Friday, November 27, 2020 /11 Kislev, 5781
Parashat Vayetzei Genesis 28:10–32:3
God IS In This Place
This week’s Torah reading is the 7th in our annual cycle, and one of my favorite Torah portions, as we continue the tales of our patriarch, Jacob, and how he develops his own relationship with the Holy One. While most of the portion is filled with the story of Jacob, trying to marry his beloved Rachel, it really is the opening verses that I find the most meaningful.
As Jacob leaves Beer Sheva, the only place he has ever known (sound familiar from his grandfather’s story?), he pulls up a comfortable rock and takes a nap, dreaming of a ladder to heaven. As he watches the angels ascending and descending the ladder, God promises his progeny. In return, Jacob promises that God will be his God, as long as God stays with him. When he awakens, Jacob declares, “Behold, God was in this place, and I, I did not know!” He then renames this place Beth El, the house of God.
This story always holds such deep meaning for me, but during this pandemic, I think it’s even more meaningful, as I consider how our own Beth El has continued to grow in service and rededication to The Divine. For some of us, we had no surprise that “God was in this place,” and we immediately turned to Temple Beth El for community and support. But for others, this difficult time has given them the opportunity to discover, or perhaps rediscover, how much being a part of this Holy community could not only fill our time, but fill and heal our souls. We have used this time to rededicate ourselves to Torah, Avodah, and Gemilut Chasadim, learning, prayer, and dedication to acts of loving kindness. Through this pandemic, we have discovered aspects of our Jewish lives that we will not want to give up when the pandemic is over. We have realized, just as Jacob in his dream, that embracing the Divine in our lives enriches us and provides us the sustenance we need to flourish in our lives. While this is no dream, we will awaken from this time renewed, refreshed, and reconnected to our community, knowing the blessings of Beth El.
I have often shared within our meditation service that our goal is to be able to say the opposite of Jacob, in our lives. As we experience our gratitude on this Thanksgiving weekend, and begin to prepare for the rededication of Hanukkah, just around the corner, may we all share in a revised statement from our patriarch, Jacob. May we all say and share with others, “Behold, God is in this place, and I, I know!!”
Cantor Ilan Davidson