This week’s Torah reading begins relating how Jacob told Esau. “I sojourned with Lavan.” A sojourn means a temporary visit. Although Jacob spent 20 years in the land of Charan, he never felt that it was his place. Jacob belonged in Israel, G‑d’s Holy Land.

Why then did he stay so long in an alien environment? He had a multidimensional purpose.

Firstly, he was confronted by a personal challenge. In the company of deceitful people, he had to struggle to maintain his personal virtue.

Secondly, he built his family. During his stay in Charan, he married and fathered eleven of his twelve children, establishing his household. Despite the influences that prevailed in the community at large, Jacob infused his family with the spiritual heritage received from Abraham: “to keep the way of G‑d and to implement righteousness and judgment.”

Thirdly, he elevated the environment of Charan, bringing spiritual awareness to this foreign land. This was reflected in his acquisition of Lavan’s sheep and the great wealth which he amassed.

By overcoming the personal challenges posed by his surrounding, Jacob showed that even a hostile environment could not prevent the expression of his inner spiritual potential. By raising a family, he extended his circle of influence beyond his individual sphere, enabling it to encompass others.

Jacob’s acquisition of wealth - and the refinement of the environment it symbolizes - represented a greater achievement. The material possessions acquired by Jacob were previously part of an alien environment. Jacob made them his own possessions, endowing them with the holiness which permeated his household.

In this manner, he set a pattern for his descendants, for we are also “sojourning” in exile. Our people have journeyed from country to country for a purpose: to uncover the spiritual potential invested in all the different elements of existence, revealing how everything in the world exists as an expression of G‑d’s oneness. And when this task is finished, we will return - led by Mashiach - to Israel.