This week’s parasha, Vayeitzei, tells us about the 20-year journey of our father, Jacob, and his family. The title, Vayeitzei (“departs”), comes from the first sentence in which the Torah says Jacob departed Beersheva. Rashi explained that his departure is important, because when a righteous person leaves a place, he takes its glory, splendor and beauty with it.
On his last night in Israel, Jacob camps at “that place,” which refers to Mount Moriah, the mountain top that was the site of the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac by Abraham, and would become the site of the Temple centuries later. There, Jacob makes camp and goes to sleep resting his head on a stone, with other stones set around his head in a semicircle. He has a dream of a ladder reaching from the heavens to the Earth, and angels are climbing both up and down the ladder.
The dream is a sign of man’s connection to God. God speaks to Jacob in the dream, promising the give the land where he is sleeping to Jacob’s descendants, who shall be as numerous as the dust of the Earth and shall go all over the world. God also promises to protect Jacob wherever he goes and God will return Jacob to this land. When Jacob awakens, he recognizes that the place is the “abode of God and the gate of the heavens” and sanctifies it by erecting the stones of his camp bed into a pillar, and anointing them with oil.
Jacob then enters Haran, the homeland of his mother, Rebecca, where he meets her family. He falls in love with Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother, Laban. He works seven years for Laban in order to marry Rachel. On the night of the wedding, Laban substitutes Rachel’s older sister, Leah. Jacob works another seven years for Laban to be able to marry Rachel, and works another six years for the flocks of sheep Jacob acquires in Haran. Jacob’s work is very difficult – he spends hot days and cold nights looking after the sheep, and makes up out of his own flocks for Laban’s sheep that are lost or die. During this time, Laban enriches himself by frequently changing Jacob’s wages.
After 20 years of working for Laban, Jacob takes his wives, servants and children away to return to Israel. Laban follows him with his men, and both Jacob’s household and Laban’s force make camp, and make peace with each other. In the morning, when Jacob is ready to leave, angels encounter him, and Jacob says this is a machanei Elokim (a Godly camp) and he called it by an abbreviation of those words,Machanaim, which also means “two camps.”
We see at the beginning of the parasha that a place loses much when a righteous person leaves it. And at both the beginning and the end of the parasha, the righteous Jacob camps at places that are holy.
From this, I learn that when we camp, we have the opportunity to invest our campsites with holiness by doing righteous things. We bring holiness to our camp when we treat our Earth with respect (such as using “leave no trace” principles), when we help our fellow Scouts to have a good campout, when we are considerate of others we meet along our trail, and when we thank God by blessing our meals and having time for prayer.
As Lord Baden-Powell used to say, “Good camping to you!”