Jacob left from Beer Sheva, and went toward Haran.

Beer Sheva Chamber of Commerce: Then

Everybody leaves Beer Sheva. Abraham left. Sarah left, what is it about Beer Sheva that everybody leaves?

We call Beer Sheva the symbol for serenity, the sign of the peaceful life. Is it not Beer Sheva that we are all reaching for, growing toward, the Beer Sheva of the heart, the rootedness, the peacefulness, the serenity of place?

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Unless all serenity of place is an illusion, maybe it’s not a matter of place at all, not about building, nothing to do with institutions, maybe we are invested too much in place altogether.

After all, Jacob virtually collides with place after he leaves Beer Sheva. Jacob collides with the place, he leaves the place of serenity and collides with the place that he comes to. Once we leave that one place, all arrivals are collisions because we never belong anywhere like we once belonged somewhere. There is only one somewhere for us, that spiritual place, when we arrive there, we know it. When we leave there, we feel it.

What a difference from Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, his grandfather goes to (lech lecha) Jacob leaves from (vayetze).

Leaving from, all subsequent arrivals will be confrontations with place, hard, difficult to work out. Still, we miss our Jacob, when he departed Beer Sheva, he left a big space behind him.

Beer Sheva Chamber of Commerce: Now

We built in the desert. Plenty of room here. Ben Gurion knew that. You can live here, stretch out. It is hot but beautiful. Maybe we should advertise better but we’re not selling bricks, we’re promoting quality of life.

What is this story if not a healthy suspicion of place as determinative, doesn’t a place reflect its inhabitants? (See: Las Vegas, what the heck happened there? How do you reinvent yourself every few years?) Here in Beer Sheva we are grounded, in each other. Let’s make our place secure, the heart’s place. Let’s build it strong, not out of bricks and glass and glitz, but out of culture, learning. You can build a place bigger but you won’t make it better.

Let’s change the vocabulary from going to, leaving from, to “within.” Or at least to each other, good people.

With the first word, vayetze (Jacob left from Beer Sheva, Genesis 28:10), Rashi the poet reminds us that a tzaddik, a righteous person, leaves an impression in a place. Why was it necessary, asks the midrash, to mention where he was traveling from at all? Why not just: Jacob went toward Haran? Because when a tzaddik leaves a place, the tzaddik leaves a space behind her, an impression, the tzaddik is that place’s magnificence, its splendor, its grandeur.

A place is authenticated only by persons. This raises the question: What if there are not enough tzaddikim in a place? That’s the shadow side, as if it could happen, as if it might have already. Then we got big tsouris, no matter how fine our buildings, no matter how many hotels we’ve built, no matter how many mortgages we’ve burned.

Still, come to Beer Sheva, please, it’s wonderful even with its losses, its emptiness. When a good person like Jacob leaves, the place is diminished for sure. But in Beer Sheva, we do not forget: It’s about people, not places. Come to Beer Sheva. Beer Sheva is for people (still searching for an ad campaign).

Rabbi James Stone Goodman of Neve Shalom Congregation prepared the commentary on this week’s Torah portion.