The first verse of this parsha tells us that “Jacob went out of Be’er Sheva, and went towards Charan.” In English, the question is even more obvious than in the original: why must the Torah tell us that Jacob left Be’er Sheva (and say “went” twice)? Let it merely indicate that he went to Charan, and we will know that (obviously) he left Be’er Sheva.
Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchoki, 11th C. C.E.) explains that what the Torah is indicating is that the departure of a holy person has an effect. The presence of a holy scholar sets standards for a city, and has a positive effect on those around him. Our own moral conduct has an effect on our neighbors – and having an outstanding model to emulate affects each one of us.
Rabbi Yissachar Frand (whose Divrei Torah appear on the list RavFrand) once asked why the Torah never said this about Avraham, but waited for Yaakov. He answered that in the case of Avraham, it was obvious: he devoted his greatest efforts on behalf of the world around him. The Midrash says about Avraham in particular that he was very involved with improving moral conduct and spreading belief in the one G-d.
Yaakov, on the other hand, represented the opposite extreme: he was a “dweller in tents”, involved primarily in his own service. So it might surprise us to learn that even a “Yaakov“, a person who spends his time on his own, is also helping to improve and direct the conduct of his neighbors. This is also considered serving the world. On a practical level, we need to strike a balance between worrying about our own needs, and affecting others around us – but in either case, we should hope to have a positive effect on our world.
Text Copyright © 1994 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.