16/17 Nov : Vayetzei: Shabbat comes in 3:55 pm, ends 5:00 pm
In this week’s Parasha Jacob (Ya’akov) runs from his brother Esav after stealing his birthright blessing. Overtaken by night, Ya’akov “stumbles onto [a] place,” and stays there for the night. It quickly becomes clear what kind of place this is; Ya’akov dreams of a stairway reaching into the heavens, with angels of God ascending and descending it – the famous “Jacob’s Ladder” (Gen. 28:12).
Awakening from his dream state, Ya’akov makes his famous statement: “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16). This place, which Ya’akov refers to as the “gate of heaven,” is traditionally identified with the site of the Temple.
Rashi surmises that Ya’akov knew, at least instinctively, more about this place than he gave himself credit for: “‘He stumbled onto the place’ – but he needed God’s help to stop there: If you ask, when Ya’akov crossed over the [site of the] Temple, why would he not stop there? His heart was not drawn to pray at the place where his ancestors had prayed, and so he was detained there by Heaven.” In his preoccupation with his flight, he nearly passed the place by – yet some inner intuition to the sacred caused his feet to tarry there. This pattern will come to characterise Ya’akov’s relationship with God: he never seems to realise at the time of events that God is acting in his life, but neither does he ever fail to see it in hindsight.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman