I was profoundly disturbed when a member of my congregation told me that he didn’t care that his father had just passed away. They had been estranged for years, he explained, yet I still felt sullied by listening to his utter lack of affection or even respect for his late father. My admonishment to him to observe the traditional mourning routine fell on deaf ears.
During the following six years I witnessed his life deteriorate. He became an angry man. His marriage suffered, his own children grew distant, and his psychiatry practice shrank. I was trained by my late father, one of whose lessons was never to offer unsolicited advice, so though I knew what might be contributing to his problem, I remained silent.
Finally, in despair, my unhappy congregant scheduled a consultation with me. Once he had sat down and I determined that he now finally had an open mind, I picked up a Bible and turned to Genesis 28:5.
And Isaac sent away Jacob who went to Padan Aram, to Laban…..(Genesis 28:5)
So, Jacob apparently left home and went on a journey, right?
Then I read verse 7 a few lines later:
And Jacob obeyed his father and mother and went to Padan Aram. (Genesis 28:7)
I think you’ll agree that even for those of us who could use a good night’s sleep it is now becoming quite clear. Jacob went on a journey.
Then I read verse 10, another few lines down the page:
And Jacob went out of Beersheba and he went to Haran. (Genesis 28:10)
Okay, why all this repetition? Do I really need to be told three times that Jacob embarked on a trip? It’s axiomatic that there are no unnecessary words in the Torah and certainly no unnecessary repetitions. So why are verses 5 and 7 not sufficient to launch Jacob on his journey? Not until verse 10 is he finally on his way.
The answer is that the Torah is teaching us a timeless truth about life. Verse ten finally informs us that Jacob departed from the place he was at.
You can never go to a new place until you have properly left the old.
This is how the world REALLY works; in order to move on, you have to be able to leave the past behind. And leaving the past can be difficult and painful. Until verse 10 informs us that finally, Jacob left Beersheba he was not really able to embark on his new life adventure.
Sometimes our difficulty bonding with new friends is the result of our subconscious souls knowing that we haven’t closed things out with old friends whom we may have wronged or neglected. I remember one young woman who fell in love with a student of mine but unfortunately, he didn’t reciprocate the sentiment. During one of our conversations, she casually revealed to me that she had once been in a brief common-law marriage. Drawing from today’s insight of ancient Jewish wisdom, I suggested that she go ahead and secure a formal religious divorce from that earlier short-lived marriage. It was just possible, I reasoned, that she was subconsciously holding back as she still felt spiritually united to that man from long ago, and it was possible, that on some profound spiritual level, my student was feeling that this woman was not truly free.
Well, you can guess the outcome. She put closure on the earlier misadventure, she departed from that place. She and my student have been happily married for years and are raising a beautiful family in Southern California. One can never be 100% sure of cause and effect, but I nonetheless tell you what happened.
Oh, and you probably want to know what happened to my friend and congregant, the psychiatrist who failed to mourn his father. Happily, he followed the guidance I offered him from ancient Jewish wisdom, and though late, he embarked on a proper period of mourning after which, his life gradually began to turn around. Would things have improved for him in any event? I can’t say but I do know that failing to properly close the chapter on his life with his father prevented him from stepping into the future.
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