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God is in this place: short thoughts on Vayetzei

Jacob-s-ladder-1973At the start of this week's Torah portion, Vayetzei, Jacob camps for the night and rests his head on a stone. He dreams of a ladder planted in the earth stretching up to heaven, with angels ascending and descending constantly.

I like to read the angels as a metaphor for how our attention and intention and prayer flow upward to God, and God's attention and love and blessing flow back to us. After this summer's quantum physics and kabbalah class, I can also read this passage as a metaphor for electrons ascending into an excited state and then falling back down again.

When he wakes, Jacob exclaims, "Truly, God is in this place, and I -- I did not know it!"

How often do we have the experience of being startled out of our complacency into a sudden visceral realization that this moment, right-here-right-now, is holy? Maybe when you see a spectacular sunrise -- or witness a mighty waterfall -- or stand beneath a chuppah with your beloved to exchange vows -- or give birth to a child. And those are indeed moments when we may find ourselves especially open to connection with the Holy One of Blessing.

But it's also possible to experience God's presence in mundane moments. When you wake from a dream, eyes still gritty with sleep. When you're standing in line at the grocery checkout counter. When your child is throwing a tantrum because you didn't let them go outside in the cold without a coat on. Truly, God is in this place, and I... I tend to forget. I know that I tend to forget.

But we can always choose to remember. How would your day be different if you printed this reminder and stuck it to your computer, if you affixed it to your fridge with a magnet, if you found some way to keep reminding yourself: God is in this place. And this place. And this place. Even in our sorrows and anxiety, God is there, if we can only remind ourselves to take notice.


Art: Marc Chagall, Jacob's Ladder, 1973. Also worth reading -- and on the theme of finding holiness even in the mundane details of parenthood (tantrums and all) -- is R' Phyllis Sommer / ImaBima's post TorahMama: Vayetze.


Previous years' divrei Torah for Parashat Vayetzei: