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Bridging Heaven and Earth
By Michael Chessen
The reading of V'yeitzei documents Jacob's departure from both his
home environment and the tents of Torah study in order to establish his
own household. Although he appears to be leaving a warm spiritual
environment for a much less comfortable physical one, as suggested by the
Rashi commentary, the usage of the opening phrase of our reading, "going
out", as opposed to "leaving", demonstrates that Jacob was actually taking
his spirituality with him.
The Torah gives beautiful illustration to Jacob's aspiration to
the seemingly mundane with the holy in the stunning depiction of "Jacob's
ladder". In Jacob's dream, angels are ascending and descending the ladder
in order to accompany him on his journey. This concept of angelic
accompaniment is something which we acknowledge every Friday night in our
singing "Shalom Alechem" in acknowledgment of the angels who have
spiritually escorted us home from the synagogue.
Upon Jacob's waking from his dream, he is quite startled, and
that "God is truly in this place and I didn't (even) know it".(Genesis 28:
6) We could compare this verse to Jacob's later conversation with the
shepherds of Haran, arguably the first instance of "small talk" recorded
in the Torah's narrative. Whereas no word or even letter of the Torah is
superfluous, the Torah seems to include certain details of Jacob's words
and actions in order to accentuate the "every man" quality of the father
of the twelve tribes. Concerning Jacob's startled realization, Rabbi J. H.
Hertz points out that in daily life many of us fall into the erroneous
perception that there are certain places in which we can behave in a
"secular" manner and other, more limited places, in which we are to act
with a greater sense of spiritual awareness.
Not only do we not always recognize the holiness of a given place, we
can also fail to recognize the spiritual potential of a given moment. This
arises from what Jewish educator Eliezer Tauber sees as the erroneous
perception of the "spiritual pyramid" whereby an individual supposedly
ascends to a high but physically restricted spiritual level from the
broadest possible area of departure. According to Tauber, we should
actually see the spiritual pyramid in inverted terms: standing on the
small point, and branching out in its ascent. Jacob didn't simply arrive
at the place he later termed the House of God, but he "hit upon" it in
dart-like fashion. As our Rashi commentary points out, this "place" is
initially unnamed; we all need to be constantly prepared to emulate Jacob
in his readiness to accept the heavenly call to "spread out" and
disseminate holiness in the four directions of the Earth from any given
point of being.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!
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