Parshat Vayeitze: Towards Haran


י. וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּלֶךְ חָרָנָה: So begins Parshat Vayietze. “And Ya’akov went out from Be’er Sheva towards Haran.” Rashi comments:

וילך חרנה: יצא ללכת לחרן:

Rashi is commenting on the end of the verse: “and he went towards Haran.” Rashi comments: He went specifically to Haran. In other words Ya’akov didn’t leave Be’er Sheva in a direction that just happened to be towards Haran: Ya’akov specifically intended to leave for Haran.

The Sfas Emes explains that Be’er Sheva represents Shabbat, the place of p’nimiyut (interiority, or spirit), and Haran represents the week, the place of gashmiyut (exteriority, materiality). We can see here a lesson about how to leave Shabbat: not mindlessly, not haphazardly, but with full awareness. This is the purpose, perhaps, of the Havdallah ritual. Why?

Shabbat is the place beyond the doing of the world. It is a healing immersion in reality, in the world created not as it is created by humans. When we leave behind the world of gashmiyut embodied in the affairs of the shavua (week) we are given a neshama yateira, an expanded soul. When we re-enter the shavua it should be as beings reborn and re-invigorated, ready to be “in the world but not of it.”

But this can only happen if we enter it mindfully and intentionally. In Chassidut it is said that we need to bring Shabbat into the Shavua. We need to bring the waters of be’er sheva into Haran.
But we cannot do this if we are blown back into gashmiyut like a leaf on the wind, with no firm intention, no awareness. We must not fool ourselves.

Bhagavan Das, an American born Hindu yogin once told me that it was only possible to live spiritually in the world after you had completely given it up. Otherwise you may only be fooling yourself. This is the spirit of entering Shabbat and then returning to the Shavua. Shabbat should serve as a weekly corrective, pulling us out of immersion in our own egoic and materialistic narratives and concerns.

The verse says, “Vayelech Haranah.” He went to Haran. In Hebrew “towards Haran” is written by adding a “heh” to Haran, something which is not neccessary in Rashi’s Hebrew. He writes “lalechet l’Haran” (in order to go towards Haran). Rashi’s comment thus draws our attention to the way the pasuk writes “towards Haran” by writing “Haran” with the addition of a “heh”. This mirrors the divine transformation of Avram into Avraham with a heh, and Sarai into Sarah again with a “heh”.
The “heh” here is the last “heh” of the Divine name, which represents Malchut, or the Shechinah immanent in the world. This gives us a clue as to how Ya’akov goes towards Haran, and maybe even “why”.

Ya’akov goes towards Haran understanding that it too is infused with the shechinah. But this also explains “why”. If Haran was not infused with the Shechinah, if gashmiyut was not a panim, a face, of God, then why would Ya’akov go there at all? He would stay in Be’er Sheva, ie. abandon mundane reality.

Rashi’s comment also illumines, as we said above, the pre-requisite for being able to use the things of this world for divine purposes. It must not only be lip service. It must be done intentionally and with full awareness.

Author: Matthew Zachary Gindin

Freelance journalist and teacher. I write regularly for the Forward, All That In Interesting, and the Jewish Independent, and have been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Elephant Journal, and elsewhere.

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