Despite what we might see (or post) on Facebook, every single one of us have times in our life when we experience tremendous challenge. What often begins as a loss of a treasured relationship, or a job, or our health, can evolve into tremendous self-doubt and questioning of all we had assumed to be true. The catalyst sometimes is less acute than a loss, but rather a realization of our own mortality with self-judgments about where we ‘are’ in life compared to where we thought that we would be.
This week’s Torah portion, Vayetze, from the book of Genesis pans in on our patriarch Jacob when he was just a teenager, fleeing for his life as a result of some bad luck and worse choices that he made. As he makes his way through the land, rent from his family and the safety of his home, he feels both alone and abandoned. As darkness descends, he is forced to find a ditch on the side of the road to sleep, a rock serving as a pillow beneath his head. Physically and spiritually he is depressed into the dust of the world.
And there he dreams…
Even while asleep, and certainly upon waking, Jacob knows that this dream is more than a dream, but rather a promise of hope. A ladder from the earth to the heavens with angels ascending and descending set the backdrop (Jacob’s ladder), with God above it all. God addresses Jacob in his dream assuring him that this difficult moment in time is not where Jacob will eventually be and that even in Jacob’s fragile state God is very much with him. Despite what Jacob is experiencing, what Jacob feels, what Jacob thinks…Jacob is not alone.
Jacob awakes and sees himself in the same lowly spot where he fell asleep, but now the world looks very different. From the depths of despair to an elevated sense of understanding and connection, Jacob utters the famous words, “Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!”
Our Shabbat services tomorrow night will weave this concept through sermon and prayer.
May those of us who are in a state of fragility be nurtured through our millennia-long Jewish experience, lifted up through the wisdom of our stories and strengthened through the ascending angels who interact with us in our everyday lives.