My Alternate Life

Friday, 2 December, 2022 - 6:38 am

Like many people, I sometimes play the game of, “What If?”

What if I was raised in a different country? What if I really did become a professional baseball player? What if I went to a different school?

Certainly, any of the what-if scenarios could lead me on a path to a very different life – with alternate people, objects and places – resulting in a different me.

Sometimes, I even find myself living my current life through the lens of an alternate life. How would I do this if I had never met my wife? How would I respond if I was a foot taller?


Yaakov, the last of the Patriarchs, certainly could have envisioned a totally different life. As this week’s parsha relates, he was forced to flee from home.  His first destination was Yeshiva. He chose to study Torah – for fourteen years – to establish the tone for his future.

Yet, his life‘s events don’t seem to mesh with his goals.  The Torah scholar became a businessman. The man of the Holy Land – for whom no local girls were pious enough – ends up living two decades and building a family amongst the cheaters of Charan. He wants to marry Rachel, but is given Leah instead. He tries to reunite with his brother but receives – at best – lukewarm treatment.  His favorite wife is Rachel, but she dies young.  His favorite son is Yosef (Joseph), but he disappears.

At every point it seems that Yaakov’s life warrants an escape route to the life he should have lived. Yet, ultimately, this is the narrative that develops the Jewish nation. Precisely these events are necessary for Yaakov to serve as the third Patriarch.

He may have envisioned a life of peaceful pursuit of Torah. But G-d envisioned something better.


The mystics describe the journey of Yaakov – fleeing from the holy enclave of Yitzchak and Rivka, and living his most critical years in the harsh exile known as Charan – as illustrative of the soul’s descent into this world.

The soul, too, craves a life of spiritual privilege. When it receives its boarding pass for the plane ride to Earth and is instructed to dwell in a human body, it asks incredulously, “You are asking me – with all my sacred qualifications and lofty ambitions – to engage in the menial tasks of an earthly body?”

For a soul, life on Earth seems to be the mistaken life. The unfortunate reality that I end up with because I turned the wrong corner or was given the wrong address.

But in truth, it is precisely the mission on Earth for which the soul is needed and in which the soul can find its own perfection. Yaakov, the beacon of spiritual light, achieved greatness and formed the Jewish people in the darkness of corruption and in the cutthroat environs of Lavan. Similarly, souls can only soar higher by infusing sanctity in the ostensibly lowly chores of this material world.


The next time I catch myself daydreaming about the life that could have been or that should have been, I had better take a cue from Yaakov.

It may seem otherwise, but what’s most appealing to the destiny of my soul is transforming precisely the life I’ve been given into a life of meaning and holiness.

Now, that’s something to be thankful for.

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