…and he encamped before the city. (Bereishis 33:18)
The Medrash tells us that Yaakov came to the city at twilight, and he made boundaries (“techumim”) for Shabbos.
What is the idea that Chazal are teaching us through Yaakov’s actions? If he had reason to travel outside the normal boundaries, what is its relevance to us?
Yaakov Avinu understood that he had a job cut out for himself in his avodas Hashem, and in order to be successful he needed to have coordinates from which to navigate. We would understand this idea in a person who finds himself in a world void of Torah and kedusha. However, why would there be a need for such boundaries in Eretz Yisrael (a location infused with kedusha) on Shabbos Kodesh (a day that is totally spiritual)? Shouldn’t all actions naturally fall into their proper place.
Yaakov Avinu is teaching us, through example, that this is not true. Even within the confines of everything spiritual, one needs to have structure in order to succeed.
Once I heard a speaker relate that while visiting the U.S. he saw someone who had a t-shirt imprinted with the words “The person that dies with the most toys wins!” His comment was “Wins what?”. Just to have these possessions and not to utilize them obviously would be futile.
We too find ourselves here in Eretz Yisrael in a community that supports and offers us growth in Torah and Mitzvahs. We therefore sometimes may make the mistake and assume that that growth will happen automatically (we will win). Yaakov Avinu is teaching us that this is not so. Our boundaries must be set and reset on an ongoing basis. Erev Shabbos is traditionally known as a time for cheshbon hanefesh (introspection). Rav Elya Lapian was known to have taken out a notebook on every erev Shabbos and to have reviewed his activities of the past week to ascertain where he was holding. This enabled him to always move forward, which is especially important on Shabbos. I think that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are far enough behind us that it is time for us too to make a general re-evaluation: Are we on the track and in the place that we set for ourselves on the yomim nora’im.
Yaakov Avinu just finished besting his adversaries, Lavan and Esav, and was successful in returning to Eretz Yisrael. He is teaching us that after success we must reset our goals, in order to move on to the next level. Not only does success demand of us the next success, but we must also choose carefully where to go, taking into consideration where we are right now.