No question, the patriarch Jacob is a flawed individual. Of course he is intelligent and intuitive, but he is also calculating and dishonest. He tricks his own brother out of the birthright, and his own father, out of the blessing meant for his brother. And of course, his very name, Ya’akov, comes from the word “heel.” He came out of the womb grasping onto the heel of his brother, as though from their first moments on Earth, he intended to usurp Esau’s place in the world. And in fact, Jacob himself proves to be – a “heel.”
All this being so, if we look once again at our sidra for this week, Vayeitzei, we might also observe a more positive attribute in the behavior of Jacob “the heel.” When Jacob enters Haran to seek refuge with his uncle Laban, his meets Rachel, Laban’s younger daughter. At once he is struck by her beauty, and overcome with emotion. He is enraptured and overpowered, and the love-at-first-sight that he experiences becomes a love that will last the rest of their lives, even beyond Rachel’s death. Jacob agrees to work seven years for his uncle, in order to pay off the bride price for Rachel so that he can be with her, finally. And then, he commits himself to seven more. FOURTEEN YEARS he works for his uncle Laban, all for the love of Rachel. (See Genesis 29.16-30) . . . .
Who would do such a thing? How many of us would actually sacrifice fourteen years of our lives for someone else – especially someone we barely knew? How long would such an infatuation last in our own environment, before we would conclude that it was a waste of our time, and we should simply move on and find someone else?
While Jacob the heel may possess a number of unpleasant characteristics, we might look at this story through the lens that offers us a different view of his complex personality. After throwing his own brother under the bus, so to speak, suddenly Jacob develops the attribute of loyalty – an attribute that is all too often forgotten in our own time.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday, we might want to consider the attribute of loyalty: loyalty to those we love, loyalty to family, to friends and colleagues, loyalty to our faith, and, not to be forgotten, loyalty to our country. America certainly has a lot a problems, which seem to be particularly in evidence at this time. Nevertheless, when we look around at the rest of the world, we realize that despite our problems as a nation, we here still hold the best chance of realizing the dream of justice and freedom for all, no matter how hard we may have to work to bring that dream to full fruition. This is our aspiration, and this is our responsibility.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.