Genesis 37:1 And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.
David Stern translates this verse, “Ya’akov continued living in the land where his father had lived as a foreigner, the land of Kena’an.”
It was clear in last week’s Torah portion (Vayishlach) that Jacob continued the family tradition of being a stranger in his own land. That was as it should have been. Pagans filled the Land and sought either to assimilate or to destroy the Hebrews. Assimilation into the local, Canaanite culture would have been a disaster. Abraham told Eliezer that Isaac was not to marry a Canaanite woman under any circumstance, and Isaac gave Jacob the same advice. Intermarriage consistently brought more problems than it was worth. Remember Esau and Judah.
It is always difficult to live by God’s standards, and doubly so without the support of a like-minded community. It is easy to allow standards to slip, to let a little transgression slide. With no one to hold you accountable without the moral support of Torah-keeping friends and family, it’s as easy as breathing. Yet God’s consistent marker upon his people is that they are visibly different. They do not behave like the world around them. They dress differently. They speak differently. They behave differently. They keep different holy days. They are conspicuous and set apart (the literal meaning of “holy”) by God’s design. We are not called to be seeker friendly, to make citizenship in the Kingdom of God look easy. We are called to occupy a foreign and hostile land until Messiah Yeshua returns and delivers the kingdom he promised. Like Jacob, we must continue living in the land in which we and our fathers have been aliens.
The real question is not how to blend in, but what to do with our conspicuousness. I can say with absolute certainty that I have not found a satisfactory answer to that question in my own life in a way that honors God. Being different without being better is just being odd.
These must be our priorities:
- Mercy and service to the fatherless, the widows, the sick, the poor, and imprisoned. There is no higher good deed than doing good to those who cannot repay you.
- Justice to all people. Obedience to the letter of the commandment without regard to justice is not obedience to the author of the commandment.
- Obedience to God’s commands. You cannot preach forgiveness and repentance if you haven’t repented of your own sins.
- Preaching the gospel. Once your own house is in order, you can set about helping others build theirs.