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Sparks - Vayetze - Rabbi David Aaron

Your Place or Mine? 
Living in the Arms of Love

Jacob runs for his life to Charan because his brother Esau was out to kill him. The Bible records that on his way “he reached the place and spent the night there ... and lay down to sleep.” (Genesis 28:11)

The Midrash –the Jewish Oral Tradition-- interprets “the place” to mean “G-d.” G-d is “The Place” because according to the Kabbalah He made space within Himself for creation and always holds us all within His loving embrace. Therefore, His loving presence is our ground, context and place. Thus, it states:

Why do we refer G-d as “The Place?” Because He is the Place of the world (i.e. we exist within G-d) ... G- d is the dwelling place of the world...

Jacob lived this truth. He always defined himself and his actions within the context of G-d. Therefore, even though Jacob lay down in a physical place, He experienced himself exiting within the arms G-d’s loving embrace.

To Live the Impossible Dream

The Torah describes Jacob’s dream as follows: “He had a vision in a dream, a ladder was standing on the ground and its top reached up towards the heaven. Angels of G-d were (first) going up and (then) down on him. And behold the Lord was standing over him.” The Midrash interprets Jacob’s dream in a fascinating way:

They were ascending and descending upon Jacob (i.e. the verse is understood to mean that Jacob had a dream and “Behold he was a ladder standing on the ground and his head reached heaven. And behold upon him angels of G-d were ascending and descending”)...this must mean that some were exalting him and others degrading him (so to speak, coming down on him), dancing, jumping and maligning him. Thus, it says in Isaiah 49:3, “Israel through you, I (G-d) will be glorified.” The angels who ascended and saw Jacob’s features engraved on high exalted him and those who descended below and found him sleeping degraded him. It may be compared to a king who sat and judged in a judgment chamber; people ascend to there and find him judging, they go out to the yard and find him sleeping.

In other words, Jacob is an absolute mystery for the angels. From the perspective of heaven, he was totally one with G-d and interfaced with Divinity -- such was the intensity of his loving bond with G-d. His features were engraved, so to speak, within the oneness of G-d. He radiated godliness. The angels, therefore, exalted him because his Divine status was greater than theirs. However, from the perspective of the lower and physical world, Jacob was totally human, a mere physical creature bound to the body. So, when the angels found him sleeping, physically vulnerable and very un-godlike, they degraded him and jumped with joy that he was lower then them.

G-d, however, praised him, “Israel (referring to Jacob), through you I will be glorified.” Jacob revealed the mysterious and miraculous power of G- d’s love. He experienced himself at one with G-d and yet still knew that he was not one and the same as G-d. He was able to be both human and divine—one with G-d and yet other. He was able to be a ladder connecting heaven (spiritual) and earth (physical). He could keep his feet on the ground while having his head in heaven.

When Jacob awoke from his dream he declared, “G-d is in this place, but I did not know.” Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), the 11th century Torah commentator, takes this to mean that if Jacob had initially realized the holiness of the physical spot, he would have not gone to sleep there. In other words, Jacob would have felt uncomfortable to partake in such a purely human and physical act as sleep in such a holy place. But he now realized the full embrace of G-d’s loving presence including even his humanness and therefore he went back to sleep after the dream. (see verse 28:18)

G-d’s Promise

In the dream G-d came to him and promised, “I am the Lord, the G-d of Abraham your father, and the G- d of Isaac. I will give to you and your descendants the land upon which you are lying.” The Midrash explains that Jacob experienced G-d fold up all of the Land of Israel and place it under his head. Next G-d said, “Your descendents will be like the dust of the earth.” In other words, just as the dust of the earth is found in every corner of the world, so shall your children spread from one end of the earth to the other. And finally, G-d promised Jacob, “You will spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south.” According to the Midrash this means that Jacob and his descendents would transcend the limitations of space and encompass the world.

This is because Jacob mirrored G-d’s love and he too made a space and place in his life for G-d. He too held G-d in his loving embrace. Jacob was a living sanctuary for G-d. Therefore, the Zohar – the Kabbalistic classic – also calls Jacob “the place.” In other words, he made of himself a place for G-d and became a living sanctuary for the presence of G-d on earth.

Jacob’s intense love will be the inheritance of his descendents, the whole Jewish nation, when they build the third Temple, as it is written in Exodus 25:8, “They shall make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in them.” Then finally the whole world will become the living sanctuary for G-d on earth. As expressed by the prophet Isaiah 2:2-4: “Come let us go up to the mount of the Lord, to the House of the G-d of Jacob...”

At that time we will all know that there is not such thing as your place or mine. There is just One Place. G-d is “The Place” for humanity and humanity is the place for G-d. G-d lovingly accommodates and embraces us and we lovingly accommodate and embrace G-d. We will joyously experience all in One and the One in all.

Rabbi David Aaron

Author of Endless Light, Seeing G-d, The Secret Life of G-d, Inviting G-d In, Love is My Religion, Soul Powered Prayer, Living A Joyous Life, and The G-d-Powered Life

Tastings of Torah - Vayetze - by Rav Binny Freedman

The Chassidic Rebbe of Hornostipol had a devoted attendant by the name of Reb' Dan, who served the Rebbe faithfully for over fifty years. After the Rebbe's death, the Rabbi in the village, Rav Yankel, announced that the coveted burial plot next to the Rebbe was due him inasmuch as he was the Rabbi of the town.

Reb Dan protested, saying that just as he had never left the Rebbe's side in life, he deserved to not be separated from him in death.

The dispute was brought before the Rebbe's son (Rav Avraham Twersky's grandfather), who ruled that the decision should be made by G-d, and that whoever died first was to be buried next to the Rebbe.

