Parashat Hashavua for Vayetzei
Rabbi Kim Ettlinger
Temple Beth Israel, St Kilda, Victoria
Finding our Holy Space
Our parasha this week, Vayetzei, begins Jacob’s journeys. He has fled his brothers wrath. He bought Esau’s birthright and stole his blessing. Jacob at the moment is running.
Jacob is returning to the ‘old country.’ To his mother’s ‘homeland’ to Laban. Jacobs stops for a night, has his famous dream of a ladder with angels on it going up and down between heaven and earth. In the midst of his dreams God appears to Jacob and makes the covenantal promise to him as he had made with Abraham.
Jacob awakens from his dream and says to himself: “Achen Yesh Adonai B’Makom HaZeh V’Anochi Lo Dadati! Surely God is in this place and I, I did not know it!!” (Genesis 28:16).
Initially Jacob seems to focus on the physical space. Jacob as we know is on a journey, so space for him is significant, it can mean security or insecurity and fear.
In another section of the parashah. Jacob wakes from his sleep and says “Surely (Adonai) is in this place ve’anokhi lo yadati.” Anocki means “I.” and “lo Yadati” I did not know it. Why the repetition of “I”, because a good translation would say “And I, I did not know it.” Why the double “I”? Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz, a Talmudist from the 18th Century, wrote “How do we come to know that “God is in this place”? By ve’anokhi lo yadati – not knowing the I. We know God when we forget the self. We sense the “Thou” of the Divine presence when we move beyond the “I” of egocentricity … Only when we stop thinking about ourselves, do we become truly open to the world and the Creator of the world.”
This sounds like Martin Buber, doesn’t it? Buber would understand the human and the Divine in this way, of "I" and "Thou".
The interconnectedness between the person and between God, between the physical space, and between God begins to open up. One cannot be without the other. We need the human to know God, and for God to exist, the human must know God. And, in order to deepen the understanding of God, we must know the place of Earth which grounds us, to the spirituality of the space around us.
To know God, is to know oneself, but one must also let go of the self in order to let God in.
I’m sure many of us have had moments such as that. When we have stopped and that felt out of this world, that it was so special, we could declare it as a moment of Kedusha, of holiness. This can be a moment, or a place. And, essentially it can be both too. These are extraordinary moments that shift us from our comfort zones, they may be unusual, different, scary, or even comforting. But, they are different.
It is in these realms that we feel change in ourselves, that our lives perhaps take a different direction. The merging of different states. They are not common moments, if they were, they would not be special and meaningful. Also, at the time, we may not even realise it, but it is in the looking back that we can say… Wow, I am truly blessed because “that” happened.