Pirke Avot 4:8—Rabbi Yossi said, whoever honors the Torah will himself be honored before others. But whoever disgraces the Torah will himself be disgraced before others.
November 16, 2018
8 Kislev 5779
Shabbat Vayeitze Genesis 28:10-32:3
Jacob dreamed of a stairway going up into the heavens with angels ascending and descending. Jacob woke from his dream and said, “Surely, God is in this place and I, I did not know it.” And then he added, “How awesome is this place!” How many of us have stood in a place and looked around amazed and in awe of that moment or that view. The other morning, just before dawn, I went out to get the paper (yes! I still read the paper in newsprint and the Sunday NYTimes delivered to my home) and looked up. The air was cool and the stars as bright as they could be in a neighborhood with lights. It was absolutely beautiful. I just stood there for a moment and looked up into the heavens seeing just an atom’s worth of stars in the sky.
During my junior year in Israel, we went on a 6-day trip into the Sinai Peninsula with the destination of climbing Mt. Sinai before dawn. We slept on the earth and there was absolutely no ambient light around. Without a cloud in the sky, we could see millions of stars and the cloudiness of the Milky Way. “Surely, God is in this place and I, I did not know it.” We eventually arrived at the base of Mt. Sinai and at 2 AM started our climb to the top arriving just as the first inkling of light appeared. Along with my friends Jim and Scott and a few others, we found a spot to face east to see the sun rise. Spectacular! “Surely, God is in this place and I, I did not know it.”
Standing at Sandy’s side to see the birth of our two children, holding them for the first time, counting their fingers and hearing their cries. Watching our children become bar and bat mitzvah, graduate from high school and college, and standing under the chuppah with them, “Surely, God is in this place and I, I did not know it.” And now, seeing our son and daughter-in-law hold and nurture their own child, “Surely, God is in this place and I, I did not know it.”
Next week is Thanksgiving. Tuesday evening, I will be part of Canton’s 39th Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. God will be in that place as we gather together as Jews, Christians and Muslims to give thanks to God for the blessings and bounty in our lives and I will feel God’s presence. Thursday, we will sit around our table to share a feast and give thanks for all that we have in our lives and remember those who once touched our souls. God will be in that place surrounding us with God’s love and caring.
When Jacob said, “Surely, God is in this place and I, I did not know it,” Jacob’s life was profoundly changed. Jacob hadn’t opened his eyes to the wonder and possibility of God’s continuing presence. It took his fleeing his family and being alone for the first time in the wilderness for Jacob to wake and realize that God’s presence and love and support and embrace are always there. We don’t know when these life-changing moments will come or when our eyes will open to some wonder or beauty around us. Jacob certainly didn’t. I certainly wasn’t totally prepared for these “Wow” moments in my life, but they do happen, and we should try to embrace them.
What Jacob didn’t realize is that God is in every place. It is up to us to open our eyes and hearts and souls to this possibility. We don’t need a dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder for this sudden realization. We just need to take that leap of faith and an open mind because “Surely, God is in this place” and now I know it and it feels good. Think back to a moment of wonder that passed before your eyes or happened in your soul. How did it make you feel? Now think about Jacob’s words, “Surely, God is in this place and I, I did not know it.” It only takes a moment to be open to the wonder.
When you light your Shabbat candles this evening, light one for that moment in your life that drew you upward in life’s joys. Light the other candle and let its light be a reminder that God is always in this place.