Parashat Vayeitzei begins with the story of Yaakov’s departure from Canaan to flee from his brother, Esav, and the famous prophetic vision he beheld as he slept along his journey to Charan. The Torah relates that Yaakov slept on the roadside after “va-yifga ba-makom” – “he encountered a certain place” (28:11).
The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 68:10) explains this to mean that Yaakov needed to stop and sleep at that location because he was prevented from advancing in his journey: “He wanted to pass, but the entire world became for him like a wall in front of him.” Somehow, he could not move any further, and was forced to stop there for the night. The Midrash continues by telling that God made the sun set early so that Yaakov would be forced to sleep at this location and behold his vision. The “wall” that Yaakov confronted was the sudden darkness that descended. God wished to commune with Yaakov in private, the Midrash explains, like a host who dims the lights when his dear friend arrives in order to create an aura of intimacy. In order to appear to Yaakov in a prophetic vision, God “dimmed the lights,” so-to-speak, bringing darkness so that Yaakov would stop and go to sleep.
Like Yaakov fleeing Canaan, we are all on a “journey” of one type of another. We all have goals, ambitions and aspirations that we pursue. At times, however, it seems as though “the entire world became…like a wall,” that our course is blocked. We know what we have to do and how to do it, but circumstances obstruct our path and do not allow us to move ahead with the pursuit of our goals. Like the sun setting midday, we feel as though we should be able to proceed along our journey, that it is not yet time for us to break from our frantic efforts to realize our aspirations, but we are compelled by external factors to stop, and not allowed to progress. The Midrash here teaches us that rather than feel frustrated by these obstructions, we should, instead, regard them as opportunities. Yaakov’s journey was blocked so that he could experience a prophetic vision and receive a message from God – showing us that even the barriers we encounter along the journey towards the realization of our goals are precious opportunities. They offer us a chance to reflect, to contemplate, to take stock and, perhaps most importantly, to focus on our relationship with the Almighty. We often tend to assume that if we are not making tangible progress in the pursuit of our objectives, then our time is being wasted, and we are not accomplishing anything. The Midrash here teaches us to appreciate and seize the opportunities offered by the “walls” we so frequently confront over the course of our journey through life, to recognize the value in stopping and reflecting, and to gain encouragement from the story of Yaakov, whose “barrier” led him to experience an intimate encounter with God.