Parshat Vayetze opens with the following verse:
פרק כח’,י וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב, מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע; וַיֵּלֶךְ, חָרָנָה.
Chapter 28, 10 And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran.
Yaakov’s journey is immediately interrupted, however, by his prophetic vision of the ladder and Hashem’s accompanying promises. When Yaakov resumes his travels the following morning, an unusual phrase is used to describe his embarkation:
פרק כט’,א וַיִּשָּׂא יַעֲקֹב, רַגְלָיו; וַיֵּלֶךְ, אַרְצָה בְנֵי-קֶדֶם.
Chapter 29, 1 Then Jacob lifted up his feet, and came to the land of the children of the East.
There are two different approaches found in the Midrash to explain this rare choice of words. The first explanation is quoted by Rashi, who says that Yaakov’s feet carried him along. This suggests that Yaakov went on his way content and happy because of the Divine reassurances he had received during the night. Despite the fact that Yaakov was leaving Canaan, he felt confident of his future. The second explanation of this phrase is that Yaakov had to “carry his feet”. According to this midrash, Yaakov left Bet El dragging his feet; he did not want to leave the site of G-d’s appearance to him.
It is possible that the phrase is intentionally ambiguous, and therefore reflects the ambivalence that Yaakov experienced when he continued his travels that morning. It must have been extraordinarily difficult to walk away from the place that G-d appears to him and tells Yaakov that he has been chosen to continue the mission of Avraham and Yitzchak. On the other hand, Yaakov is now energized by the knowledge that G-d is with him and that every step he takes towards Charan, will ultimately bring him one step closer to his eventual return to Canaan!
The Netziv interprets “lifted up his feet” differently than either of the Midrashim. To use a modern analogy, the Netziv differentiates between driving regularly and putting on the cruise control. The term “lifted up his feet” means that Yaakov chose not to use cruise control; he wanted to stay alert for possible obstacles in his path. Leaving the spiritual security of his home was a dangerous endeavor and Yaakov was determined not to be influenced by the pagan practices he was bound to encounter. Had Yaakov allowed his feet to carry him, would be the equivalent of letting his guard down, thus making himself vulnerable to foreign influences.
Although Yaakov did not choose to take this journey, the inclusion of וישא יעקב רגליו demonstrates that he is now an active participant in this process. If the prophetic experience made it more difficult for him to leave, Yaakov still had the resolve to get up and go. Alternatively, if his dream served to encourage him, Yaakov then channeled that energy and hit the ground running. Lastly, he charted his course in Charan carefully. Yaakov understood that keeping his commitment to G-d would require vigilance and caution.
Yaakov’s mindset and approach to his travels teaches many valuable lessons that are applicable to everyone’s life. He demonstrates an essential model of how G-d expects us to experience life’s journeys. May we succeed in living up to Yaakov’s example.