Shabbat Sermon - Parshat Vayeitzei Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum December 6, 2003
Loneliness is one of the key messages of this week’s Torah portion. Jacob felt great loneliness and expressed his thoughts and fears to G-d. When he had to run away from his brother Esau, Jacob was forced to leave his parents’ house and go to an unknown place. G-d appeared to Jacob and promised him protection from harm and reassurance that he would not suffer from loneliness.
There are 2 different schools of thought regarding G-d’s relationship with people. These are the ideas of Maimonides and those of Martin Buber, and others. The Maimonides teaching reflects the ideas of Aristotle that G-d is transcendental, very far away from us and is not interfering in our lives. However, the I and Thou school of thought of Martin Buber and the others represents the opposite idea, that there is a constant dialogue between man and G-d. G-d is not transcendental; instead, He is part of our daily lives. Professor Heschel, who was Buber’s student, added the idea that G-d is in search of man and that man is not alone. These scholars said that just as you can’t have a king without nations, a lawyer without clients, a doctor without patients, a teacher without students, G-d, our Creator, is not without His people. G-d is constantly watching over us and is in continuous dialogue with us.
You see the image of Jacob as a halachic man who follows Jewish law. What is a halachic man? Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in his Book Halachic Man, illustrates the ideal Jew. On the one hand, he is homo religious. On the other hand, he is cognitive. The halachic man follows Jewish laws strictly because these are the laws of G-d. He follows these laws regardless of whether he feels comfortable with them or even understands them. However, we do have the right to ask questions even if we obey the laws while disagreeing with them. We have the right to be in a constant search for the esoteric element beyond the Torah text. This concept of dualism means having ambivalent feelings while doing something because this is the law. While following the laws of the Torah, you are still expressing your feelings and questions to understand the enigma or the secret message that G-d tried to convey. Theorgy is the philosophy that man, through his prayer, can affect G-d’s decisions and the outcome of life’s events. Through our prayers, actions, and charity, we can attempt to change what G-d has planned for us. We have the ability and the potential to change the Divine decree.
G-d, being interested in what is going on in our lives, approached Jacob and encouraged him. You see that Jacob, after his dialogue with G-d, made a vow that if everything would go well and he would successfully fulfill his mission, he would give an extra tithe and devote his entire life to serving G-d and helping others. In this way, Jacob demonstrated himself as a Halachic Man. He followed the instructions of G-d and he still asked questions. He also demonstrated the "I and Thou" philosophy of Buber because he was in a constant dialogue with G-d. We learn from this parsha that we should feel that G-d is part of our lives. We should spread his word with no fear. We will not be alone.
When I was a student in the university and I took a course in statistics, I was the only observant Jew in my class. At the end of the semester the class wanted to celebrate by going to a restaurant. They knew that I wouldn’t go with them to a non-Kosher restaurant. Two students tried to talk me into joining the group. When they realized that I would not be joining them, the group agreed to go to a kosher restaurant because of me. We are sometimes in an environment that is 90% gentile, and we feel lonely with an atmosphere that may be foreign to the ideas of Judaism. We should feel that G-d is always with us. We should be strong and confident of who we are as Jews. We can learn from Jacob that G-d will be with us at all times, even when we are in a difficult, or sometimes hostile environment as Jacob was with Laban.
May we all be blessed with the good feeling that G-d is always with us and that He listens to our prayers and watches over us. Amen.