This week’s Torah portion begins by telling us that Jacob both left Be’er Sheva and that he went towards Haran. The Beis HaLeivi points out that sometimes you leave a place to get away from there, other times you have to go somewhere and the only way to get there is by leaving the place you’re in. Here, Ya’akov needed both to leave and to go. He was fulfilling the mitzvah of honoring each of his parents — kibud av va’eim — with each of these actions.
What is the lesson of this observation about how Jacob both left and went? In life we often win while losing at the same time. It’s better if we can win and win, but that is only rarely possible. Yaakov won doubly by the effects of his actions, leaving Beersheva to obey his mother, and going to Haran to obey his father.
This relates to the beginning of the portion of Masei toward the end of Bamidbar, which starts by saying that the Jewish people’s leaving the places 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. Perhaps these two framings show that 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.
A related idea arises in this portion when Leah names her fourth son. She names him for the gratitude she feels in having a child. For the first time in naming her child she did not focus on hope for the future, and pray that her husband would feel more love for her. Rather than focusing on where she wanted to go, Rivkah appreciated where she had gotten to, and she thanked God.
The mishna 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 a positive place 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 King David). As much as possible in all we do we should be sidestepping the negative roadblocks in life and building up the positive influences that are everywhere.
May God bless us with success in effectively departing and going at the same time, embracing the positive in life, as we move ever forward.