Open-Ended Journeys

Like our ancestors, we are all on journeys throughout our lives.

Commentary on Parashat Vayetzei, Genesis 28:10 - 32:3

Like so many of the early portions of the Torah, this is a narrative of journey. And because the Torah is our story and not just the story of our ancestors, it reflects the fact that we too are on a journey. We move from one place to another. Sometimes they are the simple journeys of going from one location to a different one. And other times, they are the metaphysical journeys of our moving from one stage to another in our lives. Often people take these journeys and do not reflect on them, nor think about the forces at play that motivate our movement.

In the case of this week’s Torah portion, not only did Jacob acknowledge that there were influences in his life that directed his travels, but he also took note of the presence of God even in the simple steps along the way. And to make sure that others took such note, he named the place of his recognition: Bet El — the house of God.

Social psychologist and researcher Bethamie Horowitz has taught us through her work that Jewish identities are not static. Rather, like Jacob, our identities are reflective of our journeys. They continue to evolve throughout our lives. And the shortcoming of research is that it usually only gives us a snapshot of the population under study at any one moment in time. As a result, it is difficult to draw conclusions for the future from them.

For me, the lesson of inclusion from this Torah portion is that while we can know that all of us are on a journey, we cannot know where the journey will ultimately lead. That is why we have to open our gates to the community so then when one’s journey leads people here, we are ready to receive them with open arms.

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