Balancing Departures and Destinations
By Rabbi Neil Fleischmann
An unusual phraseology is employed in the opening line of Parshat VaYeitzei. Instead of simply stating one or the other, we are told that Yaakov both left (vayeitzei) Be'er Sheva and that he went towards (vayeileich) Charan. The Maggid of Dubno, as well as the Beis HaLeivi, point out that sometimes in life you leave a place because you have to get away from there, while other times the key is that you have to go somewhere and the only way to get there is by leaving the place you're in. Here, Ya'akov needed to do both, leave and go. In fact, he was fulfilling a mitzvah, the mitzvah of kibud av va'eim, with each of these actions: His mother told him to leave Be’er Sheva in order to flee from his brother. And his father told him to go to Charan to find a wife.
What is the lesson of this observation about the words vayeitzei and vayeileich?
In life, it sometimes seems that when we win in one way we are also losing in another way at the same time. For example, you may need to get somewhere, but the price you pay is leaving somewhere you wanted to be. Or you may need to leave somewhere and you to escape to an unappealing place. It’s better if you can win and win, if your leaving and your entering are both beneficial for you. But is that possible? Here, Yaakov won doubly by the effects of his actions – both his leaving and his going were of import, and sometimes we can do that too.
On a related note Parashat Masei starts by saying that the Jewish People’s leaving the places where they camped was for the purpose of getting to their new destinations. Then the Torah reverses the order and says the destination list was structured according to their leaving other places. Why the change in order?
From God’s perspective the point was that they had to get to their next station, which by necessity meant they had to leave the place where they were. On the other hand, the people were always restless. From their point of view, they just needed to get out of where they were regardless of where they would end up.
Sometimes we need to move toward a destination, and we mistakenly feel that this destination is all that matters. We can pay sorely for focusing solely on our desire to move on, even if moving forward is the right — the Divine — thing to do. We can fail to enjoy the process of moving forward or the moment we’re in, a time that has its own integrity and upon which we’ll one day look back with fondness. It is a shame not to appreciate the here and now, which will too soon be later.
On the other hand we can’t remain static. We need to always move forward. Sometimes we get so caught up in the moment that we don’t recognize the need to move ahead. And yet even when we do move ahead we need to keep in mind that where we go matters a great deal. Neither God nor the people were wrong about the moves in the desert or in life in general. At the same time that we need to leave one place we need to be elsewhere.
The mishnah in Avot says "Hevei goleh limkom Torah" - "Exile yourself to a place of Torah". There are two halves here. There's hevei goleh, and there's limkom Torah. Getting away from bad influences is one half while going to positive ones is the other required piece if we seek spiritual success.
On a broader scale there is the concept of "Sur meirah va'asei tov", "keep away from bad and do good" (as put by Dovid HaMelech). As much as possible in life in all we do we should travelling away from negative roadblocks and moving toward positive growth at the same time.
May G-d bless us with success in emulating Yaakov our father, and our ancestors in their desert life, in effectively departing and going at the same time.