Vayeitzei: Making the journey count as much as the destination
The Chief Rabbi’s weekly insight for Vayeitzei
Why isn’t’ there a parsha called ‘Yaakov’?
We have six parshiot named after people: Noach, Chayei Sara, Yitro, Korach, Balak and Pinchas. This week’s parsha of Vayeitsei actually commences, “Vayeitsei Yaakov”. Next week’s will be, “Vayishlach Yaakov,” and the one after will be, “Vayeishev Yaakov’”. Here are three opportunities for a parsha to be called ‘Yaakov’ – yet instead, we opt for the verb that comes before his name?
In fact, these three parshiot form a group – Vayeitsei, Vayishlach, Vayeishev – and they teach us about the journey of life.
Vayeitsei – ‘he departed from…’ Vayishlach – ‘He sent messengers to…’ in order to discover what he would find when he arrived at his destination. And Vayeishev – ‘He dwelled…’ referring to the destination itself.
These three titles together present a powerful lesson about the journeys of our own lives. We shouldn’t only depart from where we are and arrive at our destination. It’s also important to prepare for where we’re going and in doing so, derive meaning from the journey.
Yaakov himself did this towards the end of his life when he discovered that Yosef was still alive in Egypt. He took the family, 70 souls in all, on a journey there, and sent Yehudah ahead of the family to set up places of learning in Goshen, in Egypt, to guarantee that while away from home the Jewish people would remain true to our traditions and to Hashem.
In this context we can appreciate how important the lesson of Chazal is in Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, where we are taught,
“Know where you’re coming from, where you’re going to, and before Whom you shall be accountable.”
Here we are being presented with the story of our lives from the moment we are born until the moment we pass away. We need to be preparing for the time when we will stand before our Creator, when our entire existence will be judged.
From the three sedras we’re currently reading we should always remember: it’s not just the vayeitsei and the vayeishev that count – where we’re coming from and where we’re going to – it’s also the vayishlach, how we’re conducting ourselves along the way.