It’s easy to forget how unique every person is. The American elections turned generalizations into an art form. The tricky thing is that there is often a basis for the stereotypes, which is why they resonate with so many people. This is not only true when you think about negative stereotyping; it’s also true when you think about the way that you see the real tzadikim. Were they all perfect from day one? Maybe not. Maybe they also had conflicts and struggles, and maybe those struggles were personal and unique.
Yaakov’s life could have kept him in therapy for decades. Knowing that you father loves your twin more than he loves you, living with a brother who despises everything that you treasure, leaving home in order to stay alive. The list goes on… His response to everything was to stay in reality and make choices from there.
The sages tell us that Yaakov’s primary trait was his sense of truth, and his ability to integrate it. Orchos tzadikim has an essay on truth. The author points out that reality is observed by the way G-d frames your life. If you reject reality by lying to other people and creating your own alternative reality, you are rejecting G-d’s blueprint for your life. If you lie to yourself, you are still not in touch with reality as He dishes it out. Yaakov could look at reality and find its meaning. When good things happened, he could see Hashem’s Hand. When he faced tragedy, deceit and the rest, he re-named it “challenge”, which is what it really was all along. Being able to live with reality is what made him free.
We all know people who are enslaved to their fears, insecurities, and desires. They wake up scared, and go to sleep scared. Their thoughts fly through their minds without much respite. All the maybes take up all of the space inside their minds and hearts. Maybe I’ll lose my job. Maybe they won’t like me, or what I stand for. Maybe I’ll end up alone, or poor, or rejected. Maybe I’ll have to give up what I treasure.
An interesting question in the Talmud is whether a slave really wants to be freed. One view is, “of course”, how can he not want to be equal to any other member of society? How can he possibly be content when he is someone else’s property? The other view is that he might enjoy the lack of responsibility and casual amorality of the life he is living as a slave.
When I saw the question I blush to say, that I fully understood the two sides….
What makes the issue more complex is that if the slave’s master knocks out his tooth or his eye, he must free him. If you see freedom as a goal, this is the best possible form of compensation. If you see freedom as a burden, (which the gemarrah sees as a real possibility), then by giving the slave freedom, you are making his life worse. You are doing the equivalent of putting salt on an open wound.
The Kotzker Rebbe resolved the question. He said that as long as someone is enslaved, it’s easier to stay where you are than to face freedom. The moment freedom is real (in this case after he lost his tooth or eye) then freedom is the most precious gift anyone could give you.
Are you free? Do you want to be free?
In the second chapter of Pirkei Avos, one of the greatest sages of all time, Rabi Yochanan ben Zakai, selects five of his students and gives them an assignment; find the best path to tread. They came to different conclusions. The first one is “ayin tovah”- have a good eye, which means looking at other people positively. It means not feeling that if they have more, it means that you have less. Their financial, family, religious, or emotional lives may objectively be better than yours. No one suggests that “all lives are equal”. They aren’t meant to be. The only way to do that, Rabbenu Yonah says, is by regarding your own life positively. It was designed by Hashem to fit your capacity to be the great person that you are destined to be. The other path, “ayin ra”, having a negative view of other people inevitably generates slave mentality - you are not free to be yourself as long as you are engaged in the futile battle to live someone else’s life, with their tools and their destiny as the prize at the end of the road, you are never free to be yourself. The same principle applies to being a good friend or being a good neighbor. You can teach yourself to break out of the chains of tit for tat reciprocity. Do you think that you were born to be an underpaid social bookkeeper?
The problem is that when you are a slave, living like a free man seems limiting! It’s easier to hold onto old fears, grudges, lose interpretations of the laws against lashon hara, etc. than it is to be free.
You are Yaakov’s descendant just like the rest of the members of The Tribe.
The name of the Parshah is Vayeitzei meaning, “And he went “(in reference to Yaakov’s escape from Eisov by travelling to Haran). Maybe it’s good week to move on.