From that time, whenever Rav Yankel would take ill, Reb Dan would panic, and would insist that the very best specialists be brought in to treat him. He would also go to all the synagogues urging everyone to pray for Rav Yankel's speedy recovery. The thought that Rav Yankel would die first and thus win the coveted burial spot gave him no rest. And if Reb Dan took sick, Rav Yankel behaved in exactly the same way.

I heard this story from Rav Avraham Twersky, who noted that what people aspire to, and even what they envy, speaks volumes about their character.

These two men would gladly have given up years of their lives, to be buried near their Rebbe. There has and always will be envy. But what we envy says a lot about who we really are.

This week's portion, Vayetze, has a lot to do with what we aspire to, and what we dream of.

Escaping from the wrath of his brother Esau, Yaakov flees the land of Israel and his home, to make a new life in the far-off empire of Mesopotamia. He meets the love of his life, Rachel, ultimately marrying and settling in the home of his father-in-law Lavan.

Lavan, recognizing Yaakov's talent as a herdsman, strikes what he considers to be a clever deal. If Yaakov will manage the 'sheep-business', Lavan will give him all the newborn speckled & mottled sheep, as a reward for his efforts, keeping 'only' the regular non-speckled sheep.

Of course, every-one knows how rare mutated sheep births are, except perhaps a rather naive tent- dwelling cousin from far away....

The joke, however, is on Lavan; G-d causes all the sheep to be born with mutations, and for twenty-two years, Yaakov becomes wealthy at his father-in- law's expense.

And then one night, Yaakov has a dream. He dreams about flocks of speckled & mottled sheep filling the hills as far as his eyes can see. And then an angel comes to him from amidst the flocks, with a message:

I have seen all that Lavan has done to you (referring to all the sheep); I am G-d, to whom you swore faith so long ago, when you left your home. Get up; it is time to go home... Return to the land of your birth.” (Genesis 31:10-13)

What is the meaning of this strange dream? Why are angels suddenly appearing from amidst the flocks? And why the sudden command to go home? This angelic message from G-d seems to appear completely out of no-where, and with little or no relationship to the narrative. What is this dream, and its accompanying message?

To understand the message of this dream one need only recall the beginning of Yaakov's journey, at the beginning of our portion.

Yaakov, running from home, stops for the night. All alone, with no possessions, having just left everything behind for an uncertain future, Yaakov dreams of ladders and angels, and G-d appears to him in his dream, and promises him he will one day return to the land of Israel to father a great nation. (Genesis 28: 11-22)

Perhaps this is precisely the point the angel is making in Yaakov's dream twenty-two years later:

Twenty-two years ago, you were dreaming of angels and heaven, and G-d Himself was talking to you. And now? Now you are dreaming of sheep; and when your dreams are all about sheep, its time to go home.'

Notice that in Yaakov's first dream, it is G-d himself that speaks with Yaakov. But twenty-two years later, he hears G-d's voice through an angel. Whenever an angel appears to an individual in the Torah, it is because somehow that individual has become somewhat distanced from G-d.

A perfect example of this phenomenon is the story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22. At the end of the story it is an angel that speaks with Abraham, perhaps because however well intentioned Avraham was, if you can lift up a knife over your son, it affects you, and distances you from G-d.

Indeed, this may be why the angel says, 'see what Lavan has done for you'. This comment is not referring to what Yaakov's newly acquired wealth has done for him, (wealth, after all, is from G-d, not from Lavan.) rather, the angel may be referring to what the wealth has done to Yaakov. And if Yaakov is now dreaming of sheep instead of ladders to heaven, then it is time to go home.

Rav Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin points out in his Tzidkat Hatzaddik, that you can learn a lot about a person from his dreams. What we dream is a reflection of who we are. It is the measure of our aspirations and goals, and of those values we hold dear and place above all else.

This, in fact, is the essence of prayer in Judaism. Did you ever wonder why our custom when we pray is to ask G-d for so many things? Doesn't G-d know what we want? Why do we need to remind Him? And what is the purpose of the Jewish custom of saying these same prayers three times a day? Did G-d already forget what I asked for just this morning?

Rav Abraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook points out in his Olat HaRe'iyah (his commentary on the Jewish prayer book, the Siddur), that when we pray, we are actually accessing our desires.

People make the mistake of thinking that the question I must ask myself at the end of prayers is 'did G-d hear my prayers?' Of course, that is ridiculous. G-d hears everything, and in fact knows our prayers before we do. The real question is did I hear my prayers?

Do I hear what I really want? In fact, this is the reason the Jewish custom is to say the prayers (the shemoneh esrei) loud enough so that I can hear my own words: precisely because I need to hear what I really want. Then I can ask myself: is this what I really want? Am I happy with what I really want? Do I really want peace? If I did, it would be on my mind all day long. Do I really care that there are so many people in the world who are sick? If so, how can my afternoon pass without even thinking about them?

The expression 'it's just a thought' could not be further from the truth. Thoughts are actually the building blocks of creation. Every aspect of civilization, indeed everything we will build in this world, will be the direct result of someone having thought it; dreamed it. And what we dream is very much a reflection of who we are, and who we really want to be.

Do we really dream of peace? Do we dream of creating an ethical world? Or are our dreams lost in the ticker tapes of stock quotes, Thanksgiving Day sales, and vacations on sandy beaches?

There was a time when we as a people had a dream. In a world lost in pagan idolatry and cruelty, we dreamed of light and brotherhood, and a world that could be better.

Perhaps, our dreams have become clouded. Maybe it really is time to go home.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav Binny Freedman

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