Drash on Parashat Vayetzei
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW
In this week’s parasha our Torah journey focuses on Jacob; a young man fleeing for his life, leaving his home, his family, everything he has ever known and embarking on a journey to an unknown future. I imagine as he lay down his head to sleep that first night, he was filled with a mix of emotions: fear and trepidation at the uncertainty of what lay ahead, terror at being alone in the dark night of the desert. Imagine Jacob, a solitary figure in the vast emptiness of the shifting sands, the cold of the inky night pushing out the oppressive heat and warmth of the day. He huddles up beneath a blanket trying to stay warm, trying to keep the darkness from invading his bones. In the ring of blackness which surrounded him he imagined the wild animals waiting to devour him, small deadly creatures who with one sting could mark the end of his life. And the guilt, the shame, the heaviness of knowing that he had done wrong. He had deceived his father, stolen his brother’s inheritance and now his life was in danger at the hand of his own twin. I imagine that Jacob was feeling remorse and perhaps playing over the events of the previous day, trying to make sense of his behaviour, his brother’s reaction, wondering why? Why had he done it? Was it the right thing? For now he was banished to the desert and he was alone, scared, ashamed, and filled with doubt and fear. And it is in this state of being that he lays down for the night to sleep. And he has his famous dream of angels ascending and descending on a ladder. Then, in the morning, when Jacob awakes he declares: “God was in this place and I, I did not know it.” And from that moment on Jacob goes forth into life with a renewed sense of purpose, confidence and security. He does not feel alone anymore, he feels loved, nurtured and protected. So what is it that has changed for Jacob, what did he see? What did he learn?
Jacob went to sleep feeling a deep sense of loneliness, he was questioning his existence, his actions, his journey. He was filled with doubt, perhaps some self- loathing, but more than all the emotions, he was awash with his solitude. And during the night he discovered that he was not alone, rather God was in that place, God was there with him, in his darkness, in his longing, in his shame and in his need. In a place where he did not imagine God could be, there was God, a source of strength, love and blessing, a place from which he could draw to find the courage and security to move forward on his journey with confidence, knowing that no matter what he faced, he was not alone.
Sometimes I think we are all like Jacob, we feel that we are alone in our pain, our struggles and our suffering. We cry out, looking for God, asking “why?” “Why is this happening?” We search for meaning in our challenges, we want answers. But sometimes there are no answers. Sometimes all we have are the questions which are often unanswerable.
But maybe we are asking the wrong questions, maybe instead of searching for the why, we can find something different, maybe we can awaken, like Jacob and exclaim “God was in this place and I did not know it.”
God can be the source of our strength, the force which feeds us with the energy and the will to go on, the knowledge that no matter what struggles we face, we are not alone. God is present saying to us; “in your suffering I am with you, I cry, I hurt, I am beside you in your pain, take strength from Me, draw courage from My presence, let Me be with you.” Allow ourselves to be bathed God’s love which is uncompromising, unflinching, a presence and a constant which will wrap us in loving arms and even when it can’t protect us from pain, perhaps it can help us to see through the darkness to find a way to dream, to love and to hope once more. And then maybe, like Jacob we can awaken to say: “God is in this place.”