Linda Yael Schiller
(And He Went Forth)
Marsha Norman tells us that “dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you”, and the Talmud tells us that a dream uninterpreted is like a letter unanswered.
This week’s parasha is parasha ve-yetse: the leave taking, literally, “and he went forth”. It occurs as part of the continuation of what is a big journeying sequence of torah over the last few weeks, where our patriarchs and matriarchs travel on inward and outward journeys: They meet their brides, have kids, and most importantly continue the task and the struggle of how to hear God’s voice, how to be in relationship with God in their hearts and souls, as well as in their daily lives. What does it means to hear God’s voice? Would we recognize it if we did? What if it came to us in a dream, as it did so often to Jacob and others in his family (think ahead to Joseph). How do we listen to the wisdom that our dreams can bring us? These are some questions we’ll think about later…
To put todays’ parasha into context, few weeks ago in Lech Lecha, Abraham follows God’s injunction to leave his homeland, then in Chaye Sara, Sara births Issac and dies. The journey continued as Issac travels to Beersheva to meet his bride Rebecca in Toldot and has his own kids Jacob and Esau. At the end of Toldot, Jacob steals his brothers’ birthright blessing and must flee for his life, starting his own turn at the journeying. We meet Jacob here this week in Ve-yetse after he has left Beersheva at his father’s instruction, and is on his way to Uncle Laban to find a wife. Jacob may be in pretty dire straights at this point: he’s deceived his father, he cheated his brother, and now he is out in the wilderness on his own.
We are told that the first thing that happens on this journey is that Jacob stopped for the night, found a stone for a pillow, had himself a snooze, and “at this place- ha makom ha-ze”, he has a dream – the famous dream of the ladder with it’s feet on the ground – b’eretz, and it’s head in the heavens b’shamyyaim, , and angels (melachaim , also translated as messengers) ascending and descending on the ladder..”
Dreams form an important part of Jacob’s life, they show up at regular intervals to guide him and connect him with his destiny and with God. Roger Kamenetz, the author of the Jew in the Lotus, in his book on dreamwork says that Jacob is the only character in Genesis who seems to actually see God. The richness of dreams is the theme I want to focus on in this parasha, since Jacob has several dreams in this passage. Dreamworker Robert Moss said, “a dream is a place; you don’t have a dream, you have an experience in a place.” So how fitting that this parasha is about “place”- “makom”, which is also one of God’s names. So Moss would call Jacob’s dream vision an experience he had in this place. And both Moss and Kamenetz would concur that Jacob’s dream or vision images are more powerful than the ground on which he was sleeping; they transform his waking reality.
To continue with a brief outline of what transpires in the rest of the parasha, after this first dream, Jacob continues his journey, meets Rachael at the well, gets tricked by Laban into working for him double time in order to get Rachel after Leah is snuck under the chupah the first time round. Between Racheal, Leah, and their 2 maid servants Bilhah and Zilpah, Jacob sires 11 of his 12 sons and his one daughter Dinah. Then Jacob decides that it is time to return to his father’s house, and negotiates with Laban to leave. Next comes the whole business with the goats: who gets to keep which goats after Jacob’s long servitude to Laban.
This is where Jacob has his 2nd dream in this parasha about the streaked, speckled and mottled goats. He seems to pick up from this dream some good practical animal husbandry skills from the angel of God that appeared to him, thus being able to trick Laban at his own game (another Jacob theme- he is quite the trickster) and getting the most fertile goats. So here we learn that dreams can also give us practical guidance as well: if we listen to our dreams, and unpack their meaning, we get answers to practical and business questions as well as spiritual ones: such as which goats should we choose for ourselves, and which should we give to our greedy in-laws.
At the end of the parasha, Laban chases down Jacob, accusing him of stealing both flocks and his house gods (which Jacob did not know that Rachael had actually taken). Finally, Laban and Jacob negotiate a peace pact, and to mark their boundary agreement they set up another stone pillar (paralleling the stone which Jacob used as a pillow in the beginning of the parasha). Jacob has his kinsmen gather stones to make a mound, a high place, which he called Gal-ed: the mound of witness. Then they offer a sacrifice and spend the night sleeping on the Har- the Height-, the high place. In the final lines of the parasha, Jacob continues on his journey back home and once again encounters the angels of God.
So we see that this parasha is bookended at both it’s beginning and ending with similar rituals, actions and encounters: sleeping in a place that becomes holy after their experience there, setting up a rock and then a pillar as a marker of a holy site, having some kind of a dream or a vision where there is an encounter and conversation with the angels of God, and then dedicating the place to God. The first place (haMakom) of the ladder dream he called Beth El- the house of God, and the place he journeyed to at the end after the agreement with Laban he called Manachaniim Elohim- God’s camps. Both were renamed with God’s name, signifying a spiritual transformation with God’s present took place for Jacob there.
A stone, or rock is often a place of sacrifice or commitment, as we know from the Akeda (the binding of Issac) and it thus becomes a holy place. In this passage Jacob learns how to both recognize and create a holy place, and setting up a pillar to point to hashamayyim, the heavens is how he marks it as holy. The pillar thus becomes the concretized dream ladder- connecting earth and heavens. After his first ladder dream, Jacob makes a vow: he anoints the rock he used as a pillow and says “If God remains with me throughout my sojourn, and keeps me safe and returns me safely home, then Adonai shall be my God.” A dream is ephemeral; a rock is concrete, and both are needed in our lives, the vapor and mists of spirit, and the solid ground on which to stand.
