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The Strength of Jacob

The Strength of Jacob

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Modern day society has sprouted all types of gurus. We have experts on childcare and healthy eating, education and entertainment. Self-help books top best-seller lists every year. Is there any place for a rabbi in a society that has specialists to advise us on every area of our life? Does Judaism truly have something to say about every aspect of our life, or are the rabbis who claim to have an opinion on everything simply intrusive and controlling? Should rabbis just stick to teaching Torah?

"You, Jacob, are fine the way you are: a man raised in the 'old country'"Over three thousand years ago, our forefather Jacob was on the run. His brother Esau had tried to kill him so he had taken shelter with his uncle Laban, tending his crops, marrying his daughters and earning himself a comfortable living.

After suffering through Laban's continual machinations, Jacob heeded G‑d's call that he go back home. He took his family and cattle and headed out for the Holy Land. Laban pursued Jacob and overtook him; only thanks to G‑dly intervention was Jacob's life saved.

During their encounter, Laban challenged Jacob on leaving without his permission:

"These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle..."—Genesis 31:43

What was Laban saying? He had literally sold his daughters to Jacob, demanding that he work fourteen years for the privilege of marrying them. Jacob had worked another seven hard years for his herds of cattle. What demands could Laban have of him?

But Laban was arguing a finer point. "The children belong to me," says Laban. "You, Jacob, are fine the way you are: a man raised in the 'old country' whose natural habitat is the tents of Torah learning and prayer. But what do you want of the children? They belong to another generation, another world. They must be raised in the spirit of the times, equipped to earn a living and a place in society. Do you truly expect them to negotiate modern life with nothing but your ancient tomes? You are a good man Jacob, but leave the children to me...

"The cattle are my cattle, Jacob. I wouldn't dream of interfering with your spiritual life, Rabbi—I'll be the first to admit that I'm no authority on religion. By all means, consult your sacred books on how to keep the Shabbat or how to light your Chanukah candles. But when it comes to business affairs, do you think that the stock market conforms to the standards of the Code of Jewish Law? That you can retain both your competitive edge and your talmudic ethics? You'll be eaten alive out there. Reserve your piety for the synagogue and study hall, but do yourself a favor—leave the cattle to me, okay?"

Jacob refuted Laban then, as we must refute the Laban inside us and the Labans in society now. Judaism has something to say on every aspect of our lives, and its teachings must be as relevant to us as it was to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob thousands of years ago.

Rabbi Eli Pink lives in Leeds, England, where he juggles his role as director of education for Lubavitch Foundation of Leeds with his familial responsibilities. His Torah E‑Thoughts are read by hundreds of people, and he teaches a range of Torah classes each week.
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