Jacob fled to the country of Aram;
Israel served to get a wife,
and to pay for her he tended sheep. — Hosea 12:12
The Torah portion for this week, Vayeitzei, which means “and he left,” is from Genesis 28:10–32:3, and the Haftorah is from Hosea 11:7–12:14.
The reading that accompanies Vayeitzei comes from the book of Hosea. The Haftorah begins, “Jacob fled to the country of Aram; Israel served to get a wife, and to pay for her he tended sheep.” There is an obvious allusion to the story that we read in this week’s Torah portion about Jacob’s life while on the run. But the connection between the two readings doesn’t lie in their similarities; it’s in how they contrast with one another.
Let’s take a look at the Haftorah. The prophet Hosea lived about 200 years after King Solomon. The kingdom was now split into Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judea (the Southern Kingdom). Israel was in a time of physical abundance, but spiritual desolation. And it’s because things were so good materially that Israel became so bad spiritually. So God sent Hosea to admonish Israel.
Through His prophet, God reminded the people, “I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of burning heat. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me” (Hosea 13:5–6). God took excellent care of His people. He protected them from heat and hunger when they spent 40 years in the desert and blessed them with abundance and security when they came to the land of Israel. But once they were satisfied, they had no need for God. Tragically, they forgot Him.
Jacob’s life stands in stark contrast to the path of the Israelites in Hosea’s time. His life was much tougher. As the first section of our verse tells us, Jacob fled the comfort of his parents’ home in order to escape the wrath of his brother who wanted to kill him.
And then he ran right into another trap in the form of an uncle who was cruel, deceitful, and bent on crushing his spirit. Jacob spent 20 years virtually enslaved to his uncle until he was able to free himself and his family. But there was more bitterness to come. Jacob lost his beloved wife, then his favorite son, and he spent his last years in Egypt.
Here’s the difference between Jacob and his descendants many years later: Jacob’s life was tough, but he never stopped thanking God for all of the good in his life. The Israelites had it easy, but they failed to thank God for anything.
Life is not about what we have; it’s about what we focus on. We can zoom in on our blessings or barely notice them. The extent to which we acknowledge and celebrate our blessings will define our relationship with God. But that’s not all. It will also determine the amount of joy that we experience in our lives.
It’s a good litmus test for us. What are we grateful for today? Where is our focus? Are we like Jacob — or the Israelites? We get to choose.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President