Three times in Jacob’s life he has an dream encounter complete with angels that significantly alter the course of his life, twice in this parasha, and once in next weeks’s, Vahishlach. There Jacob has his third dream/vision in which he wrestles with the angel of god, and succeeds in wrestling out for himself a new name: God-wrestler, “Yisra-el”, the people Israel, and then is able to fulfill the pact and the promise to be sovereign over the lands with God with him.
So, what is it about Jacob’s dream that allow him to connect with God, as well as to find a way to live in peace with his uncle?
In dreams, it is always “now”. Think about it- you never have a dream of “yesterday” or “tomorrow”; inside our soul dream consciousness, it is always now, happening right now. Dreams are timeless, we enter the “River of Already”, of all things being now when we have a dream. While we may have daydreams or visions of the future while awake as well, some part of us is experiencing it now, or we couldn’t be visioning it. This is actually what quantum physics has been telling us about the circularity of time, but that is a topic for another “time”. Perhaps this is why in Hebrew the word for both dream and vision is the same word: “Chalom”: our ancestors knew what Einstein and modern scientists are now telling us about the nature of time and timelessness.
Dreams can be portals to connect us with the divine. The dream can be the threshold between these 2 worlds. Jacob’s dream transported him form the world of ordinary consciousness to engaging with the world of spiritual realms. Jacob’s insight following his first dream was: God was in this place, and I, I did not know”, followed immediately by “ma nora hamakom haze”- how awesome is this place! What is “awe”? I think it is some combination of being wonder-struck, excited, maybe some trepidation, bowled over, a pinch of gratitude. What in our lives fills us with awe? After this dream, Jacob recognized a reality that he was blind to before.
Rabbi Shefa Gold tells us that Jacobs journey is blessed at it’s outset with a dream and a moment of awakening. Rabbi Ellen Dannin tells us that up until that time Jacob had lived his life in such a way that every place was ordinary. Perhaps it was this awakening to the possibility of eternal transcendence that gave him the fortitude to withstand the 14 years of servitude to Laban that followed.
If we too “awake to our dreams”, we may receive their blessings and insights. Jacob’s dream allowed him to keep his feet on the ground and his foundations, while simultaneously connecting with Hashamayyim -the heavens and the divine source. He awakens to the realization that here, here in this place, where I was all along, God was already there, all the time- I just couldn’t see it till now. Wow. The implication is that if we stop, look, and listen, God will be for us in all places. We, ourselves, then become the stairway, connecting heaven and earth.
When we tune in to the divine flow of abundance and blessing, whenever and wherever we are becomes the place where God abides. Rabbi Shefa also says that “God connects us to our wildest dreams.” Part of God’s promise to Jacob is that his offspring will be as numerous as the dust of the earth, and that all families will bless themselves by him and his descendents.
Rabbi Shefa concludes her thoughts on this parasha with reminding us that God said to Jacob and to us: “I am with you. I do not promise you that it will be comfortable or that you will not suffer. I do not promise that you will not feel hungry or that your heart will never be broken. My promise is simply that I am with you- in your suffering, in your hunger, in your despair, through your wandering: Anochi Imach- I am with you. Ma nora”- how awesome is that. It seems to me such an important reminder for us- because for most of us, it is in our darkest places that we have the most difficulty hearing and remembering and finding God. Being accompanied in our journey is perhaps one of the greatest gifts- to not be alone. We have been told by Reb Zalman and by others that it is through the cracks in our broken -heartedness that God can enter.
In Jacob’s second dream, the one about the goats, when God speaks to Jacob, Jacob answers “hinenei”. We know that “hineini”, “here I am” is spoken at key moments in Torah, when our ancestors answer the call of God and of their destiny. I learned with Rabbi Alan Ulman, that answering hineni is about a covenental commitment, it’s what we say to God and ourselves when we are we are ready to give our best and our choicest, and to make or be a sacrifice: Able said it with his 1st fruits, Abraham said it in the Akeda, Moses answers God at the burning bush with it, and Jacob says it here in this dream: hineni; Here I am, I am ready to do your bidding, to put my trust in you. So in this dream, when Jacob answers “hinenei”, is he saying to God “ I affirm your greatness and help- gadol v’ ezor- and with your guidance I can say “yes-I am here- hineni”- I am ready to return to my father’s lands-(to my sacred past)- with my family and offspring –(my sacred future)” as he lets this Voice from his dreams be his guide and counsel.
So, when we tune in to God speaking to us, how and what do we hear, and how and what do we answer? Do we even believe that it is possible? Do we then feel the Voice coming from inside or outside ourselves? Does it come thru as a voice, or in some other way? Can we see or hear the wisdom that comes thru to us in unlikely or uncanny ways- thru dreams, thru visions, from a mountain, a stone? As Jacob learned to do, how do we recognize that the place we are standing on is holy ground? How can we tell? What is our version of Jacob’s ladder that connects us with the divine?
Vayetzey (And He Went Forth) Blessing
May your dreams, as Jacob’s did, connect you
to the divine spark that lives inside you.
May you be a conduit between heaven and earth
offering up your joys and sufferings and
receiving God’s loving presence warming your soul.
May you live fully in the land of your life
cultivating, harvesting, and sharing the gifts that are yours.
May you never feel alone as you go forth
knowing always that the holy One is with you.
(Rabbi Sheryl Lewart Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation, CA.)