10 Kislev 5773 / Nov. 23-24, 2012
At the beginning of this week’s portion, Vayetzeh, we find Jacob fleeing his home and his brother Esau’s wrath. Along his journey he goes to sleep and has a vivid dream – of what has come to be known as Jacob’s ladder. In this dream, God speaks to Jacob and informs him that he is the inheritor of the covenant that God made with Abraham and Isaac.
Upon awaking, Jacob utters the famous phrase: “Surely the Lord is present in this place and I did not know it.”
Commentators have long struggled with this particular statement, often trying to understanding how it could have possibly been that Jacob wasn’t conscious of God’s presence in a specific place – particularly given the traditional belief in God’s omnipresence. Perhaps by virtue of God actively communicating with Abraham and Isaac, Jacob could only logically assume that if God was not actively communicating with him, that God wasn’t present.
After his interaction with God in his dream – an active communication – Jacob made a vow (vows are a big deal in the Jewish tradition) saying: “If God remains with me and protects me on this journey I’m making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house, the Lord shall be my God…”
Talk about needing to fulfill certain conditions! Jacob’s vow to accept God as his own is made conditional upon a number of things.
Why does Jacob have to affirm this relationship at all? He was already subject to the covenant just by virtue of being the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. Only two generations removed from the actual covenant, Jacob found the need to take a conscious affirmative step in order to declare that he was going to be part of the same faith tradition as his father and grandfather!
In some ways, like Jacob, we all have to affirm our commitment to the Jewish people, despite our roots – family history is simply not enough. For many, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is an opportunity for affirmation, but the reality is that today’s youths are too young to really make an educated decision as to what they believe and which faith community they want to be a part of at that time. For some, confirmation is such a ceremony. As adults, we have the chance to decide whether or not being part of the Jewish people is truly something we value / desire, and frankly, we have the opportunity to make a decision such as Jacob’s on a regular basis.
What does being part of the Jewish people provide for you?
What do you wish it provided for you that it does not?
What obligations, if any, do you feel you owe other MOTs?
If you had to affirm your belonging to the Jewish people today, would you? Why or why not?
This Shabbat, reflect on the reality that while we are the inheritors of an ancient and unique tradition, it’s up to us to actively choose to be a part of it. We have the ability to decide whether and how this tradition is passed on to subsequent generations. The opportunity exists to make a choice, and to leave our mark. Let's seize it.