Parashat Vayeseh: Yaakob’s Journey to “Kedem”
The Torah in Parashat Vayeseh tells of Yaakob Abinu’s journey to the home of his uncle, Laban, where he went to flee from his brother, Esav. Yaakob wanted to marry Laban’s second daughter, Rahel, but Laban fooled Yaakob and brought him Leah, instead. When Yaakob protested, Laban agreed to allow Yaakob to marry Rahel, too.
In describing Yaakob’s trip to Haran, the Torah writes that Yaakob journeyed "Arsa Beneh Kedem" – "to the land of the people of the east" (29:1).
The Megaleh Amukot (Rav Natan Nata Shapiro, Poland, 1585-1633) writes that the word "Kedem" in this verse should be read as an acrostic for the phrase "Keren Deromit Mizrahit" – "southeast corner." He explains that the southeast is associated with a concentration of "Kelipot" – negative spiritual forces. Yaakob was going to the house of Laban, a wicked man, a place of intense, harmful spiritual energies, and this is what the Torah means by saying that he journeyed to "Kedem."
There is also an additional understanding of the word "Kedem" and its allusion to the "southeast."
The Midrash comments that "some people must go to their mate, and some – their mate comes to them." Yishak Abinu, the Midrash observes, did not need to go anywhere to find a wife; she was brought to him by Eliezer. Yaakob Abinu, by contrast, needed to travel far from his homeland to find his wife. The Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909), in his work Aderet Eliyahu (Parashat Vayelech), explains the Midrash’s comment as referring to the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish People, which is often likened to the relationship between a husband and wife. The two models of marriage observed by the Midrash, the Ben Ish Hai writes, reflects the two possible ways in which Am Yisrael and Hashem can be brought back together. In a different passage, the Midrash writes that there is an argument, of sorts, between G-d and the Jewish Nation over who will start the process. Hashem says to us, "Shubu Elai Ve’ashuba Alechem" – "Return to Me, and then I will return to you" (Malachi 3:7), urging us to begin the process by repenting. We, however, turn to Hashem and beg, "Hashibenu Hashem Elecha Ve’nashuba" – "Bring us back to You, O G-d, and we will come back" (Echa 5:21). We want Hashem to initiate the process of return by helping us and drawing us close to Him even though we have not yet become worthy of restoring our relationship with Him. This, the Ben Ish Hai writes, is the intent of the Midrash’s comment observing the different models of marriages. One model is the man – representing Hashem – coming to us to bringing us to Him, and the other is the bride, Am Yisrael, taking the first step and coming to Hashem.
A famous Halachic principle establishes that "Yahid Ve’rabim Halacha Ke’rabim" – we always follow the majority. The Ben Ish Hai writes that when it comes to this "debate" between Hashem and the Jewish Nation, we follow the majority of the three patriarchs. Although Yishak’s bride came to him, both Abraham and Yaakob went to find their wives. And thus this is the conclusion – that it is up to the "man," Hashem, to take the initiative and bring His beloved bride, Am Yisrael, back.
This, then, is the meaning of the verse which speaks of Yaakob journey to the land of "Beneh Kedem," which, as we have seen, alludes to the southeast. The Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572) taught that the south is associated with "Hesed" ("kindness"), the attribute of Abraham Avinu, and the east is associated with "Tiferet" ("glory"), the attribute of Yaakob. When Yaakob went to Haran to find a wife, he knew that he was establishing the majority view, that Hashem should take the initiative. Before his journey, there was Abraham’s model – of the man going to find a wife – and Yishak’s model – of the woman coming to the man. Yaakov thus tilted the scales, as it were, in favor of Abraham’s model by going to Haran to find a wife to marry. And thus he went to "Kedem," to the southeast, combining together with Abraham Abinu to establish that Hashem should initiate the process of repairing His relationship with His beloved children, the Nation of Israel.
May Hashem inspire us all to return to Him with genuine devotion and love, and may we respond in kind, heeding His call and committing ourselves to rebuild our relationship with Him and be worthy of the final redemption, speedily and in our days, Amen.