Has anyone reminded you to make sure you’re wearing clean underwear? If you’re like me, you’ve had it drilled into you that no matter what, when you leave the house, always make sure you’re covered for any eventuality. If there’s an accident or an emergency, you want to be not only prepared, but presentable.
A few months ago, I had an experience that made me recall this advice and regret not heeding it. I was driving home from CNS after dropping off my tiny human for school. The sun was shining, the world was beautiful, and then another driver ran a stop sign and hit my car. My first instinct (after I made sure the other driver and I were both OK) was that it was very warm out, and I was dressed for a quick jaunt to CNS for drop-off before heading home to change. Instead, I spent two hours outside in the beating sun in running leggings and had to choose between a warm fleece that provided too much coverage or a tank top that didn’t provide enough coverage. While my car was filled with enough snacks (and crumbs) to feed me for months, I did not go out with enough clothes for every occasion.
This week, as we read our Torah, we’re reminded what we need to bring as we leave our homes. Parshat Vayetzei begins with Jacob on the run from his angry brother, fleeing his home and the mess that has become of his family dynamic. Exhausted, he lies down and has this crazy dream in which God comes and speaks to him. God gives Jacob marching orders, a legacy to hold and create, and a full sense of his mission in life.
The question from this parshah for me is, how are we supposed to go out into the world? How much emphasis and preparation should we put into being presentable at all times? In other words, what matters more: what’s underneath the surface or what people see? For so much of our lives we’ve been taught to look beyond the surface and not judge a book by its cover. But when you’re stressed, angry, or frustrated, you’re not putting your best foot forward, yet the surface level is all people see because they don’t look beneath. So when it comes down to it, is it more important to look prepared even if you’re not, or be emotionally prepared even if you don’t look it?
I think what we’re supposed to take to heart from Parshat Vayetzei is that when we go out into the world, the best we can do is approach life as prepared as we can be with the information we have. We shouldn’t be completely internally or externally focused; rather, we should be willing to receive each moment and each individual as we encounter them. And hopefully they’re wearing underwear too.