Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: V'yeitzei

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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 unite 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 declares 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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