- Jacob dreams of angels going up and down a ladder. God blesses him. Jacob names the place Bethel. (28:10-22)
- Jacob works seven years in order to marry Rachel, but Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah, Rachel's older sister. (29:16-25)
- Jacob marries Rachel but only after having to commit himself to seven more years of working for Laban. (29:26-30)
- Leah, Rachel, and their maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah, give birth to eleven sons and one daughter. (29:31-30:24)
- Jacob and his family leave Laban's household with great wealth. (31:1-32:3)
by Rabbi Mark Blazer
And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. (28:12)
Out in the middle of no-where, with only rocks for a pillow:
Jacob awoke from his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. (28:16)
Our ancestor Jacob realized at that moment that there is a thin veil between heaven and earth. Earth and heaven. With no barriers in between. He hadn’t seen it before. But he is now transformed.
Jacob first discovers God in exile. In a no-mans land. And it is in this moment of his greatest loneliness, he learns he is not alone.
And you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you in all places where you go. (28:14-15)
Our people will always have an eternal bond with the land of Israel, but we also know that every place is filled with the Divine presence. Every square inch of earth, every molecule of matter is imbued with God.
We believe that any place becomes holy when we open our eyes and open our hearts to God. And like Jacob we can discover this even when we are far from home. Even when we are in exile.
And how appropriate here in America, and timely this week as we celebrate Thanksgiving, that we all stop to consider this message.
Here in a land where everyone is an immigrant. Every American, like Jacob, has left their father’s home, an ancestral place that was once home to our diverse ethnic groups. If not in our lifetimes, then someone in our families made that journey.
And whether it was four thousand years ago on a land bridge from Siberia, four hundred years ago on a ship from Europe, or twenty years ago on a plane from Russia. Each and every one of us came here from some place else.
But in each community we settled, including here in Santa Clarita, we have made the places where we dwell holy. There is a direct line from our small synagogue, to the stones that Jacob set up in Beth El, after he awoke from his night vision. Wherever and whenever a holy place is established, that space becomes a vessel for God’s work, it is indeed holy ground.
America is a land of God, not God’s only holy place, but indeed a country blessed by God’s goodness and grace, a land that flows with milk and honey, as did the land of our ancestors.
But we must remember the bleak background against which the Pilgrims marked their first Thanksgiving. Of the 102 passengers who landed at Plymouth Rock, 51 died within the first six months. Not a single family had been spared by death. The survivors lived on the fringe of starvation in a hostile, unchartered world. They never knew what it was to have enough or to be secure. They stood alone against the forces of nature and man.
Yet, these were the people who gathered to give thanks to the Almighty and to express their humble dependence upon God’s mercies for their very lives.
And here once again we can learn from this weeks Torah portion. Because Jacob’s first great encounter with God, concludes with the promise to tithe, to give one tenth.
And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and garment to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God; And of all that you shall give me I will surely give a tenth to you.” (28:20-21)
Jacob’s Divine encounter therefore ends with a pact. With a promise to tithe. Granted Jacob predicates his charity on God’s beneficence. He has not yet evolved in his faith to simply commit without first seeing the goods. Yet even if Jacob’s charity is conditional, he has begun to take the first step to see beyond his own selfish needs. And he has tied his personal success to a greater good.
Tithing is a tangible way to respond to an invisible God. Our worship is enriched when we tithe. And our tithe is enriched when we worship. And each is impoverished if it stands alone.
The pace of our culture only intensifies the need for us to make the time, and find the means to worship God, and to give the tithe.
The time and money won't drop from the sky. We must carve out that time and money consciously, out of each week and each check.
Each one of us has the opportunity to contribute to the Santa Clarita Food Pantry, The Homeless Shelter, to help out with Family Promise (we host again this coming weekend!) We must not let this sacred moment pass without responding.
Jacob was no perfect man, yet he provides a model for each and every one of us. A fugitive from his own family, with nothing but the clothes on his back, Jacob begins his relationship with God and starts to evolve as a human.
With each step he ascends higher and higher, to the next spiritual plane. The Bible teaches that every person has the ability to retrace Jacob’s path, and hopefully you don’t have to start from the same spot Jacob was that night, with only rocks on which to lay your head.
Jacob’s story reminds us that if we are spiritually alive, it is not hard to see God present wherever you are: at home or away, in the Holy Land, or in Hollywood, for God indeed is everywhere.
And like Jacob, what do you do when you are overcome by this reality?
When you realize that the ladder is in place and that no matter how blind you have been, the angels have been ascending and descending all along?
When you discover that God is goodness and caring and love, and that most importantly that God is right here?
Why, you find some way to say thank you.
You reach out to others.
And you thank God for the privilege.