Jacob's Heritage

"Moses charged us with the Torah as the heritage of the congregation of Jacob" (Deuteronomy 33:4).

Jacob's return to his ancestral land and pilgrimage to Beit El are far from being the end of the story. The foundations of Jacob's House were laid but the laborious, mufti-generational task of actually building it was yet to come. The story of the building of the House is the on-going history of Jacob and those who go by his name until today, his descendants, the Children of Israel.

"And Jacob dwelled in the land where his father dwelled" (Genesis 37:1). "All Jacob wanted was to live contentedly, but the trouble over Joseph burst out. The tzaddikim just want to live contentedly, but the Holy One blessed-be-He says: Isn't it enough for the tzaddikim that they have so much prepared for them in the World to Come but they want peace and contentment in this world also?" (Rashi ad loc.).

The very essence of Jacob is peace. His mission is to forge harmony out of opposites in order to bring true peace in this and all the worlds. But for that very reason Jacob had to grapple all his life with conflict and the clash of opposites. In addition to his troubles with Esau and Laban, he endured soul-rending jealousy and strife within his own family, especially when his other sons ganged up against Joseph, first-born of Jacob's favorite Rachel, selling him into slavery while telling Jacob he was killed by a wild animal.

Jacob's twelve sons express different aspects of the sefirot, all of which must be brought into an overall dynamic balance in order to rectify the creation. The unfolding tale of the rivalries between the brothers, especially that between Joseph and Judah, was programmatic for all of later Jewish history, which is the story of the rivalry between the House of David and Kingdom of Judah against the Kingdom of Israel (the Ten Tribes) under the leadership of the tribe of Ephraim (who was one of Joseph's sons). It is through the twisting-turning outplay of this rivalry on the stage of world history that God will be revealed to all the world with the coming of Mashiach the son of Joseph and Mashiach the son of David.

Having been sold into slavery in Egypt, Joseph rose to become Pharaoh's Viceroy, saving the country from famine through his plan to consume intelligently during the good years in order to conserve food for the bad years. Egypt being the only place where food was available, Jacob sent his sons there to buy grain, which eventually led to their dramatic reconciliation with Joseph. Jacob and his family of seventy souls now moved to Egypt, becoming within a few generations a nation numbering more than six hundred thousand.

Just as Adam had been expelled from Eden into a world of pain and toil, so the Children of Israel found themselves exiled from their ancestral land enduring bitter servitude to Pharaoh. Instead of building the House of God in the Land of Israel, they were sunk in the degenerate culture of what was then the most "sophisticated" of all countries, building store-cities for Pharaoh. The cycle of history had swung to the opposite extreme from when Abraham boldly rejected the idolatrous city-culture of his time and went off alone in quest of the Land (see Abraham smashes the idols and To the Land).

Yet the purpose of the downswing was to lead to the upswing, when with heavenly signs and miracles Moses led the six hundred thousand Children of Israel out of the cities of Egypt into the stark, awesome majesty of the desert, where at the foot of Mount Sinai they heard the voice of HaVaYaH for themselves and accepted the Torah.

"Moses charged us with the Torah as the heritage of the congregation of Jacob" (Deuteronomy 33:4). It is through the Torah that Jacob's descendants in all the generations work to complete his task of building the House of God. For the Torah provides the pathways and guidelines through which all the details of our lives in the material world of Asiyah can be brought inside the spiritual "House" to serve as a means of ascent and connection with God. This is the heritage of Jacob.

The coming segments in this Course will focus on those aspects of the Torah pathway that enhance our awareness of the world of nature and the environment and bring harmony and balance into the way we interact with them. In an age when much of humanity's interaction with nature and the environment is almost pathological, it is more necessary than ever to turn to the Torah, for "all her pathways are peace", and they alone can bring peace and harmony within human society, between man and the natural environment, and between man and God.



Back to "The House: Jacob" / Course Guide