November 16th, 2018
8 Kislev 5778
When I was a teenager, I was truly obsessed with my Temple Youth Group. I loved the music and the friendships and music and the sense of belonging. I loved it all. But all that being said, I had never really considered the idea of where God fit into the conversation. Synagogue for me was about connection and inspiration, not really about God. That is, until I reached 10th grade and entered confirmation class. That year I learned about the theology of Martin Buber. We learned that there are two types of relationships, the I-it – a transactional approach from which both parties derive some benefit, and the I-Thou; one based in deep and meaningful connection. Inherent in the the space of the I-Thou relationship the presence of God. When we engage deeply and sincerely with one another, God is there. When we experience love or joy or pride on behalf of another person, God is there. If you were to draw a dotted line that connects one soul to another, that, that is God.
If you were to draw a dotted line that connects one soul to another, that, that is God.
When I learned this concept, I felt like my world had cracked open. All of a sudden, this idea of “God” which had previously felt so foreign and out of reach, was in fact, right here in the room with me. God was the relationship between myself and the people whom I loved. God was the sense of belonging that I felt when standing in community with my youth group. In that moment, I realized that God had been present all along. It had just taken an outside perspective to help me realize it.
In this week’s parsha, we meet our patriarch Jacob in the desert as he too experiences an unexpected encounter with the Divine. On his journey from Be’er Sheva to Haran, he lays down to sleep one night under the stars. He soon finds himself in the midst of a dream in which he witnesses a choir of angels going up and down a staircase, seemingly leading to the Heavens above. God speaks to him and promises him blessings and progeny and when Jacob wakes up, he utters the words,
“אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְהוָ֔ה בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי”
Indeed God was in this place and I did not know it!
Jacob is woken up by the power of his dream and in turn, he has a spiritual awakening as well. He becomes aware of the presence of the Divine in an unexpected place. He is confronted with his relationship to himself, to generations past, and to the generations to come. God was indeed, present all along.
Many times since, this experience of unexpected encounters with the Divine Presence has repeated itself in various ways. However, in each instance I experience some resistance from within myself because in order to make space for the possibility of the encountering God, I find that I must first make myself vulnerable, whether to an experience, to another person, or even to myself.
In order to make space for the possibility of the encountering God, I find that I must first make myself vulnerable, whether to an experience, to another person, or even to myself.
According to acclaimed psychologist, Brene Brown, vulnerability represents uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. Our lives are full of experiences that rely on our ability or rather our willingness to make ourselves vulnerable: the pursuit of dreams, falling love, entrepreneurship, buying a house, becoming a parent, career change, retirement. Almost without exception, the milestones in our adult lives rely on the willingness to exist in a space of uncertainty, a space of vulnerability.
From the very start of the Biblical narrative, we are taught that each human being is made in the Divine Image, b’tzelem Elohim and if that holds true, then each time we open ourselves up to engage in meaningful relationship with one another, each time we allow ourselves to make space for one another, regardless of whether we share a belief system or radically disagree, we are indeed affording ourselves the opportunity to encounter The Divine. To do so requires a willingness to make ourselves vulnerable to the possibility of rejection or even anger but in doing so, we also invite in the presence of the Divine.
In our tradition, we have many names for God, one of which is Mastir Panim – the one who hides their face. In these times, it can often feel as though God is hiding from us, turning the Divine countenance away from humanity.
And yet, if we believe that God is indeed inside all of us, that we are remnants of the Divine spark, then it is our job to create a world in which God can indeed dwell. Can you imagine if every time we looked into the face of our neighbor, before we saw anything else, we allowed ourselves to see the face of God?
And so this week as we read Parshat Vayeitze, I pray that we are all able to connect more deeply, to see God more clearly, and to recognize the Divine in each and every one of us. Achen yesh Adonai baMakom hazeh – indeed God is in this place but it is up to us to recognize it.
Achen yesh Adonai baMakom hazeh – indeed God is in this place but it is up to us to recognize it.