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B'resheet/Genesis 28:5 And Yitz'chak sent Ya'akov and he went to Padan Aram ...
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Taken in isolation, the first verse of the seventh aliyah of this parasha does not seem particularly significant. In context, however, it is part of a sequence that points to what should be an important characteristic of our behaviour both as Jews and as believers in Messiah Yeshua.
The backdrop to this event is that following Ya'akov's successful ruse to gain the blessing of the firstborn by impersonating his brother Esav, Rivka - Ya'akov's mother, who engineered the misappropriation of the inheritance - fears for Ya'akov's safety and has been urging Yitz'chak - the blind father who was duped by the goat-skins - to send Ya'akov "back home" to find himself a wife from among her family in Haran. Yitz'chak may have been reluctant; he was born in Canaan and never left the country. Ya'akov nevertheless saw the wisdom in putting a little space between himself and his brother and probably welcomed the opportunity to travel and see the world. Between his wife and his son, Yitz'chak therefore decided to send Ya'akov to Padan Aram, to the house of his brother-in-law (Ya'akov's uncle) Laban, to cool his heels and see what matrimony and a little responsibility could do to improve his interpersonal skills. Ya'akov's obedience and prompt exit from the bosom of his family is both the key event and the trigger to what follows.
How does Esav take Ya'akov's departure? Only a few verses before, he says to himself, "The days of mourning for my father will soon draw near; then I will kill Ya'akov my brother" (27:41). This after all, is why Rivka wants Ya'akov away from there! We also know that just before this story starts, "[Esav] took as a wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite" (26:34) and that this was an irritation to both his parents (26:35 and 27:46). What does Esav now think - is he disappointed at Ya'akov's relocation so that he will no longer have the opportunity to carry out his plans?Rashi comments that "Esav saw that Yitz'chak had blessed Ya'akov and that he sent him off to Padan Aram and that Ya'akov obeyed his father and went to Padan Aram." Simply seeing that in spite of the deception over of the firstborn blessing, his father still blessed Ya'akov and sent him off to take a wife from the family back home, and that Ya'akov obediently went, caused Esav to look hard at what he was doing. In spite of Yitz'chak's liking for him, was he honouring his parents and being the son they wanted him to be? He reaches the conclusion that "the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Yitz'chak" (28:8, NASB), so he went and took another wife from the family of Ishmael. Because of Ya'akov's obedience, Esav tried to rectify the relationship with his parents and obey their wish for him to marry "in" rather than "out". Even though Esav hated Ya'akov, he learned from and wanted to emulate his brother's behaviour in order to please his parents.
On one occasion when He was questioned about His authority by the Pharisees, Yeshua told a story. "'But give me your opinion: a man had two sons. He went to the first and said, "Son, go and work today in the vineyard." He answered, "I don't want to"; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to his other son and said the same thing. This one answered, "I will, sir"; but he didn't go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?' 'The first,' they replied. 'That's right!' Yeshua said to them" (Matthew 21:28-31, CJB). The Pharisees recognised that the eventual obedience of the first son, even though his initial words were contrary, was the right thing to do; they could also see that the words of the second son, although favourable in themselves, were not matched by action and so proved to be worthless. The behaviour of the two sons in the story was a powerful example that Yeshua used to teach the Pharisees about their behaviour: "I tell you that the tax-collectors and prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of G-d ahead of you! For Yochanan came to you showing the path to righteousness, and you wouldn't trust him. The tax-collectors and prostitutes trusted him; but you, even after you saw this, didn't change your minds later and trust him" (vv. 31-32, CJB).
As might be expected, the letters of the Shluchim - the Apostles - to the young community of believers also pick up on this theme: behaviour and obedience and its effect upon those who see. It is not certain which of Rav Sha'ul or Peter wrote their letters first, but we do have their words recorded for us. Peter not only encourages good behaviour but gives a key reason or motivation: "Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and temporary residents ... to live such good lives among the pagans that even though they now speak against you as evil-doers, they will, as a result of seeing your good actions, give glory to G-d on the Day of his coming" (1 Peter 2:11-12, CJB). By their behaviour, the believers will give such a strong witness of good conduct that although their contemporaries may dismiss them and describe them as evil at the time, they will eventually have to agree that the believers were doing the right thing and give G-d the glory for that. In other words, the witness of the believers was accurate and adequate and even though those who saw them were not prepared to accept it and become obedient themselves to the Gospel, they won't be able to claim that they hadn't seen or heard.
Rav Sha'ul, picking up on an image first used by the prophet Daniel: "those who can discern will shine like the brightness of heaven's dome, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:3, CJB), addresses not just behaviour but attitude. "Do everything without kvetching or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure children of G-d, without defect in the midst of a twisted and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the sky, as you hold on to the Word of Life" (Philippians 2:14-16, CJB). It is not enough simply to be obedient and do the right thing; the attitude that accompanies the action must also be wholesome and willing. Good actions accompanied by a bad attitude will be swamped, so that all that will be seen is the negative expression; there will be no good witness - on the contrary, the overall effect will be bad and discourage others from wanting to be involved with the Kingdom of G-d. In order to shine, to stand out from the actions and attitudes of the world in which we live, we must not only do the right thing but do it willingly and enthusiastically. Then both behaviour and delivery will combine to provide a powerful positive witness for the Kingdom.
In spite of his previous offences, Ya'akov quietly submitted to his father's instructions to head back east and take a wife from his mother's relatives. This had a sufficient effect on even a resentful and aggressive Esav that he recognised that his choice of wives had offended his parents so he took steps to ameliorate the situation. Yeshua's story demonstrates that actions rather than words signify real obedience and convey our true commitment. Sha'ul and Peter's letters call us both to good actions and good attitudes so that our witness for G-d may be consistent and an attractive invitation to join the Kingdom of G-d. How is your witness? Are you careful always to obey G-d without complaining and protesting about it? Do you proclaim your membership of the Kingdom by your cheerful attitude and graceful compliance to G-d's instructions and regulations? We all probably need to do some work in this area! We must not let our current situation control our future behaviour or who we are called to be.
Further Study: 1 Corinthians 15:58; Ephesians 4:17-18
Application: Start with something small: keeping the speed limit when driving is an amazing witness in a culture that generally doesn't and is always noticed by passengers in your car, particularly if they are themselves able to drive. A cheerful and willing submission to this simple regulation opens the door to talk about larger issues in the Kingdom. Try it and see!
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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