Jacob’s real ‘home’ and ‘dwelling’, was the Torah
Rabbi Pini Pink, Chabad of Greenstone
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about Jacob returning to the Land of Israel, a made man. Having fled for his life from his brother Esau over 20 years earlier, arriving totally destitute on his uncle Laban’s doorstep, he now returned with a large family, flocks of cattle, household help and huge wealth.
Esau was as murderous as ever and came to greet Jacob with 400 men, intent on avenging his honour from all those years before.
Jacob sent Esau gifts and a message; “I have lived with Laban and tarried until now.” Jacob was not merely updating Esau on his travels; there was a deeper meaning to his message.
“Im Lavan garti – I have lived with Laban”, Jacob said. The word “garti” is made up of four letters from the Hebrew Alef Bet, gimmel, reish, tav and yud, which have the numerical value of 613, the number of biblical commandments. The word “ger” also means both a “dweller” and a “foreigner”. Jacob was thus informing Esau that even though Laban’s home had been the antithesis of Judaism, he had stayed true to the Torah and its mitzvot while living there.
Jacob had not strayed from Torah observance precisely because he knew that Laban’s values were “foreign” to him; he knew that his real “home” and “dwelling” was the Torah and its commandments. This awareness enabled him to faithfully observe the Torah’s precepts in an environment hostile to holiness.
Further on in the parsha we read about Simeon and Levi rescuing their sister Dinah, while killing all the adult males in the city of Shechem. While legally the entire city was liable for harbouring a rapist and child abuser, Jacob was upset about the ramifications of their actions on the surrounding nations.
Jacob’s message to Esau has resonated through the generations. As Jews we have lived for centuries in hostile environments and held our heads high. We know that the key to acceptance is not downplaying our Judaism, but rather highlighting our pride in our faith. Showing pride in our G-dly mission not only does not undermine our esteem in the eyes of the world, it enhances it.
Treading the narrow line between pride in our religion and being cognisant of the views of others, is something that we have learnt through our experiences in the Diaspora. A look into our history could help other nations learn that the two are not mutually exclusive.