Posted on November 27, 2020 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck
The Torah depicts the story of our people as a series of journeys. From Abraham, who is called to “go forth” to a land of promise, to the Exodus and 40 years of wandering, to exile and return – again and again, from one land to another, and shore to shore. We are a people in motion, always on the move, always moving forward, always becoming. Even when fortune forces us to take flight, fleeing from is transformed into moving toward.
In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob leaves Be’er Sheva, escaping from his brother Esau, whom he has cheated and deceived. He is running away, but also moving toward – toward Haran, toward love, toward the growth and transformation that lie ahead.
Along the way, Jacob has a series of dreams that reflect the unfolding and dynamic nature of life as a journey and a quest. The first is of a ladder that links heaven and earth. The second is of Jacob himself wrestling with an angel.
Both are wonderful metaphors for seeking and searching. The ascent of the ladder represents the aspiration to rise to higher levels of growth, understanding, and spiritual enlightenment. The contention with the angel reflects the need to wrestle with life’s questions and our own competing qualities to attain a higher vision of ourselves.
There is great wisdom to seeing life as a multi-dimensional journey, for it encourages us to view the present moment as just one stage along the way. Whatever challenges or difficulties we may be facing are not permanent. They will pass. New possibilities will emerge and reveal themselves, especially if we dare to dream and to wrestle. A seeker is never stuck; not for long, anyway.
Viewing life as a spiritual quest adds another dimension to life’s journey. The twists and turns along the way will yield new insights if we are attentive to what we may learn from them. On the level of the soul, no experience in life is wasted. Even when we can’t move forward, we can look inward and upward to grow in spirit and understanding. Challenge can be a catalyst for growth when faced with openness, anticipation, and hope for what may lie ahead.
The Maggid of Dubno told a parable that urges us to be seekers and to see life as a quest:
There was a wealthy man who was so afraid that he might be robbed of his possessions that he hid everything in various secret hiding places throughout his house.
Unfortunately, he died quite suddenly, and his son did not know where he could find his inheritance. As he sat gloomily in his room, counting his last few silver pieces, one of the coins dropped from his hand to the floor and rolled away before he could reach it. Since he had so little money, he desperately searched for the coin, high and low. Finally, at his wits’ end, he tore out the floorboards and – lo and behold! – beneath the planks he discovered a chest full of gold coins. Naturally, this happy discovery impelled him to go on searching. He never found his own piece of silver, but wherever he looked, he came upon new treasures.
True, his silver coin was lost, but can we say that his efforts to find it were a waste of time? No, indeed, for it was during this search that he discovered other unexpected treasures.
The same is true of our own striving after the Infinite, said the Maggid. We may not find the thing we have set out to seek, but on the way, we may well come upon magnificent treasures of mind and spirit that, had we sat idle, we would never have discovered.
May we always be seekers, searching for life’s meaning, looking for the good to come, grateful always for the blessings of life and love.
Rabbi Arnie Gluck