It is always when we are at our lowest, at our most vulnerable, that we find it the hardest to dream of a better tomorrow. The stress and fear which accompany difficult experiences prevent us from anticipating that sometime in the future might be better. It is clinically demonstrated that our biases lean strongly towards the status quo, so if things are hard, they will always be this way. However, our tendency to always expect that challenges will continue and not improve is the single greatest obstacle to actually overcoming those same challenges. If we don't allow ourselves to hope and dream of improvement, we will never see the grass on the other side, which is indeed greener.
This week, Ya'akov shows us the importance of dreams. We first encounter him fleeing his brother's wrath. He ran in the certain knowledge that were Eisav to find him, he would be killed. He left not knowing when he would come back to his home, or even if it would ever happen. He left knowing that he had mistakenly been given the blessing of Avraham, but with no certainty that it would adhere. And yet, Ya'akov remained a dreamer. He rapidly encountered a godly place and chose to spend the night. Upon closing his eyes he was transported to a magical realm where he could actually see the angels climbing to and from heaven above him. When he woke, Ya'akov realised that his experience the night before was extraordinary. So he promised: "When I return, I will give you (G-d) a tenth of all that I own."
What led Ya'akov to the certainty that he would in fact be able to come back, let alone come back as a propertied man? The ambition of his promise is so breathtaking that it is almost hubristic. Here he was, a pauper, on his own, fleeing for his life. And yet he promises gifts and sacrifices to G-d! The answer lies in Ya'akov's faith in two things: his G-d and his abilities.
Ya'akov knew that he was a capable man. He knew that if he applied himself he could achieve a great deal. Indeed, later on, when he was with his uncle Lavan he became the primary source of Lavan's own increasing wealth. His gift for guiding the sheep to safety and his unflinching honesty meant that he was the very best of shepherds and brought prosperity to both Lavan and to himself. Additionally, Ya'akov had faith in the G-d of his forefathers. He knew that whatever else happened, he had been promised that his relationship with G-d would be eternal. As long as he remained true to that relationship and steadfast in his faith, the relationship would be a fruitful one.
We often see faith as the opposite of confidence. If you truly believe in a great G-d who controls the universe, how can you have any faith in your own abilities or importance? Ya'akov taught us the opposite lesson. It is precisely through the mix of faith and dreaming big that we can advance, overcome adversity, and achieve whatever we aspire to.