Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, p. 88ff; Vol. IX, p. 26ff;
Vol. XV, p. 231ff, 243ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5748, p. 125ff

From Eretz Yisraelto Charan

We all live in several environments. Some of these like our homes, our workplaces, and the social environments we create are within our sphere of influence. They are small systems, and the contribution each person makes clearly affects them.

On the other hand, there are also larger environments our community, the country in which we live, the world at large where our influence is not felt as strongly. On the contrary, these environments often force us to adjust.

Parshas Vayeitzei focuses on the transition from one environment to another, and the changes this brings about in a person’s conduct. Vayeitzei means “and he went out,” and the reading describes how Yaakov departed from Eretz Yisrael1 and went to Charan, an alien environment. The Hebrew word charan is associated with anger, and thus our Sages interpret2 this name as referring to the arousal of G‑d’s anger.

There are three dimensions to Yaakov’s stay in Charan:

a) He was confronted by a personal challenge. In the company of Lavan and others like him, he had to struggle to maintain his virtue.

b) He built his family. During his stay in Charan, he married and fathered twelve of his thirteen children. Despite the influences that prevailed in the community at large, Yaakov infused his family with the spiritual heritage received from Avraham: “to keep the way of G‑d and to implement righteousness and judgment.”3 In doing so, he established the Jewish modus vivendi for all time.

c) He elevated the environment of Charan, lifting up the G‑dly sparks enclothed in that land’s material substance. This was reflected by his acquisition of Lavan’s sheep and the great wealth which he amassed.

Extending the Sphere of Holiness

Each of these endeavors required unique spiritual powers. By overcoming the personal challenges posed by his surroundings, Yaakov showed the infinite power of the G‑dly soul: even a hostile environment cannot prevent its expression. By raising a family, he extended his circle of influence, enabling it to encompass others.

Yaakov’s acquisition of wealth and the refinement of the environment it symbolizes represents a far greater extension. The material possessions acquired by Yaakov were not, by nature, holy. On the contrary, without Yaakov’s influence, Charan and all of its elements aroused G‑d’s anger. By elevating them, Yaakov was thus working to fulfill the purpose of creation, showing how even the lowest dimensions of existence can be transformed into a dwelling for G‑d.4

Since Yaakov and his family shared an inherent connection to holiness, the fact that they were able to maintain this connection despite the challenges of a foreign environment, although a worthy attainment, cannot be considered an accomplishment of their own. The refinement Yaakov brought about in Charan, by contrast, was his own achievement, one which changed the nature of his environment.

In this manner, he set a pattern for his descendants, demonstrating how they would become G‑d’s partner in creation.5 They would journey throughout the world uncovering the spiritual potential invested in the different elements of existence, revealing that “everything that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory.”6

Kindness, Might, and Beauty

These efforts distinguish the Divine service of Yaakov from that of his forebears, Avraham and Yitzchak. Our Rabbis7 have identified Avraham’s service with the attribute of kindness (chesed), Yitzchak’s with might (gevurah), and Yaakov’s with beauty (tiferes).

Chesed reflects a thrust outward; the person gives generously, without considering whether the recipients are worthy or not. Thus Avraham showered kindness on people “who bowed down to the dust on their own feet.”8 But the fact that this generosity is given indiscriminately allows for the possibility that it will not change the inner nature of the recipients. For this reason, although Avraham lived among the Canaanites for decades, and they recognized him as “a prince of G‑d,”9 they did not alter their conduct.

Gevurah is directed inward. As our Sages commented:10 “Who is a mighty man? One who conquers his natural inclination.” Inner-directed activity produces change, but that change is primarily within oneself. Although this inner light also radiates outward and inspires others, in the final analysis, each person must elevate himself, and thus gevurah will not affect those resistant to change. Therefore Yitzchak lived only in the Holy Land; he could not relate to life outside the realm of holiness. Even in Eretz Yisrael, he had contact with far fewer people than did his father.

In Kabbalistic texts, it is explained that Yaakov’s attribute, tiferes, beauty, comes from a fusion of chesed and gevurah. For neither a single motif, nor its opposite, is beautiful. Beauty comes from the fusing of different and even opposite tendencies. This reflects the influence of the Ein Sof, an infinite quality.11

Similarly, Yaakov is identified with the quality of Truth. For Truth has a dimension that transcends mortal limits, being above all possibility of change or interruption. With Truth, one can reach out and change environments, for nothing can oppose Truth.

Thus Yaakov is described12 as receiving “a heritage that has no boundaries,” and is given the blessing:13 “And you shall spread out eastward, westward, northward, and southward.” For as evidenced by his journey to Charan (and later to Egypt), he was able to elevate even foreign settings.

“The Deeds of the Patriarchs are Signs for Their Descendants”See Ramban, commentary to Genesis 12:6; Or HaTorah, beginning of Parshas Lech Lecha.

Yaakov’s journey to Charan serves as an analogy for the descent of our souls into our bodies.15 In the spiritual realm, our souls experience direct revelations of G‑dliness. Nevertheless, they “go out” from that realm and descend into bodies to live in this material world. Following the pattern set by our Patriarch Yaakov, every soul confronts the challenge of physical existence.

As a person matures, he establishes a family, creating an environment in which his values are expressed. Similarly, through contact with the world at large, he refines and elevates the G‑dly life-force invested in creation.

This pattern is also reflected in the exiles of the Jewish people at large.16 Our people have been forced to leave the holiness of Eretz Yisrael and journey among the nations. Throughout the centuries, despite the challenges presented by the societies in which we dwelt, we have held true to our spiritual heritage, have maintained a tradition of family life, and have elevated the material substance of the world, showing how it is G‑d’s dwelling.

Exile is Only Temporary

On the way to Charan, Yaakov experienced a vision of G‑d in which G‑d promised him:17 “I will return you to this soil.” This indicates that Yaakov’s mission (to go to Charan) and the mission of the Jewish people at large (to make the world a dwelling for G‑d) are not ends in themselves. Yaakov was not intended to stay in Charan forever, and our exile too will come to an end. For every Jew’s true place is in Eretz Yisrael.

This is no longer a dream, but a reality that is becoming manifest. To borrow an expression from the Previous Rebbe:18 “There is nothing left to do. The coat is already sewn. We have even polished the buttons.” We are on the threshold of the Redemption, and indeed are crossing that threshold. Soon Mashiach will lead every Jew out of exile and back to our Holy Land.