Genesis 28:10 - 32:3
Some things just stick with you. For me, one of those things is a little gem of a book written by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner. It's called "God was in this Place & I, i did not know," and the entire book is about a single verse of Torah, Genesis 28:16. In it, Rabbi Kushner shares seven different interpretations of the verse, each one more fascinating and challenging that the last.
The verse is a direct quotation from Jacob, who at the opening of this week's Torah portion reaches rock bottom. In last week's portion, Jacob triumphantly purchased the birthright of succession from his brother Esau for a bowl of lentils, and then successfully stole Esau's blessing of inheritance by tricking their blind father Isaac. However, the moment Esau finds out, he determines to kill his brother, and Jacob flees for his life. At the opening of VaYetze, Jacob finds himself in the middle of the Wilderness with only the clothing on his back and a rock for a pillow. That night he dreams of angels climbing and descending along a nearby ladder that extends to heaven. When he awakes, he says: "God was in the Place and I, i did not know." (Gen. 28:16)
Rabbi Kushner observes that until this moment, Jacob focused his entire life on ... Jacob. Jacob is so full of himself, that there is no room for anyone else. It is only when he loses everything, when his "I" is diminished and becomes an "i" that Jacob discovers one of the most important teachings of Torah: even in those places where we seem totally alone, God is with us.
For those of us who struggle to see the Divine Presence in our world, we can take a lesson from Jacob: all we need to do is to look inside ourselves and then make a little room.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2015 Rabbi Gary Pokras