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Parashah (portion) Vayeitzei -The Silence of an Absence
Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

This week’s Torah portion marks the first leg of Jacob’s journey. But this first leg is about uprooting, about expiation, about exile. Jacob betrayed his blind father Isaac’s trust, in stealing from his older brother Esau, Isaac’s firstborn blessing by deceitfully impersonating Esau. Jacob is forced to flee to save his life from his wrathful brother. Jacob is exiled both from his physical birthplace but also from himself, from his roots. Vayeitzei, begins our Torah portion: “And Jacob removed himself from Beersheba and went to Haran.” Rashi — an 11th century French rabbi – wonders why the Torah felt the need to say both that Jacob left Beersheba and that he went to Haran, when “It needed only to have written ‘And Jacob went to Haran’. This tells us,” says Rashi, “that the departure of a righteous person from a place makes an imprint.” That imprint is a blank space, an emptiness, the silence of an absence.

And, with exile, silence is what awakens, I suspect, in Jacob’s heart as well. We know that there are parts of self which don’t get to be expressed, which grow silent, when we leave certain places we used to inhabit. Jacob was a tent dweller, he was close to his mother; his identity was bound up with his home. In Jacob’s heart too, the same imprint is now made.

On his way from Beersheva, Jacob passes through a gate, a soul-gate, when on his first night in the wilderness by himself, God, His angels, and a ladder appear to him in a dream. Rashi brings up a Midrash to beautifully explain the ascending and descending movements of the angels on the ladder: “Ascending first, and afterwards descending.” He writes. “The angels who escorted him in the Land of Israel do not go out of the Land, so they ascended to the sky, and afterwards the angels of the area outside the Land of Israel descended to escort him.”

Beyond this gate, Jacob — at the cruel hand of Laban – will work to remove from himself the deceiver that he had been, and become aware — through personal experience — of the hurt he had caused to both his brother Esau and his father Isaac. Jacob’s exile from home was, in essence, a journey home. The silence of his absence was the means through which he could heal, the blank space in which he could re-write who he yearned to be, the emptiness from which he could make himself whole. As Laban tells Jacob:

Now then – you have gone away because you yearn so desperately for your father’s house… (Gen. 30:31)

As our Torah portion comes to a close, Jacob-after twenty years-finally leaves Laban to make his way back from exile. There again, he passes through a soul-gate: “And Laban arose early in the morning; he kissed his sons and his daughters and blessed them; then Laban went and returned to his place. Jacob went on his way, and angels of God met him.” (Gen. 32: 1-2) Right there and then, “Angels of the Land of Israel came toward him to escort him into the Land,” as Rashi masterfully concludes.

All of us are, like Jacob, on our own journey home. All of us guided by angels. May we become available from within the inner silence to know their steering presence even in the midst of our darkest exile. May we learn to trust in their guidance, that they may escort us, too, into the Land.

© 2010 Rabbi Olivier BenHaim, All rights reserved.