Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer GurkowCourtesy

Jacob traveled from Beer Sheva to Haran. Beer Sheva, Hebrew for the well of the oath, was named after the oath of friendship taken by Abraham and the Philistine king, Abimelech. Haran was named after the Hebrew word haron, which means anger. The people of Haran, chief among them Laban, Jacob’s uncle, angered G-d with their deceitful ways.

From the pan to the fire. From Abimelech to Laban. In Beer Sheva, Jacob was in the vicinity of the wicked Abimelech. By traveling to Haran, he exchanged one wicked person for another—Abimelech for Laban. Of course, he really left Beer Sheva to escape his wicked brother Esau, who wanted to kill him for absconding with their father’s blessings. It seems that Jacob couldn’t catch a break. In attempting to flee one wicked place, he went to another.

The truth is that Jacob did not go to Haran merely to flee danger. G-d orchestrates the events of the world. If G-d wanted to protect Jacob from Esau, he could have done so in Beer Sheva. There was no need for Jacob to flee to Haran, another den of wickedness and deceit. Jacob went to Haran for a different reason.

Light In Darkness
He was on a mission of marriage. His parents sent him to Laban’s home to find a wife. To Jacob, this was not just about marriage. It was about bringing light to the spiritual darkness of Haran and Laban’s home. When a holy, righteous person enters a city, an aura of holiness enters with him. When a righteous person marries into a family, the entire family is uplifted by his holiness.

This was what Jacob was truly after. He intended to transform Haran into a headquarters for the burgeoning Jewish nation. He wanted Haran to be the birthplace of the twelve tribes. He wanted a place that angers G-d to fill with people who please G-d. That was Jacob’s aim. Entering Haran was not a time of darkness for Jacob. It was a time of strength—a time to fill the void with light.

Of course, he could have married Laban’s daughters and brought them back to Beer Sheva to have their children. But Abimelech would have exacted a steep price that Jacob was unwilling to pay.

The Price of the Oath
When Abraham took an oath of friendship with Abimelech to secure his family’s safety and freedom to practice Judaism, he paid a steep price. As a result of this oath, the Jewish inheritance of the land of Israel was postponed for seven generations. You will recall that Abraham gave his oath to Abimelech along with a tribute of seven sheep. These seven sheep resulted in the postponement of the Jewish entry into Israel for seven generations—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kehat, Amram, and Moses. Had Abraham not given his oath along with seven sheep, Abraham would have inherited Israel in his day.

In the next generation, Abimelech exacted a similar oath from Isaac. Isaac and his servants had dug six wells, each contested by the Philistines. They then dug a seventh well that the Philistines left alone, but not before Abimelech exacted a heavy price. Abimelech demanded another oath of friendship from Isaac. Once again, this oath secured Isaac and his family’s safety and freedom to practice Judaism. But it cost the Jewish people another generation. Indeed, Moses did not lead the Jews into Israel. It fell to his successor, Joshua, because of the seven wells that accompanied Isaac’s oath.

Jacob knew that he, too, could remain in Beer Sheva and build his family in Israel, but the price would be another oath to Abimelech. Jacob was not prepared to delay his children’s entry into Israel by another generation. He was willing to expose himself to the foreign, unholy atmosphere of Haran and build his family there if this would spare him from taking an oath.

Jacob’s role was to create light in the midst of darkness. To build up holiness in a bastion of wickedness and deceit. It was not enough for him to accept Abimelech’s oath of protection if, in turn, he would need to assent to another generation in exile. He, therefore, opted for Haran. A place where his righteousness, holiness, and integrity would be challenged at every moment. But a place where he could be the architect of his own success.

True Freedom
This tells us that Jacob’s departure from Beer Sheva was not a journey into exile. It was a signature statement that ensured an early Jewish return to Israel. It was not a moment of darkness. It was a moment of strength. He left Israel from a place of strength and arrived in Haran from a place of strength.

For Jacob, Haran was not a place that angers G-d. Haran was a place in which he would build a family that pleases G-d. Indeed, the word Haran has another connotation. It doesn’t only mean haron—anger; it also means horin—freedom. Our sages said we are only truly free when we study the Torah. Jacob went to Haran to study and observe the Torah. He went to transform the place from haron to horin, from anger to freedom. Freedom to dismiss the mockers and their hold over people. Freedom to choose G-d. Freedom to be a Torah Jew in Haran.

Nothing could hold Jacob back. Not the power of persuasion, not social pressure, not poverty, not ultimatums, and not the cheating and deceit of his father-in-law. He was impervious to it all. Despite every challenge thrown his way, Jacob remained free to plot his own course toward a life that pleases G-d.

He was able to do that because he left for Haran from a place of strength—ensuring that his descendants would return to Israel as soon as possible. He left Israel to return to Israel. He never became part of the Diaspora—part of Haran. In his mind, he was always on his way back to the Holy Land.

Modern Day Jacob
The message for us is that we are not in a time of darkness. We are in a time of strength. The IDF is waging an existential war to rid the world of the Nazi Hamas terror group. A time of war can feel like darkness. But we are not in a place of darkness. We are in a place of strength.

My wife and I recently announced the engagement of our dear son Mendel to his fiancé Chani Shabtai. Many in our community replied by thanking me for sharing happy news in a time of darkness. I was surprised. This is not a time of darkness. It is a time of strength. Surely, Jacob could have interpreted leaving Israel for Haran as a time of darkness. But he didn’t. To him, it was a time of strength—a time to hasten his children’s redemption and bring light to Haran’s darkness.

The October 7 Simchat Torah massacre was a dark and difficult time. But within days, our nation rallied and turned the tables. Jews around the world are experiencing an unprecedented wave of unity, trust, faith, confidence, and even joy. We are strong in our conviction that beyachad nenatzea’ach—together, we will triumph. Can this be viewed as a time of darkness? Well, only if one insists. To me, it is a time of unparalleled Jewish strength that will soon fill the darkness with light. When this is over, the Jewish people will be in an unprecedented position of strength, unity, peace, and complete liberation. Amen.