Yaakov has to run away from home because of Esav’s threat to kill him. But Rivkah knows that if she says that to her husband he might not believe her because of his bias towards to his first born. So, she uses the argument that to find a wife for Yaakov, he, like his father before him has to go back to Ur to the family they left behind. The psychology of Rivkah’s interaction with her husband is fascinating. But I am interested here in the idea of the constant returning, in each generation, to the family’s origins and birthplace. Surely if God had commanded Avraham to leave the old, bad world, and that the new world would be better, why this need to go back all the time?
We know that back in Ur people were not very nice and were still pagans. Lavan typifies the negative. On the other hand, Rivkah and then Leah and Rachel represent the good. And conversely in the “Promised Land” that Avraham moved to, with its Canaanites, cities of Sodom and Amorah, most of the locals are pretty bad too.
It is true that time and again God returns to the idea of the Holy Land flowing with milk and honey. Even if it seems highly susceptible to famine. The promise of a holy land is meant not to exclude the rest of the world, but rather to represent a model society where one could practise one’s God given laws with impunity and free from alien influences. This did not mean that everyone would be a saint and perfect in the Holy land and that everyone outside it was a pagan and morally corrupt.
But showing that even in corrupt societies, good people could flourish, the Torah is emphasizing that important as land and home is, it is the behavior of people within them that matters most of all.
In the constant procession of life, no matter where we go, we are constantly being drawn back to our origins and our earlier loyalties no matter whether in our new situations things are good or not. The challenge we all face is to try to be better human beings wherever we are and whatever the environment. We have to deal with private, personal challenges and with social political ones.
We draw on the past and use it to avoid mistakes and to help us learn. But our origins, however we have left them behind, and regardless of how negative they might have been, are still part of us. The Torah is telling us to recognize and accept our past, and not try to ignore it.