Parshat Vayeitzei begins with Jacob, who is running away from home and is described for us as afraid and exhausted. He goes to sleep and has a dream in which he envisions a ladder connecting earth to Heaven. The simple message of the story for Jacob, and us, is that what we do here on earth reaches up into Heaven. It means that we can affect and impact many worlds and our actions have effects on many different levels. Too many of us believe that what we do only affects ourselves. Jacob’s ladder comes to teach us that we are all interconnected and related.
How often do we forget this teaching? How often do we only act from our own narrow place, our own narcissistic place and forget or not care about the impact on others and on all levels of existence on earth and in Heaven? Whether you believe in “Global warming” or not, can any of us honestly deny that the impact of natural disasters are exacerbated by societal neglect and individual indifference?
A second lesson that our sages see in this dream narrative is the significance of the angels of God who are going up and down the ladder. How often do we forget to be grateful for the angels that help us? How many times have we been in need of an angel and felt forgotten and/or betrayed just because we did not look around us and notice the angels that are with us? How many times have we mistaken enemies for angels? At our Thanksgiving tables I hope you had an experience similar to mine, realizing that the real messengers of God do not come down from Heaven as in the movies but rather they are the people next to us, and across the table from us; the ones in whom we see the Divine and who in turn see the Divine within us.
The Kotzker Rebbe once rhetorically asked: “Where do you find God?” His answer was: “Wherever and whenever you invite God in.” This is the message I find in Jacob’s awareness when he awakes that: “God was in this place and I, I, did not know it.” How could Jacob, the inheritor of the spiritual mantle of Isaac and Abraham, not know that God was in the place? Perhaps in the spirit of one of Jacob’s descendants, Sigmund Freud, it was due to the fact that “I” that Jacob uses twice in this verse is the “I” of the ego that blinds him to the presence of others both human and Divine.
This year, the first three weeks of the month of December will be an opportunity for American Jews to connect the American festival of Thanksgiving Day to the Jewish festival of Chanukah. Chanukah was the Maccabees’ festival of Thanksgiving and rededication of themselves as well as their Temple to gratitude for God’s blessings. As we count down the days to Chanukah this month may each of us seek to open our eyes to see the angels around us and and express our gratitude to them and to the God who sent them to us. May this Shabbat Vayeitzei embolden each of us with the courage to take our place as one of God’s messengers in the world. May each of us not only firmly plant our ladders of life in the earth and reach up to heaven, may we also reach down our hands and give others a helping hand as they climb their own ladders of life.