Va-yetzei 5779: Stairway to Heaven
When we meet our ancestor Jacob at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Va-yetzei, he is a man on the run. Having finagled the status of firstborn from his brother and father, Jacob flees for his life and is en route to Haran, his mother’s birthplace.
One night on this journey, Jacob has his famous dream of the angelic beings going up and down a stairway to heaven. God promises Jacob that he will inherit the covenant of his father and grandfather and that God will protect him.
When he wakes up from this dream, Jacob declares, “Surely the LORD is present in this place, and I did not know it!” (Genesis 26:16). Several commentators suggest that Jacob means by this that he would not have slept there had he known that it was such a sanctified place.
This creates a bit of a paradox: had he not slept there, he would not have had his dream! Jacob’s lack of knowledge about the specialness of the place is precisely what allowed him to experience that specialness.
Many of us go looking for our peak experiences outside of our usual surroundings. We travel great distances, meet new people, try new endeavors.
But what if we already had the potential to have those experiences, right here, right now? What if what we were looking for was already here, and we only need to shift our consciousness to perceive it?
Since I began at KTI, I’ve been reading this prayer by Rabbi Naomi Levy before the open ark during the Torah service: “Open my eyes, God….Remind me that I don’t have to journey far to discover something new, for miracles surround me, blessings and holiness abound. And You are near.”
Holiness is all around us, if we can attune ourselves to it. We can find peak experiences in the course of daily life, if only we look for them. Indeed, much of Jewish practice aims to sanctify the ordinary by shifting our consciousness through prayer, study and good deeds.
Like Jacob, may we each find God in unexpected places and surprising ways.