laban kissed his sons and daughters farewell, and he blessed them; then Laban left on his journey homeward. Jacob went on his way, and angels of God encountered him." (32:1-2) Do you see it? Did you catch the bookends?
As the central adventure of his life begins, Jacob experiences the presence of angels, and then, when he's ready to return home, there they are again! Furthermore, the narrative mentions night falling at the start of our reading. One might say, Jacob is
entering a "dark" period in his life, where he's trapped under the glum shadow of Laban and his heretical family. The proverbial "sun" only rises again when Jacob returns home, stepping once more into the "light" of his safe, trustworthy, monotheistic, loving family (leaving aside, for now, all the drama that forced Jacob to flee in the first place...). My point in highlighting all of this is that we sometimes see the "bad" times in Jacob's life as unfortunate, wishing he could have avoided them entirely. But would he be the same guy without all those experiences? Are hardships and challenges something we try to avoid, or do they perhaps form us and make us more resilient, appreciative of the good times, and better situated to survive and thrive?
I imagine Jacob felt pretty alone when he began this excursion. Yet the Torah reminds us that angels were there accompanying him at the start AND the end of his journey, and likely throughout as well.
Sometimes when we struggle, we actually feel GREATER spiritual connection, and certainly many of us feel MORE love and caring from those around us. Often, in life, we look at the result of something to determine if it was good or bad, worthwhile or ultimately pointless. Take, for instance, an election. Is the only metric for determining success whether a candidate won? Or might the journey - the motivation, the enthusiasm, the activism, and all the OTHER things that were generated as well - have been meaningful regardless of the end result? I know it's a cliché. And if we think about it, we probably believe we already know its words to be true. But I think in our lived experience, we often still obsess about the end result, the final verdict, and the ultimate outcome. So just keep it in mind, and spend a little time appreciating the journey too, ok? You're welcome. :-)
Images in this blog post:
2. CC image of Michael Willmann's painting "Jacob's Ladder" (1691), courtesy of Wikipedia