Remember that dread feeling of walking your child into the schoolyard on the first day of school? Your feelings of loss and panic as you entrusted your precious bundle to the ministrations of relative strangers? Who knows what humiliations he'll suffer, what difficulties he'll encounter, over the next decade and a half of formal education! Wouldn't it make more sense to ask them to return your school fees, and keep him safely at home?

No one does it. Not just because school administrators are notoriously reluctant to provide refunds, but because we recognize that the benefits and accomplishments our children will realize during their time at school far outweigh the stresses and distresses of leaving the home zone of comfort.

Our one hope is that the warmth and reassurance the kid has enjoyed till now; the compassion and care provided in his early, formative years, will support him through the occasional pockets of difficulty he or she will inevitably encounter.

This week's Torah reading (Genesis 28-32) tells the story of Jacob's 20-year journey from the land of Israel to Charan and back. Jacob is forced to leave the comforts of home and travel out into the big wide world. He stops off on the way to pray at the site of the future Temple, and there he sleeps and dreams a fascinating dream: A ladder was set on the ground and its top reached the heaven, and angels of G‑d were going up and down on it (Genesis 28:12).

Our sages explain that the angels going up the ladder were "angels of the land Israel" who had accompanied Jacob on his life journey up to that point. Now, as he prepared to leave the holy land and engage the alien outside beyond its borders, a second group of angels came down the ladder, dispatched from heaven to escort him on his journeys.

This "changing of the guard" was occasioned by the different purposes the two teams of angels were tasked with. The local troupe of angels, redolent with all the history and spirituality that the Holy Land invokes, had imbued within Jacob his early training in greatness. Now, however, as he crossed the wilderness that lies beyond, his mission changed.

Also in our own journey through life there is a constant interplay between staying faithful to one's past and remaining open to new experiences.

When backpacking around Europe, my friend and I would often marvel at the tour groups riding by in homogenous groups in their air-conditioned buses. They would stay at American style hotels and insist on eating at the same fast-food franchises available at home. One wonders why they bothered with the expense of travel, when they could have enjoyed an identical "experience" by staying home and watching a travelogue on TV.

To truly develop as a citizen of the world one must get out among the people, rub shoulders with the locals, and learn and profit from each new encounter. Equally important, however, is ensuring that one's essential self, one's core identity, not be adversely impacted by the cynicism of strangers.

Hence the two groups of angels who accompanied Jacob on the various stages of his journey and their diverse roles. The "angels of the Holy Land" acted like the moral guardians who nurture a child during his formative years, while the group of angels who accompanied Jacob into the world surrounded and protected him as he sampled new influences and experiences, and watched him develop into the confident patriarch of Israel who emerged from the challenges of his journey.