Drash on Parashat Vayeitze
Rabbi Rafi Kaiserblueth
Lately, when I read the news, the impression I have is there is just one depressing story after another. One could be forgiven for thinking that the world is consumed in hate and threatening to tear itself apart at the seams. The Korean Peninsula is threatening to erupt into war, Zimbabwe is descending into chaos, migrants are on the move in desperate search for a safe haven, and those are just a few of the headlines dominating the news.
In spite of how depressing or upsetting the news of the day can be, if we look beyond the madness, beyond the hate, we find kernels of love and justice. Mitzvah Day was an incredible success with hundreds of volunteers just in our community and thousands the world over, taking time out of their lives to help people they have never even met. The recent plebiscite here in Australia over marriage equality is another example of people overcoming their doubt and fear to give hope and justice to all. The darkness of the ones who only focus on themselves is illuminated by those who expand their view beyond themselves.
We read in this week’s parsha, Va-Yetzei, Bereshit 28:16-17:
וַיִּיקַ֣ץ יַעֲקֹב֮ מִשְּׁנָתוֹ֒ וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְהוָ֔ה בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי׃
וַיִּירָא֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר מַה־נּוֹרָ֖א הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה אֵ֣ין זֶ֗ה כִּ֚י אִם־בֵּ֣ית אֱלֹהִ֔ים וְזֶ֖ה שַׁ֥עַר הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃
Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is present in this place, and I did not know it!”
Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.”
Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, explains the verse by translating it literally - וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי׃, and I, I did not know. The double emphasis on the word “I” serves to illustrate how much we can miss when we focus on ourselves. When so much gears around a selfish I, then you never will know the true awe that is around you.
God is in our midst, and we only need to pause to recognise it
This week, I will be sitting down with several friends for the feast of Thanksgiving. It is customary to go around the table and everyone to say something they are thankful for. Once a year, we pause and force ourselves to come up with something positive; something that we elevate and not take for granted; something that pushes us to think of something other than ourselves.
I pray that like Jacob, we are able to find the kernel of positivity that shines through the darkness. That idea that moves us from the present self-centred perception, to one that encompasses the awe that is clearly around us, if we would only open our eyes.