This week’s Torah reading recounts how Jacob leaves his father’s home in the land of Israel, goes to Charan, a city in the Diaspora, where he marries, raises a family, and amasses wealth. After a sojourn of 20 years, he seeks to return, and collects his family and possessions and journeys back to Eretz Yisrael.

Without discounting the narrative’s historical truth, it can also be understood as an analogy. Jacob serves as an analogy for the soul, the land of Israel for the spiritual realms, and Charan, for our material world.

The soul is an eternal spiritual entity, “an actual part of G‑d.” And yet, it is forced to abandon the revelation it experiences in the spiritual realms and descend to this material world. Why? To get married, raise a family, and amass wealth. And then, after many years pass, the soul returns to the spiritual realms?

If the soul begins in the spiritual realms and ends in the spiritual realms, and its fundamental identity is spiritual, why is it so necessary for it to descend to this material realm? Is getting married, raising a family, and amassing wealth that important?


Were the soul to be concerned with its own satisfaction alone, then it would be better for it to remain in the spiritual realm. There it would be encompassed by revealed G‑dly light at all times. But there is something more important to the soul than its own satisfaction, and for that reason it descends to this material world.

The soul is sent into this world with a mission. G‑d wants man to improve upon His creation. He created the world with a G‑dly potential, but that G‑dly potential is not openly revealed. It is left for man to “Know Him in all your ways,” and to make the G‑dly potential that is hidden in this world openly manifest. This mission is what propels the soul into this material realm.

This is why getting married, raising a family, and amassing wealth are so important. G‑d is not interested only in the way we study or pray. If all He wanted from us is to perform spiritual activities, He could have left the soul in the spiritual realms. G‑d made the soul descend so that it becomes involved with other people and with the material environment it is placed. On this plane, it must look beyond the physical and appreciate that every entity has a spiritual purpose and do what it can to insure that this purpose is realized.

On the other hand, this emphasis on material activities is not to the exclusion of prayer and study. Without them, we would not have the awareness to appreciate an entity’s spiritual purpose, or the inner strength to pursue that purpose despite our material tendencies. That is why our sages emphasize that Jacob spent 14 years immersed in study before setting out for Charan. He needed - as do we his spiritual heirs - this positive influence to empower him to meet the challenges he would face in the long years in Charan.