Heaven and earth touched each other

This week’s Torah portion, Vayetzei, describes the first part of the journey of the biblical Jacob. Fleeing the wrath of his brother, whose birthright he purchased and whose blessing he stole, Jacob is “heading for the exits (Vayetzei).” As the now iconic story unfolds, Jacob stops for the night and has his famous dream of a ladder with angels going up and down between heaven and earth. God appears to Jacob in the midst of his dream and repeats the covenantal promise to Jacob as promised to Abraham
before.

It is remarkable that this didn’t happen in a safe environment, in a tent, or a regular place of worship. It happened in the ‘nowhere‘, a place where
literally heaven and earth touched each other.

Last Shabbat, we went out to have Shabbat together in the Botanical
Gardens, and while I doubt that this was a moment comparable to Jacob‘s, it was still special and it brought together family, friends and  people we had never met before. It was a wonderful way to confirm our covenant with the Eternal and to open ourselves to new ways and new encounters.

I hope we have more of those special services in the future.

Shabbat Shalom –

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

One Mitzvah leads to another, while one sin leads to another,
and when one acts justly it is very good. – Pirkei Avot 4:2

Chaverim,

This Saturday evening and Sunday morning, we join forces with our friends from Temple Israel and Beit Emanuel to help others. Every year in November, Jews world-wide dedicate one Sunday to do good, and to talk about it. All the other times, we should just do good things without talking about it, but this time is different. We are going public, because we want more people to follow our lead and to go out and help, as one mitzvah leads to another.

Our kindness and our actions—no matter how small—matter. The way we treat each other matters. We see that clearly in our Torah portion. Jacob has left Canaan, and has come to Haran, whereupon he sees Rachel and sees the stone covering the well. It should say “there was a large stone on the mouth of the well” but that’s not the actual order of the text. It actually says “the stone was large on the mouth of the well.” The s’fat emet understands this as a metaphor: the stumbling block—our evil urge—may be everywhere, but it is heaviest and largest on the mouth of the well. What is the well? Our words, our mouths, our hearts, our intentions, our own actions. Once Jacob understands the situation, he, by himself, removes the stone from the well. He takes the action. He does what is right at that moment. His actions improve the fate of the shepherds around him.

Jacob’s actions matter and so do ours. When we choose to act with kindness, even if the action is small, it changes the life of that person. If you follow the lead of others, or an inner drive, it doesn’t matter, just do it.

I am looking forward to seeing many of you on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Details about the Mitzvah Day can be found on page 1 and on our Facebook page: https://tinyurl.com/yb4cedu7 .

Please join us. Thank you.

Shabbat Shalom  – Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Yair D. Robinson)

Luca Giordano – Jacob and Rachel at the Well

Shabbat Vayeitzei: If – Then – Else

A joke is told about the New York man driving around desperately seeking a parking place.  He can’t find one, and so in desperation, he says, „Oh God I pray that you give me a parking space, if you give me a parking space then I promise to go to synagogue every Shabbat, I promise to give more money to tzedakah and I promise to be more observant of mitzvot.“  At that moment in front of him a parking space opens up and the man says „Oh never mind God I found one.“

In our lives we often engage with this ‘if’.  “If this happens, then I will do such and such.”  We set up the negotiation, the exchange between ourselves and God, or between ourselves and the fates of the universe, imagining that it gives us some elements of control.

In this week’s Torah Portion, we get a very strange parallel moment of “If”.  Jacob, having left Be’ersheva on his way to Haran, has this amazing dream of a stairway leading up to heaven where he sees angels going up and coming down. Then God speaks to Jacob informing him that He (God) will be with his descendants, and that they will receive the land upon which he is sleeping as an inheritance. In the morning when Jacob awakes he has no doubt about the significance of the dream.

However, Jacob is then quoted by saying „IF, God remains with me, IF God protects me on the journey that I’m taking and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear and IF I return safely to my father’s house, then Adonai shall be God and this stone which I establish as a pillar shall be God’s abode.“   After all that Jacob has just seen in that dream, after all of the promises which God gave to Jacob, Jacob feels the need to make a vow beginning with “If”.

There is the ‘if’ of uncertainty, the ‘if’ of doubt, and possibly even the ‘if’ of fear.  And so in trying to regain some control even in this moment after all that he has seen, Jacob says “If”.   We often use the word ‘if’ without all the signs and wonders presented to Jacob.  And we do it for similar reasons, because we seek to regain that sense of control.

Unfortunately, our lives are not arranged around certainty and control, and from time to time we need to let things happen as they happen. It was a long learning process for Jacob to accept that most things are out of his control, too. He struggled with God for the rest of his life, but he also understood that this is the real sense of a partnership – the partnership with God.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: reformjudaism.org)