We all have moments of desperation, dark nights of the soul, in which we less call out to God than God reaches into us and pulls out a cry for help.
In this week’s parashah, Jacob has a terrifying, lonely night in which God enters his dreams and comforts him, offering him hope for his future. What a gift to be given! And what a gift to actually receive.
But what is a moment like this one if we don’t stay loyal to it? Many of us come into Beit T’Shuvah because we’re desperate. But desperation isn’t enough to keep us here. What keeps us here is a Covenant – with this community, with ourselves, with a Higher Power, Universe, God (whatever you call that Something Bigger Than Me). We stay because in a Covenant, we matter; and oh, how we long to matter!
Below, Jacob pleads with his future self to stay loyal to his desperate and holy experience.
How will you stay loyal to the holy experience that brought you to recovery?
A letter to the future me…
I want you to remember this moment. In the future there will be times you forget, and I want you to remember…
Last night, I went to sleep terrified – in the middle of the desert, alone for the first time in my life, and cold without a sleep sack to keep me warm. My fears tripped over one another: What if my brother Esau finds me and kills me? What if I can’t find my way through this vast desert to Uncle Laban’s settlement? What if I die out here? I stole from my family… for what? For this darkness and loneliness? My mind raced, my skin crawled. I wanted to keep moving – anything but this shame and pain – but there was no light to see by, no way to keep moving. So I put my head on a rock and hoped desperately for sleep, for my mind to quiet. By a miracle I slept, and by a miracle I dreamt. And I want you to remember, dear Jacob, what happened next.
I dreamt of angels going up and down a ladder. And God spoke to me: “Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
God’s Presence will always be with me, wherever I go. That means with you, too, Jacob! I don’t know yet what the dream means exactly, but I do know this: in our despair and desperation, God invited us into a relationship. And I said yes.
When I woke up from the dream, sweaty even in the cold desert, I was shaken. I exclaimed: “God was in the place and I did not know it!” And I knew that this place is a gateway to the heavens, so I renamed it Beit El, “House of God.” Now I know you can always return here to meet God again. And maybe others will encounter God here, too.
My dearest Jacob, do you know what this means? It means that God doesn’t abandon anyone, even me, even you. I had stolen everything from our brother Esau: both his birthright and fortune, and the blessing owed to him by our father. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway. I liked it – the power, the deceit. My worry then was not about morals, but about getting caught and being cursed by my father. No, I wasn’t caught. But getting caught is not the worst punishment: the entrapment of a terrified mind is much worse. The loneliness and the fear. A life of running from place to place – no sense of home or safety. Afraid that every day will be my last.
I know now that there is hope for me, and for you. But you must stay loyal to this moment. Remember the Covenant. Remember life without it. You will be tested in the future. There will be times that once again you want to steal from the people who care about you most – steal their money and blessings and good will. There will be times you want to run.
But please remember this night – the night that God came to visit you and invited you into a Covenant, despite our failings. And we will be a sign for others: that if God is willing to be in Covenant with me, a thief and trickster, then God is willing to be in Covenant with all people.
P.S. Keep coming back. It works if you work it.