10 Kislev 5783 | December 2, 2022
Class of 2025
What does it mean for a place to be Godly and/ or for God to be in a space? Have you ever been in a space or out in nature and felt God's presence there?
At the beginning of this week’s parsha, Jacob sets out towards Haran from Beer Sheva and stops for the night when the sun sets. He puts some stones around his head and has a dream of a ladder reaching upward with angels ascending and descending.
His awakening is described thus:
On the words “I did not know it,” Rashi suggests that had Jacob known about the presence of God, he would not have slept in such a holy place.
Over the course of the parsha, Jacob, in Haran for 20 years, grows his family with wives and children and goes on quite the journey. It culminates here:
On this being “God’s camp” (translated elsewhere as “a Godly camp”), Sforno (Ovadiah ben Jacob, 1475-1550) adds that Jacob is saying that now that the angels have seen fit to join him, there can be no doubt that his is a Godly camp. Sforno reminds us that Jacob had earlier in the parsha renamed the place where he had the dream Beit-El (House of God) and so he now referred to his camp as machaneh elokim (God’s camp). In both cases, the reason was, Sforno adds, that Jacob had been found worthy of divine revelation.
What might this Sforno have to do with our lives today and also the question posed at the beginning of this piece? Perhaps a reminder of Jacob’s birth and how he got his name might help us to understand this better.
If we go back to last week’s parsha, Toldot, when Jacob is born and gets his name, we have the following verse:
Jacob/ Yaakov is a play on the Hebrew עקב, meaning heel. On his name, Sforno elucidates that the word means he will remain at the heel, or the tail-end. This is based on the future mode of the word יעקב.
So Jacob was born on the heels of another and was perhaps pre-destined to always be at the heel. But in this week’s parsha, he seems to get ahead. Twice we see Jacob being worthy of being in a Godly place and having the insight that it is so.
Names are important and I think if we look at the bookends or arc of this week’s parsha, we can perhaps find a couple of things to think about for us in our lives today.
Jacob harnesses his ‘ekev-ness’, his initial status at the heel, to go from being second-in-command to being a pursuer of justice. Digging our heels in, as a metaphor, means refusing to do something such as change one’s opinions or plans, especially when someone is trying very hard to make you do so. Injustices can be turned around by those in pursuit of justice. Jacob was able to change his and others’ destinies on a few occasions in this week’s parsha and elsewhere by “digging in his heels.”
To return to our opening question, what does it mean for a place to be Godly and/ or for God to be in a space? At the beginning of this week’s parsha, Jacob noted that God was in the place and at the end of the parsha he notes that a different place is a Godly one. Perhaps herein lies a lesson for us today. That is, let us increase our consciousness of God around us and let us bring God into our spaces and our lives more. Through this, we might then be able to say that the places we dwell in are Godly and that God is indeed here with us.