Leave Your Baggage Behind

It was profoundly disturbing 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. For my part, I encouraged him to observe the traditional mourning routine, but my words fell on deaf ears.

During the following six years I witnessed his life deteriorate.  He became an angry man.  His marriage suffered, his children grew distant, and his psychiatry practice shrank.  My late father trained me never to offer unsolicited advice, so though I suspected the problem I remained silent.

Finally, in despair, my unhappy congregant scheduled a consultation.  When he sat down and I determined that he had an open mind, I picked up a Bible and turned to Genesis 28:5.

And Isaac sent Jacob who went to Padan Aram, to Laban…..

Did you get that? Jacob went on a journey.

I read showed him verse 7 a few lines later:

And Jacob obeyed … and went to Padan Aram.

I think you’ll agree that even for the slower ones among us, it is becoming clear.  Jacob went on a journey.

Then I read verse 10:

And Jacob went out of Beersheba and he went to Haran.

Okay, what is this repetition all about?  A basic principle of ancient Jewish wisdom is that there are no unnecessary words in the Torah and certainly no unnecessary repetitions.

The answer is that the Torah is instructing us in a timeless truth about life. 

You can never go to a new place until you have properly left the old.

This, my friends, 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 able to fully embark on his new life adventure.

Sometimes our inability to bond with new friends is the result of our subconscious souls knowing that we haven’t closed out old relationships.  I remember one young woman who fell in love with a student of mine but unfortunately the sentiment was not reciprocated.  During one of our conversations, she casually revealed to me that she had once been in a brief common-law marriage.  Drawing from the insights of these verses, I suggested that she go ahead and secure a formal religious divorce.  It was just possible, I reasoned, that she was involuntarily holding back as she still felt united to the earlier individual. It was also possible, that on some profound spiritual level, my student was sensing 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.

Oh, and you probably want to know what happened to my friend and congregant, the psychiatrist who failed to mourn.  Happily he followed the Torah guidance I offered, 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 successfully into the future.

Many of us know where we want to be, but often we forget that to do so we have to close the circle on certain parts of our past. Meaningful lessons for our life, such as this one, are embedded throughout Scripture.


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