To capture the zeitgeist of mid-19th century American expansion towards the Pacific Ocean, editorialist Horace Greely coined the charge, “Go West Young Man.” In this week’s Parashah the Pasuk records Yaakov’s actions when he arises from his dream, “VaYisa Yaakov Ragelav VaYeilech Artzah Venei Kedem,” "And Yaakov lifted his feet, and went onward to the land of the Easterners (literally, the children of the East)" (BeReishit 29:1). Alas, Yaakov goes east.
And while such a path seems largely innocuous and insignificant by itself, Sefer BeReishit accounts several other individuals who traveled east, and it never leads to good things. In fact, the first such instance of moving east occurs as Adam HaRishon is expelled from Gan Eden, where the Torah says, “VaYigaresh Et HaAdam VaYishkon MiKedem LeGan Eiden,” “And He [God] drove out Man, and set up east of Eden" (BeReishit 3:24). This idea constantly recurs throughout the stories in BeReishit. After murdering his brother Hevel, Kayin goes to Nod, in the east (BeReishit 4:16). Also, the residents of the Tower of Bavel are described as going to the east. And when Lot abandons Avraham, he moves to Sedom – in the east!
Which raises the question: With so much evil surrounding such a route, why does Yaakov feel secure enough in his religiosity to travel eastward – to Lavan’s house – without suffering from the negative influences which spelled the spiritual demise for those before him?
Indeed, Yaakov is very much aware of the danger lying ahead of him in the East, at the house of Lavan. And because of that, Yaakov is determined to prepare himself accordingly to handle living in such a place. Firstly, the Midrash informs us that between the time Yaakov leaves his father’s house and when he actually departs east to Charan, he spends fourteen years studying Torah in the Beit Medresh Sheim VeEiver, solidifying his spiritual confidence before encountering his destination’s depravity. Even so, Yaakov still expressed doubts about his ability to succeed when he leaves Eretz Yisrael as he lays to rest in the beginning of our Parashah— he needed greater assurance. And that is why God appears to him that night and gives him a Berachah that He will watch over him even in such regions.
Very often we are faced with intimidating challenges in which we question our ability to overcome them. But Yaakov teaches us the value of apt preparation. We need to help ourselves succeed as much as possible, whether by practicing before a game or studying for a U.S. History test, and after that point we can turn to Hashem for His aid, and hopefully accomplish our goals as well.