Jacob’s Path: A Model for Overcoming Hardship

Posted on December 1, 2022

By Rabbi Michael Schwab.


Experiencing hardship is a challenging and unavoidable feature of life.  And these obstacles placed in our path often force us to make difficult life choices.  Do they stop us from moving forward and force us to abandon our dreams?  Or will they prompt us to find or create new paths, or even new destinations?  

At the end of last week’s parshah, Jacob reaches a difficult moment in his life. We learn in the Torah that Jacob was given the first born blessing by his father Isaac.  This is a positive development that indicates Isaac’s wishes that Jacob become the next patriarch.  However, Esau felt this blessing should have been given to him and became enraged when he found out that it was given to Jacob, instead.  Thus, Jacob was forced to flee his home for fear that his brother, Esau, might kill him.  From this moment forward his life was drastically altered: instead of the comfortable and happy life in his family home, which he had anticipated, he was now on a journey, all alone, to a foreign land to live with a relative he had never met. His path into the future that had once been so secure was now blocked and obscured.   

How would he handle his misfortune?  What choices would he make?  What path would he choose?  While Jacob was not perfect by any stretch, and made poor choices as well as wise ones, one critical decision that he made from which we can learn is that he chose to maintain hope and faith in the face of this life challenge.  Eschewing an attitude of despair, or a complete rejection of his previous life (two possible alternatives), he remained committed to Gd and was determined to be successful.  Shortly after running from his home, he had a miraculous dream, after which he made a covenant with Gd, reaffirming this commitment to his family values and the core vision of the blessing bestowed upon him.  Once he arrived at Rebecca’s; brother’s home he worked diligently for his Uncle Laban, got married (twice), had lots of children and became a successful businessman.  All through this time he maintained his relationship with Gd and was therefore blessed by Gd.  Further, despite his life being very different than he ever imagined, he never lost sight of his ultimate goal — to return to his homeland and fulfill his birthright as the next patriarch.  While his misfortune prevented him from doing so in the straight-forward way he had always imagined, due to his ability to maintain faith, embrace hope and stay committed to his ultimate goals, he got there by a different path.  As the life of our patriarch Jacob demonstrates, hardship is inevitable.  But with determination, resilience, hope and faith, we can often find a way to continue to flourish and a different path to fulfill our dreams.