I guess he’s makin’ the best of a bad situation,
Don’t wanta make waves, can’t you see.
He’s just makin’ the best of a bad situation,
Reckon I’d do the same if it was me.
This chorus, from Making the Best of a Bad Situation, released by Dick Feller in 1974, could well have been Jacob’s theme song while he sojourned with his uncle Laban.
Strolling through this weeks parasha, we see several episodes in Jacob’s life. First he is fleeing his home in fear of big brother Esau’s retaliation after Jacob and his mother Rebecca had secured the patriarchal blessing by trickery. Nevertheless, Hashem promises Jacob that everything will eventually be well for him.
Behold, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I promised you.Genesis 28:15
The next episode involves Jacob getting settled with Rebecca’s brother Laban (Gen 24:29). But it appears that trickery is a family tradition; only this time it is perpetrated against Jacob. The story is very familiar: Jacob meets and falls madly in love with Laban’s younger daughter Rachel, and requests her hand in marriage (Gen 29:18–20). He works for seven years for the hand of Rachel. On the wedding day, however, Jacob is tricked into marrying the elder sister, Leah, and then has to work another seven years for Rachel (Gen 29:25–26). Notice the sleight of hand going on in both stories, as the incident with Leah and Rachel is reminiscent of the ruse played on Isaac. The old adage “what goes around, comes around” may well have started with Jacob’s family.
In last week’s parasha, Rebecca’s actions and advice led to the final split in her family that caused Jacob to flee from his home. Rebecca lost twenty years of family relationships (see Gen 31:38) and missed the births of all of her grandchildren, simply because she chose to help Hashem accomplish his plans for her son. This week, Jacob is not only separated from his parents for twenty years, but he winds up with a family situation that is fraught with rivalry and competition. For sure he is blessed according to Hashem’s promise at Beth-El (Gen 28:15–16), but shalom bayit (peace in the home) seems to be missing, as there is continual struggle between the sister-wives and their children and the concubines and their children. On top of these problems, there is the never-ending struggle with Laban and his sons that culminated in Jacob fleeing Laban’s home and land (Genesis 31:1–2). Jacob’s problems were realized both individually and collectively.
Rav Shaul has words of encouragement that are relevant to Jacob’s situation and to our lives today.
Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.Romans 8:28
Earlier we saw that Hashem told Jacob that all would be well with him and not that all would necessarily go well with him. Rav Shaul’s words are similar. He does not say that everything we do in obedience to the will of God and love of God will work together for our good. Neither does he say that there will be no consequences for the choices we make; even though all things work together for good for those who love God, we’ll still face the consequences of our choices. What he does say is that eventually, whether we see it or not, all things will work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. The sibling rivalry that emerged during Jacob’s time with Laban has continued throughout Israel’s history. Though tribal lines are less distinct today, rivalry between different strands and streams of modern Judaism remain just as prevalent. For that matter, the same could be said for the Body of Messiah.
Our assurance is not that we will be trouble free in our faith-walk. In fact Yeshua taught his disciples just the opposite.
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have shalom. In the world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world!”John 16:33
I realize that in context Yeshua was speaking of troubles that his followers would endure from a world that would not follow him. However, the reality is that we will have trouble, even in our own communities. Jacob’s family struggles, though unique in many ways, are not isolated to Jacob alone. We all have issues with which we deal within our families, personal and congregational. Life tends to throw us curve balls at the most inopportune times, and sometimes handling those curve balls may seem impossible. That is the time we must remember that (1) Yeshua has overcome all of these situations and (2) with hearts of faith we can live in the assurance that all things will work together for the good . . . whether we see it or not.
Later in his letter to the Romans, Rav Shaul gives an invaluable piece of advice: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people” (Rom 12:18).
It is easy to focus on the last half of this phrase, “live in shalom with all people.” However, the first part of the verse, “If possible, so far as it depends on you,” sets the guidelines for the second part. While we have the responsibility to live in shalom “so far as it depends on you”, living in shalom does not depend only upon us; it depends on others as well.
Since I began with a musical notation, I’ll end with one as well—the chorus from The Gambler, a country song written by Don Schlitz and made famous by Kenny Rogers in 1978.
You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away, and know when to run.
You never count your money, when you’re sittin’ at the table,
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.
In other words, we do what we can do, and sometimes that involves walking away or, as in Jacob’s case, running away. And in the end, we may not see “all things work together for good,” but whether or not we personally see it, we know that the promises of God are sure, as he cannot lie (Num 23:19). As Rav Shaul reminds us, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).
The Torah reading for Parashat Vayatze is Genesis 28:10 – 32:2 (1 in English). From the Prophets the reading is Hosea 11:7 – 12:14 (Sephardic tradition) and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is from John 1:19-51.
* This week’s Torah Thoughts also appears on the UMJC’s website, https://www.umjc.org/commentary/2019/12/3/the-best-of-a-bad-situation