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I’m a little late with my thoughts on studying Vayetzei. I spent most of last week fascinated as I’d never been with Jacob’s dream of the ladder anchored on earth, reaching the heavens, with angels or messengers of God going up and down, from which he woke, realizing that “God, was in this place, but I, I did not know.” (Genesis 28:16.) He then notes how awesome this place is: the abode of God and the gateway to heaven (which a friend noted at his adult Bar Mitzvah, was possibly the genesis of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, or even George Gershwin’s Staircase to Paradise).
Jacob was fleeing from his brother’s wrath, toward the refuge of his uncle and the possibility of finding a bride. He wasn’t ready to pray, he likely wasn’t thinking about prayer. However, the rabbis of the Talmud, in laying down the rules for our prayer tradition, noted that ma’ariv, the evening prayers, harken back to this dream experience, Jacob’s encounter with God. Our morning prayers come from Abraham’s getting up early to do God’s will, and the afternoon prayers reflect Isaac’s afternoon meditation in a field before meeting Rebekah, according to the sages. Abraham and Isaac intentionally went about their connection to the Divine, while Jacob’s happened unbeknownst to him. Not until he woke was he aware that the place in which he had slept was permeated with holiness. Like so many of us, Jacob had been so caught up in his situation and what his future would hold, that he was oblivious to the presence of divinity.
Those aha! moments, those times when we experience flashes of something deep, mysterious, overwhelming that fill us with awe – those moments can be available to us as more than a flash, if we develop the ability to hear, listen, see, feel, taste, beyond the surface. That’s what the rabbis thought Jacob brought to the evening service: the sudden awareness of the holy in our midst, when it comes upon us. Jacob’s two dreams both took place at night, at the liminal moments when we are most likely to be afraid. His fears for his life were assuaged in both dreams by his surprising contact with another plane of reality.
I got waylaid from writing my drash because my beloved daughter Olya had a medical emergency 100 miles away. She was airlifted by skilled paramedics to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. She will be fine, eventually, physically probably sooner than emotionally. I was aware throughout the initial period of the holiness that embraced us, through the miracles that one of her fellow students responded to her emergency effectively and quickly, the paramedics responded so quickly in an isolated area, that the helicopter reached the medical center and that the staff responded so wholeheartedly and skillfully and presently despite that fact that she arrived as a “C. Doe” with no identification or insurance information. I was aware of the holiness I breathe, when the Sisterhood of Bnai Israel, and their rabbi, Mona Alfi, stepped up to offer us support, after two of them received my email plea; when our friends and family sent outpourings of love our way; when North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation’s members surrounded us with the same, as well as with material support, bringing the soft foods Olya needs for awhile and food so that Sam and I could spend our time tending to her, rather than shopping and cooking. God is in this place, and all I had to do was ask…and listen and accept and be grateful.