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Genesis: From Wanderlust to Stability

It it almost a truism that risk tolerance comes in the blood; entrepreneurs are born and not bred. We see this with the Avos as well – Avraham goes out when he is commanded to do so, but it was hardly a novel concept. After all Terach, Avraham’s father, did precisely the same thing: he left his land, the place of his kinsmen, and his father’s house. Terach had wanderlust, and Avraham proved that he, too, was capable of “leaving it all behind.”

But it did not stop there.

At the Akeidah, Yitzchak is the one who leaves his father’s house (though keeping his mother’s tent, if not his mother herself). Yitzchak is not seen with Avraham from the Akeidah until the end of Avraham’s life. The father and son separate, and neither seems to have any problem with it. Leaving one’s father was in its third generation in the family – it was practically a tradition!

At first, Yaakov seems to break the mold; he is content to stay at home. After the fiasco with the blessing Yaakov leaves, but it was not his idea, and he was hesitant to do so; he only left because his father sent him away. And even though Yaakov leaves his father’s house and the land of Israel, he goes to live with family – the third piece of “Lech Lecha”.

But for all that Yaakov is reluctant to go, once he is outside Israel he does not spend much time looking back. When it is time for Yaakov to return to the land of his fathers, Yitzchak does not send for him, and Yaakov does not make that decision himself.  Instead, G-d Himself has to remind Yaakov that it is time to go home.

Yaakov indeed returned to the land of Israel, but he is in no hurry to go home. When Yaakov comes back into Israel, he does not go straight to see his parents. He spends years wandering around, years specifically not seeing his parents. Yaakov does not go to see his mother before she dies, and the Torah only mentions that Yaakov came to see his father when it was time for Yitzchak to die.

Let’s face it:  while we imagine that the Avos desired to live together, one generation to the next, none of them actually did it. And there was no complaint; they did not seem unhappy, or consider it untoward that once a child discovered his independence (when Avraham discovers G-d, when Isaac survives the Akeidah, and when Yaakov leaves Israel), he may never see his father again.

But in the end, it was Yaakov who broke the mold. While he may not have been interested in living with his own parents, Yaakov certainly wanted to live with his children. And for the first time since Terach’s own father had lived, Yaakov’s children reciprocated. By Yaakov’s sunset years, the family was united in one place.

The risk tolerance of Terach and Avraham, so necessary at the beginning, had to be bred out of the system before the Children of Israel could actually stop being a startup, and grow into a tribe and then a nation. It was in the merit of Yaakov’s love for his children, and the love the children showed back to their father (culminating in the scenes between the brothers and Yosef in Egypt), that the winnowing process from Terach through to Yaakov finally reached its conclusion.

The nation of Israel must be a nation of love, a nation where the fathers and sons love one another, and want to be near each other. And once Yaakov and his sons were able to put it into practice, the genesis of the Jewish people was over, and it was time to start growing into a nation.

Anytime we think of Jewish fathers and sons, it is a natural corollary that G-d as the ultimate father, is also at least a shadow partner in the relationship.  Avraham, Isaac and Jacob improvised their relationship to Hashem as much as they did their relationship to their own fathers. They had no clear system of korbanos, sacrifices, for example. There was no Mishkan, or Beis Hamikdash, or priestly class – and there was nothing wrong with this! The Avos were starting up, and that meant that they had to show the nimbleness and flexibility necessary for a small organization.

Over time, though, the kinds of people who start new businesses are typically not the right kinds of people to run them after they grow into a mature company. Once a risky startup develops into a stable, process-oriented, bureaucratic organization, it typically needs a different kind of executive officer.

So once the nation was “born” in the exodus from Egypt, the very nature of relationship with Hashem also changes. The rest of the Torah is concerned with the rules and processes that must be in place in order for the Jewish nation to flourish, not as a startup, but as a mature and organized society. So while we can expound on the great achievements of the fathers and mothers, the founders of Judaism, we are not meant to emulate their relationship to Hashem by building an altar in our backyard, or by leaving our families to strike out in an entirely new direction. We live in the post-Exodus world, and that means that we have a role as part of the nation of Israel. Our service is within a framework of laws and customs, the bureaucracy and processes of a fully developed entity. Wanderlust remains a part of our tradition, but like Yaakov and his sons, we are meant to accomplish it without doing as Terach and Avraham did. When Jews wander, we no longer leave it all behind.

Comments are welcome!