Thursday, November 18, 2010

Going Home

Many years ago Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel "You Can't Go Home Again".
In it he told the story of a man, himself a novelist who becomes an instant success for his first book. However that very book is seen by the people of his hometown as describing them in unflattering ways. He becomes a hero in society. Yet, because of the anger he causes in the town of his roots, he can't go home again!

"You can't go home again" has become much more famous as an individual maxim than as a novel. Its core concept expresses the idea that once one grows up and grows out of the limited family environs, s/he can never really go back home, at least not as the person/child they once were.

This week, in the parsha of Vayishlach, we read of Yaakov, our father, finally coming home. In truth it seems a much delayed homecoming, and one Yaakov did not seem very keen on. You recall, several weeks ago we read how Yaakov was sent away by his mother Rivka, after he stole the blessings from Esav, his brother. Rivka and Yitzchak envisioned Yaakov being away as short time, just long enough to marry and for his brother's anger to abate.

In the end Yaakov stays away all of 36 years. Twenty of them he spends in the home of his father-in-law, Lavan. By the time he returns his mother already died. He had opportunity to return home after being with Lavan 14 years. Instead he chose to stay-on and make money growing his flock. Even when he finally decided to return to Canaan, it only came after he no longer felt welcome in the house of Lavan. He expressed to his wives the need to leave, not so as to return to his parents, they are not mentioned. Rather he claimed the need to redeem the pledge he made to G-d at Bet El,before he began his long and difficult journey.

Still more, after his encounter with Esav, of which we read this week, we would expect Yaakov to finally go home. But no, he moved his family to Succot, there setting up a home for a year and a half.
And even after that, Yaakov moves to Sh'chem where the terrible story of the rape of his daughter Deena takes place, and in consequence the whole town is massacred. Who knows how long he might have stayed there if he were not compelled to leave because of the circumstances.

Only after Rachel died did Yaakov finally come home. Why? Why does Yaakov seem to resist going home? Why does he disappoint both parents desire to see him, and keep away so long? How can we explain this? And if he truly avoided home for so long, how is it that he finally does indeed go home again?

We call this blog The Torah and the Self. Its intent is to make the Torah personal so as to grow from what the stories and laws have to teach us about ourselves. None of us can be sure why Yaakov stayed away so long, why he avoided going home. But knowing ourselves, and knowing his story we can speculate. It would not be surprising if in Yaakov's time away and in his maturation he got in touch with some conflicted feelings towards one or both of his parents. After-all, his father Yitzchak preferred his older brother Esav to him, as the Torah told us. Yaakov was the Tzaddik yet his father loved more his older sibling who was not. That hurts!

As for Rivka, Yaakov might well have wondered about the way she loved him. Why did she send him in to lie before his father in the deception of the blessings, rather than confront his father herself. Why did he have to carry the burden of the wrath of Esav, when it was his mother's agenda he was following? Questions that while when young and living at home one might put aside, as one matures and moves away, cause one a sense of conflictedness towards a parent and perhaps even some anger.

Many of us who were 'perfect' children, as we grew became conscious of issues we had about our upbringing. Often we brought them to therapy. If we were fortunate we got to raise the issues with our parents, express our feelings and achieve a special reconciliation, one only possible adult to adult. That's hard work. Many a child, now adult, resists going home if their feelings never get worked through.

Yaakov had reason to avoid going home.It was uncomfortable for him at best. He had feelings about his childhood and upbringing. How could he not? So how is it that he finally goes home? What makes the homecoming possible?

I believe the Torah tells us exactly what made Yaakov able to go home. He needed to! When does Yaakov go home, after the debacle with Deena, when he cannot protect his only daughter from harm and fails as a father. When does Yaakov go home, after he is ashamed of Shimon and Levi his older sons for there act of mass murder, and for making the family vulnerable to attack.When does Yaakov go home, after his beloved Rachel dies on the road, in giving birth to his child! and, in tradition, as a consequence of an oath he swore to Lavan! Indeed he goes home after he has failed as a husband too!

Yaakov goes home because he needs to. Yes, he felt conflicted towards his mother and father. But he needed the love and affirmation only a parent could bring. The angel he wrestled with, in the beginning of this week's reading, wounded him a wound time and attention could heal. These wounds were different. They affected his core sense of self and person and required much more to heal. These wounds needed the warmth of home and nurturing. Yes, Yaakov the adult,the one accomplished and mature, needed the love and caring available to children in their time of vulnerability. That kind of caring can only be gained at home and from one's family of origin.

Seen in this light the story of Yaakov's homecoming is both profound and personal. In it we can very much find pieces of ourselves and of those we know. Can we go home again? We can when we need to! Who was it that said "necessity is the mother of invention!".

Yaakov's story is indeed our own...

Shabbat Shalom

PS I want to thank my wonderful wife Lindy for her thoughts on this that much inspired me.

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