6/7 Dec: Vayetze: Shabbat comes in 3:38 pm, ends 4:46 pm
Parashat Vayetze – God Was in This Place
In Parashat Vayetze, we follow Jacob on his journey from his home (which he is
forced to flee after dramatically deceiving his brother) to meet his extended family in Ḥaran.
On the way, Jacob stops to sleep in an unnamed place (often understood by commentators
to be Moriah, on which the Temple would one day be built) and dreams of a ladder to the
Heavens. Upon waking, Jacob proclaims (Gen. 28:16): ‘Surely God was in this place, and I
did not know.’
Jacob’s wonder at his inability to recognise God’s presence reminds me of one of my
very favourite midrashim (creative rabbinic commentaries). Exodus Rabbah 24:1 recounts
the story of the Israelites crossing the split sea from the perspective of two particular Israelite
men called Shimon and Reuven: While their brethren are singing and celebrating, and gazing in awe at the walls of the sea on either side of them, Reuven and Shimon are complaining about the mud. Egypt had mud, they say, and the sea has mud. What’s so special about that? Reuven and Shimon are so busy staring at their shoes in the mud that they somehow manage to miss the miracle of
the splitting of the sea entirely.
Much like Jacob, Reuven and Shimon are surrounded by a holy miracle, but are
instead focused on looking downward. However, Jacob’s vision of the ladder draws his gaze
upwards toward the heavens, to wonder and awe, and to a renewed relationship with the
Holy Blessed One. Reuven and Shimon do not appear to be as fortunate. Nobody stops to
remind them to look upwards.
May we all remember to look upwards at the miracles around us.
Rabbi Natasha Mann
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman