Jacob has led a tumultuous life. He has stolen birthrights and blessings, worked for his uncle for 14 years in exchange for two sister-wives, survived a reunion with his estranged brother, wrestled with an angel, had his daughter taken from him, and endured war and hardship, shame and embarrassment.
And so this week’s portion opens, “And Jacob settled in the land of the sojournings of his fathers.” Our sages say that Jacob hoped that all of the craziness of life was behind him, that he could settle in unperturbed from this point on. In fact, they read “settled” here, as the impulse that we have to disengage from the problems of life.
And we all know to some degree how Jacob feels. We come through a tumultuous event or period of time in our own life, and having emerged, want nothing more than to just settle in without trouble. Or we check off whatever we need to check off as far as our primary life tasks go, and we feel we are now entitled to relax without the concerns that have shadowed us for so long. And of course, life continues to bring tumult, collision, happenings happy and sad that continue to shake our foundation. There is no settling. Avivah Zornberg says we must continue to feel the “full tension of composure and discomposure…to be exposed to the shock of reality.”
And there is another kind of settling we can do. A settling into our lives as they are; a committing to sit with more wakefulness and intention into the very chaos we often want to settle away from. A settling that teaches us, through experience, how to develop a lev shomea, a listening heart in relationship to the tumult. Settling that doesn’t disengage, but that brings us further in.