And Yaakov went out… This week’s Torah portion starts off with Yaakov’s journey to Charan. This is a journey he is taking after a brief hiatus learning Torah with Shem and Ever. Before running toward his destiny of marriage, Yaakov took a detour and went to learn some more spirituality.
Now, you and I might be stumped as to why more time was spent learning. Yaakov had learned Torah under his father’s tutelage until the age of 63. Can you imagine sitting and learning with Yitzchok for so long – he must have known so much of the Torah — he must have been steeped in the highest of ideals and most profound of spirituality. Yitzchok was Gevurah — all the fire f devotion and worship. Why then did Yaakov think it so important to learn more Torah for 14 years elsewhere?
It was because Yitzchok was a Kadosh [fully holy] who had always been surrounded only by Kedusha [holiness]. The basis of Yaakov’s learning with his father was how to live a life in purity within a pure environment, how to capitalize upon greatness within a great society. Now that Yaakov was heading to Lavan, he realized he had to learn how to stay pure in a bad environment, something his father never had to do. He would be dealing with corruption, he would be dealing with twisted morals, he would be exposed to shmutz [smut] of the likes his father was unaware.
Yaakov realized the danger, and he figured there were two people in the world at that time who knew how to do just that, how to live a pure life even when immersed in a vile society. Shem was one of these people. He lived through the generation of the flood and stayed good. The second person was Ever who had lived through the generation of Dor HaFlaga and stayed good. Two men, one who lived through a time of gluttony and base physicality and one who lived in a time of intellectual dishonesty and atheism, and both who stayed true to their inner truth.
That is why Yaakov decided to take that time before hitting Charan and Lavan’s house. He knew he would now be confronted with exile, with the reality of having to live with truths among people who pandered to their base desires and twisted all that was good. To stay on the path, to stay steady to his values, Yaakov decided to learn how to stay good even when surrounded by the worst evils by those who mastered it before him.
It worked, those years of instruction. For when Yaakov returned from exile, he was able to proclaim, “im Lavan gartee v’taryag mitzvos shamartee– with Lavan I stayed and 613 commandments I heeded”
May each of us find mentors who can show us how to navigate our current exile and times, so we can, at the end of our sojourns proclaim, “I lived in USA 2013, and 613 commandments heeded.”