In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3), we learn of the events of the famous story of “Jacob’s Ladder”. Jacob is fleeing the wrath of his brother Esau after the trickery that brought about his receiving the First Born’s Blessing from their father, Issac.
He arrives at an isolated location, sets up a campsite and falls asleep. In his dream he sees angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven, and it is from there that God blesses Jacob. When he awakens, the Torah states that Jacob names the site “Beit El” but… “previously the name of the CITY was called Luz”.
What?! There was a city there?! Then why did Jacob sleep outside amidst the dangers of the wild? Why didn’t he find refuge in the township? According to rabbinic tradition, the answer is actually the reason why Jacob is leaving Canaan. It is the same reason that Abraham sent Eliezer all the way back to Mesopotamia to find and bring back Rebecca to marry Isaac: The Canaanites had no concept of compassion, generosity nor charity. A young boy was alone, in the dark, no food, no direction and yet… no one offered him sanctuary or assistance. Thus the reason there was the belief that anyone without compassion would never be worthy to marry into our community.
Therefore, like Isaac his father, Jacob had to acquire a wife from Padan Aram – where although they too were idolaters, at least they have a measure of chesed, kindness, and benevolence.
What ever happened to the city of Luz? Although mentioned in the Book of Joshua as a topographical reference, it never grew, prospered, or became a place of renown. Why? Simply stated by the rabbis of the Talmud, “Because without menschlichkeit, God’s blessings will never be realized. That is what we teach whenever we open our hearts to others, God shares even greater prosperity upon us. When we expound energy to make the world a better place for others, then our lives will be likewise enhanced with blessings.” And that is great Torah lesson indeed!