The Torah portion Vayetzei is a darshan’s (preacher’s) dream. It contains several iconic, archetypal, even universal experiences and images. Jacob falls asleep in a strange place, with an odd pillow, and has a powerful dream. The dream contains images of a ladder with angelic figures going up and down. Upon waking from his wild dream, Jacob proclaims: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I didn’t know it. So he was in awe, and said: How awesome is this place!” It is a physical and spiritual awakening when Jacob recognizes that something powerful just happened in this place (hamakom), and in this moment (hazeh).
Rabbi Shefa Gold teaches: “Jacob’s journey is blessed at its outset with a dream and with a moment of awakening. In the dream God shows Jacob the stairway that connects the realms of Heaven and Earth and then gives him a promise.
“Through this blessing we ourselves become that stairway, that connection, with our feet planted in the foundation of Earth and our crowns open to the expanse of Heaven. Through us the Divine flow pours down into the earthly realms. Through us the pleasures and miseries of earthly experience are offered up to The Divine Expanse.
“When I become available to this flow, I am awakened to the most awesome and transformative truth. God was here all along and I didn’t know it. THIS is none other than the House of God. THIS is the Gate of Heaven. This very moment and this place here where I stand is at once God’s home and the doorway to all relms.
Later in Jacob’s story, his name is changed to Yisrael, or the one who wrestles with God and receives a blessing. And we are the People Israel who inherit that blessing given to Jacob/Yisrael of a place, and a future. We constitute that blessing, we embody it, in our tissue, connecting us at once to realms and moments beyond – through our spines, through our memories, our ancestors, our descendants, our cognition, our selves.
Like Jacob, our spiritual challenge is to wake up, to recognize the awesomeness of each moment. It’s an awesome place to be, this place, because it’s the only “place” we have for our life-breath, the place that is truly our birthright, this right, rock-solid, yet fluid, awesome place where our bodies and souls are housed. Ma nora. How awesome. How great. How divine.
RABBI ALAN FLAM is the executive director of the Helen Hudson Foundation for Homeless America and leader of the Soulful Shabbat community.