Happy Thanksgiving! One of the things I am thankful for are my three wonderful daughters-in-law, one of whom, Jocelyn Block, has provided our d’var Torah this week.
In last week’s parasha, Toldot, in a highly dramatic scene, Jacob steals the blessings that his father, Isaac, intended to give to his brother, Esau. This puts Jacob in life-threatening danger. As he leaves his parents’ home in Be’er Sheva (southern Israel) to go to his uncle’s house in Padan Aram/ Haran (modern-day Turkey), he is engulfed with fear.
In this week’s parasha, Vayeitze, Jacob is distraught as he leaves Be’er Sheva for Haran. His parents’ home is a holy house. A house full of mitzvot. A house containing the second matriarch and patriarch of Judaism. A house with a father, Isaac, who endured the Akeida, when his father Abraham bound him for an offering to God. A house based in kindness, devotion, and righteousness. Jacob wonders, will he ever return to that house? To his parents? Will Esau kill him before he can ever return? Will God stay with him and protect him? Was the decision to deceive his father one he will forever regret?
Lost in thought, he decides he needs to rest. He dreams of a ladder reaching up to the heavens and down to the land. Angels are going up and down the ladder. God suddenly appears, standing attentively above the situation. God promises to Jacob and to his descendants the land of Israel, that they will greatly multiply and spread out, and that everyone will be blessed through him and his descendants. Then, directly responding to Jacob’s fears, God tells him God is with him and will protect him wherever he goes, and will return him to this land. With this last set of promises, Jacob immediately wakes up.
What does his dream mean?
Jacob is stranded between two places, leaving one to travel to the other. The place he leaves is his holy parents’ house. It is the heavens to him, exactly where the ladder ascends to, with God ultimately standing above it.
The place he approaches now is the “land”, to where the ladder descends. It is a more lowly place, both physically and spiritually. It is a place far away from the Torah of his parents, from learning, from God. It is a place he doesn’t know much about other than that his uncle, Laban, lives there, and that it is also where his mother used to live. Later in the parasha, we learn Laban is a complicated character, who uses both deceit and manipulation to get what he wants.
These two approaches to life, of course, are exactly what force Jacob to leave his parents’ home in the first place! This is the “land”. Meanwhile, on the ladder, angels are ascending and descending. God stands above them all, and tells Jacob that He will be with him and protect him wherever he goes.
In this dream, Jacob’s questions are answered. He will ultimately return to the land of his parents unscathed. God will stay with him and protect him. Whether or not the decision to deceive his father was correct, he will inherit the destiny of his father and grandfather, not his brother. Jacob will learn from his decision to deceive his father, and some day will make peace with it.
Jacob awakens from the dream and creates a monument. This monument is the perfect response to God standing above and looking downwards towards him in the dream. The monument rises from the ground, directed towards God, and will be a House of God, where anything God gives to him, he will give an offering of one-tenth back in response. Jacob then takes a vow that if God accompanies him on this journey – not only back to the land he leaves now, but further, all the way back to his father’s house – Jacob will continue a relationship with God. Determined to make it work, as Jacob is leaving, he lifts his feet and walks towards the “land” in the east. He is convinced that going towards Haran, where the ladder in his dream descended, will work out. God will be with him for the whole journey.
Have you ever been on a journey, unsure about the path in front of you, or unsure about your general destination? How were you able to cope with the uncertainty? Sometimes it takes coming out of your comfort zone to grow as a person. Responding to and learning from new experiences can change you for the better. Let this Thanksgiving be a time when you think about your journeys and appreciate how much you have grown as a person, and caused other people to grow as well. Don’t think of your journeys as difficulties, but rather, as formative life experiences. Those experiences helped make you the person you are today.