From Parashat Vayetze
Bible students need not be put off by the fact that the Torah is written in fantastic shorthand. It does, however, mean that serious students are expected to do a fair amount of sleuthing and honest investigation if they are to properly apprehend its enduring wisdom.
While this observation is true in a general sense, it is equally as relevant when we try to get a better feel or read on major Biblical personalities. To be sure, midrashim go a long way in these crucial areas. But in addition to hallowed Jewish Tradition, human critical thinking is an invaluable tool, as well.
Let us apply some of these generalizations to zero in on the third and final patriarch. What made Yaakov tick?
Reviewing this parasha’s first aliya from a fundamental, psychological perspective is an excellent starting point. Yaakov had just stolen Esav’s first-born blessing. That had been accomplished by hoodwinking (though it was Rivka’s initiative and plan) his old and blind father. Verses make it clear that Yaakov had his misgivings from the get-go. So, to assert that the young patriarch was plagued by guilt and self-doubt is a gross understatement. Yaakov reeled as he pondered an answer to a nagging question:
Was his present excursion to distant Padan Aram punishment from heaven? Would the departure from his pious parents and beloved Land of Israel be the first leg of endless exiles in exchange for crossing Yitzhak and Esav? Finally, why did Yaakov spend that first night in “an open field” alone?
Yaakov, the Torah plus Jewish Tradition tell us, was a contemplative thinker. In his formative years, this proclivity and truth-seeking had brought him to the ancient study halls of Shem and Eiver where he thrived.
Now here is the clue. While fleeing the “crime scene”, Yaakov purposely avoided travel inns along the way. Consider how “an open field” contrasts with alternative and more social venues to spend a night. Or put directly, had the young man simply wanted to silent his aching soul then spending the night in a Canaanite town or hamlet would have accomplished just that. In the company of fellow travelers, he could have exchanged small talk and frittered time away.
But sharing companionship, Yaakov knew, would have squandered an opportunity to look inwardly to ponder his present refugee plight. Such a choice did not overly tempt him. A quiet field afforded opportunity for personal growth.
Hashem handsomely rewarded the budding patriarch with the ladder dream, a divine communication full of hope and promise. Its assuring messages dispelled Yaakov’s anxieties and promised great tidings. Mentally unshackled, he arose in the morning confident that his actions concerning Esav, though on the surface may read tawdrily, had been vetted by the Almighty.