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Torah Portion: Vayetze

Book of Genesis

Chaps. 28:10-32:3

December 9, 2016

            Alcoholics Anonymous developed the famous “12-Step” program in 1935. Since then we have learned there are many faces to addiction, drugs and alcohol being only one of them. Behavior is also a face of addiction. The popular magazine, “Psychology Today” writes: “It is important to recognize that an addiction’s cause is not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has nothing to do with one’s morality or strength of character.” Addiction is a mistaken effort to take control of one’s life by giving up control to a substance or even behavior.

Jacob’s obsession with self-importance, fueled in part by the favoritism shown him by his mother Rebecca, reaches the level of addiction. From birth, Jacob was never satisfied with being No. 2. He cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright as first-born for a bowl of soup and later conspired with his mother to deceive his father Isaac into giving him the parental blessing meant for Esau. Fearing retribution from his brother, Jacob runs away from home to take refuge with his Uncle Laban, his mother’s brother. Jacob’s inability to put the brakes on the moral/ethical missteps of his early years gives one pause to wonder if he was just another intellectual derelict with great gifts but unable to realize them.

All this changes in one eventful night; one dream-filled epiphany. On his journey to his uncle’s home, Jacob spends a night camping out on the road. While lying beneath the stars he envisions a ladder extending from the earth to the heavens with angels going up and down. Upon awakening in the morning, Jacob proclaims, “God was in this place and I did not know!” (Gen. 28:16) A light goes on. Though Jacob thought he was always acting alone in his own best interests, God was always there. Rabbi Kerry Olitzky writes, “This is a difficult lesson to learn-that there is something or someone beyond the self, more powerful that has control over our lives.”

Rabbi Olitzky goes on to write, “When this notion of being in control of our own life and its direction gets out of control, it becomes manifest as an addiction. This is why those in recovery force themselves to “turn it over” to God. Their poison of choice forces them to recognize that they are not in control. Rather, it was the addiction that was controlling them. In order to regain control of their lives, they have to give up their control [to God].”

In a world increasingly more addicted to war, hatred, enmity, and division healing will not result from a political election but from recognizing-as Jacob did-we are not alone, God is in this place, ever-patient, infinitely available.

Rabbi Howard Siegel


© 2017 Beth Tikvah Synagogue, Richmond, BC, Canada
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