November 15, 2018


11.16.2018 Weekly Torah Portion

Parshat VaYetze

This week’s Torah Portion is VaYetze. This translates to “and he went out.” It is the first leg of Jacob’s life’s journey, first to Haran, then back “home” to Canaan, and finally to Egypt.

The Parashah begins with an interesting phrase: “the place struck him,” and/or “he encountered the place,” and/or “met the place.” In each of these translations (these are my translations), “the place” is another name for God. I want to translate this phrase in this way: “God struck him, and he lay down for the night” and/or “he encountered God and lay down for the night.”

This is a Spiritual Awakening/Surrender for Jacob and he is unaware of it. It will take more Awakenings/surrenders for Jacob to truly understand what it means to love God with everything he has in him. For this week, however, I want to focus on Surrender/Awakening. After his first recorded dream, the ladder, Jacob realizes how numb his soul has been to recognizing God in the place he is in and, in my opinion, recognizing God in his life and that God is everywhere. As Rabbi Lawrence Kushner translates that verse of Torah, “God was in this place and I, I did not know.” The use of two “I’s” for me is that my intellect wasn’t aware and that my Soul was unaware also.

In addiction our souls as well as our intellect are unaware of God’s Presence. Being Human means that both my soul and my intellect are aware of God and surrender to God’s Will for us. Jacob is not ready to do this as evidenced by his prayer at the end of the first chapter of this Parashah. He uses the “if…then” structure rather than the declarative commitment. He is still hedging his bet and, in doing so, is fighting the Spiritual Awakening that he had. For many of us, this is our own modus operandi as well. We have a Spiritual Awakening/Surrender to God, to love, to living life with passion and purpose, and then we get afraid and start to hedge our bets with anger, blame, rationalizations, etc. We use excuses like “if you didn’t do ____ then I would not have done _____,” and/or “I had to do this to support _____,” and/or “you don’t know what is like for me.”

What excuses are you still using to deny God’s Presence in your life? What are the ways you stay in surrender to God’s Will? How do you stay aware of God being in this place in this moment?

Jacob has another moment of awakening after he meets Rachel. He is taken by her beauty and falls in love. He becomes willing to do anything to make her his wife. He agrees to Laban’s (Rachel’s father) terms. He agrees to work for seven years and then he is tricked into marriage to Leah (Rachel’s older sister). At that moment, Jacob realizes the treachery and blames it on Laban. He agrees to work another seven years for Rachel. Jacob is awakened to his need for love in the moment he meets Rachel. He, however, does not see Rachel as sent to him by God, nor is there any talk of a Spiritual Connection. Jacob is so blinded by his love that he doesn’t realize Laban as cunning, baffling, and powerful. Jacob is so blinded by his desire to marry Rachel that he doesn’t realize the switch that is made by Laban, Leah, and Rachel at the wedding ceremony. In fact, he doesn’t recognize that he married Leah until the next morning. Here again, Jacob does not seize and continue to pursue the awakening that he experienced.

Like people who relapse and fall back asleep and return to their addiction, Jacob goes back to sleep and suffers because of it. What is not spoken about in the Torah is that Leah and Rachel are part of the subterfuge. Both of these women participate in the trickery of their father Laban. Yet, Jacob is only upset with Laban. The text also says that Leah is less loved than Rachel. I have found people always blaming external and internal circumstances for their relapse. As I am writing this Parashah, I am struck with the thought that relapse happens because we stop growing our awakening and awareness and we begin to “take control/be in control” rather than continue to surrender. Awakening and Surrender are not “one-and-dones”; rather they are states of being. In each of these states of being, we are able to grow and deepen our sense of God and our awareness of God’s presence as well as become connected to the moments of our living and the people in our lives.

How are you continuing to grow your awareness of God’s presence? How are you deepening your appreciation of the gifts in your life? What is your plan to stay in a state of awakening and a state of surrender?

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Mark