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Recognizing the Truth

Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )


In this week's parashah we discover how we might best develop our spiritual potential and find more meaning in our lives. The Torah tells us that upon the advice of his parents, Jacob departs from the land of Israel and travels toward the city of Haran in search of his life partner. And then the passage continues, "Vayifga bamakom – He encountered 'The Place.'"[1] This very unusual usage of the word makom (place) teaches us that on his way to Haran, Jacob realized that he had neglected to stop at the Temple Mount where his father and grandfather had prayed, and to rectify his mistake; he immediately turned around to return to the site of the future Beis HaMikdash.

To appreciate the awesomeness of this, just try to imagine how you would react upon returning from Israel, drained and exhausted, having survived a terrorist attack (just as Jacob had narrowly escaped Esau's son's murderous intent). While waiting for your luggage at J.F.K. you suddenly realize that you had neglected to pray at the Western Wall. Would you make an immediate about-face and go back, especially in view of the fact that Hamas and company were lying in wait for you, just as Esau and his clan were in Jacob's case?

Jacob's attribute was emes (truth), and above all, he was committed to the pursuit of that truth, even if it meant undertaking an arduous and hazardous journey, and even if it meant admitting his mistakes. We can appreciate the awesome strength of Jacob's character when we contrast his reaction to that of his brother Esau. In last week's parashah, Esau sold his birthright for a pot of beans, but his arrogance would not allow him to admit that he had acted foolishly and impetuously; therefore, instead of doing teshuvah (repentance), he became further embedded in lies and spurned his birthright by expressing contempt for it.[2]

The ability to recognize one's mistakes and shortcomings is what elevates a person. It's not so much the mistakes that we make that condemn us, but how we react to them that counts, and that is the meaning of teshuvah. When God sees that we are determined to embark upon His path, then He meets us more than halfway, comes to our aid, and performs miracles on our behalf. Thus, as soon as Jacob admitted to his mistake and expressed his desire to return, God shortened his journey and the Temple Mount actually appeared before him: he encountered The Place. It is this ability to admit the emes, recognize one's mistakes, and do teshuvah that distinguishes the great among our people.

The kings of Israel descended from Judah because he had the strength of character to openly admit that he erred. In this same vein, his descendant, David, conceded to Nathan the Prophet, "I have sinned to Hashem."[3] Those words of David have inspired people throughout the centuries. In these difficult times, when we are challenged to examine our lives, we would do well to follow the example of Jacob, Judah, and David and summon the courage to say, "I was wrong – I will learn from my mistakes! I will do teshuvah and do my share to make the world a better place." And if we do, we can hope that God will make miracles for us, miracles to ease our paths even as He did for Jacob "and we too will encounter The Place."

  1. Gen. 28:11.
  2. Ibid. 25:34.
  3. II Samuel 12:13.


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