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 VaYaytzei: To Look Inside to See God's Dream

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daniel eliezer

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Join date : 2011-12-01
Location : Beit El, Israel

PostSubject: VaYaytzei: To Look Inside to See God's Dream   Fri Nov 08, 2013 8:49 am

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don't have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I'm saying, then it is explained.

*         *         *
“When you look inside, you see God’s dream”

For the overwhelming majority of Gerim, in our entering the world of Jews and Torah we come as adults. This has many ramifications for us, and the beauty of it is that there is lot that we can talk about and share. To sort of open the topic, I want to share a little Torah teaching of this week’s Torah reading that relates to us as Gerim who have entered the world of Torah as adults. I also want to show that even though this is true, nevertheless we are not deprived of bringing creativity to interpreting the Torah.

So that we’ll all be together, this week’s Torah reading is ‘VaYaytzei’ - lit: 'and he went out or left.' (I’ve been in Israel too long, so if some of the streams of Judaism give it another title I’m at a loss to help you.) The reading begins with Ya’akov [Jacob] fleeing from home in overdrive to avoid his brother’s (Esav's) attempts at fratricide, but before he gets very far an aberration of nature causes him to pull up short and spend the night on a mountain top. Ya’akov builds either a bed or a shelter of stones and, notwithstanding that he is surrounded by ominous portent, Ya'akov simply goes to sleep. And then he dreams a stunning and magnificent dream.

What a dream! A ladder, its feet on the ground, rises heavenwards, and ascending and descending the ladder are angels of God. To complete this vision, God is standing above the top of the ladder.

For those people who grew up with Torah , and perhaps even the Bible [which, because of how it is taught, is not the same thing], however meaningful it was or not, they experienced one thing that those who didn’t are missing: 'the child’s view of Torah'. Being one of these latter, to this day I cannot begin to imagine how I would have envisioned this scene as a child, and I miss it. I only discovered the angels ascending and descending the ladder as an adult, and while I don’t lack imagination, I do lack the innocence of vision and the kind of imagination that is only found in youth. My angels are ‘adult angels’ and my ladder is an ‘adult ladder’.

And because this is true, I’ve always had trouble envisioning exactly what Ya’akov saw. Look, it’s not so difficult to envision a ladder and angels moving on it, it’s just that nothing I’ve ever depicted really spoke to me. I accept that I don’t know what angels are or what they look like, because I’m just not there, but ladders I know.

So I’ve played with the ladder. Is it narrow such that angels have to alternate – one up then one down? Or is it so wide that hordes of angels ascend and descend simultaneously? Is it relatively short such that both ends are visible at once, or is it so long that it disappears into the sky? Maybe it’s not so much a ladder as it is a stairway, the ladder only being used to indicate both graduated ascent and descent and continuous movement, unlike a stairway which has landings? Possibly it’s even an escalator, what do I know? The Midrash even has an opinion that says it was the ‘kevess’, the ramp that leads to the ‘mizbayach’, the sacrificial altar.

Once, during a time when I was absorbed in 'this ladder', I was browsing some by now forgotten coffee-table book filled with pictures, photographs, and illustrations. I was casually flipping the pages, when I came across a picture of James Watson and Frances Crick, the co-discoverers of DNA. I paused to give the picture greater scrutiny, because on the floor between them stood the original huge, three-dimensional, Rube Goldberg-tinker-toy kind of model of the double helix structure of DNA that they had discovered. I gazed interestedly and fascinatedly at this wonderful discovery, marveling at what they had accomplished.

As I became more absorbed in it, in a rush of excitement I realized that what I was looking at was the ‘ladder’ that Ya’akov, our saintly forefather, had seen in his dream! Watson and Crick, who’d of thought of it?! In revealing the internal workings of man, they unfolded the paradigm of creation.

As preposterous as it sounds, there is actually a teaching in the Midrash that says that in his dream Ya’akov was looking into himself. This Midrashic interpretation occurs, because in describing the movement of the angels the Torah says, “…v’hinei Malachei Elokim olim v’yordim bo.” - …and behold, angels of God are ascending and descending [on] it. The word ‘bo’ is the preposition meaning: ‘on’ or ‘in’ it or him.

Making this interpretation even more powerful is that the reality of dream, itself, is internal. However much a dream might depict or envision something external and outside, the dreamer himself or herself is looking inside. There is no other way.

What does Ya’akov’s dream come to teach us? Perhaps to help answer, the saintly Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, zt”l, [Rav Kook] says something tremendously preceptive, “How can I say Torah if I do not find it within myself first?”

Rav Kook was a prodigious Torah personality of his generation, and he isn’t talking about remembering Torah he has learned or about understanding Torah that he hasn’t formally learned yet. He’s talking about the ability and necessity to see Torah within himself. Literally to look within himself and see himself connected to Torah and how he is connected to Torah, and then from that Source to bring Torah into the world. He isn’t talking about intellectual analysis, even though that is clearly necessary and part of his thinking processes, but about tapping the essence of who he is and where he is from and how it connects.

Rav Kook is revealing that it is absolutely fundamental to Torah that it derive from the Divine that is within us. It is only when we can connect to the essence of ourselves that we are capable of bringing Torah into this world.

In truth, this is perhaps why there are those who teach Torah and their Torah touches us in a very real way, and there are those who teach us Torah and their Torah only speaks to a part of us. The Heilige [Holy] Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says, “You want to know who someone’s rebbe is? Watch his [the student’s] face. It will be aglow.” Real Torah touches the essence of who we are; it ignites us.

I want to close with this, one of my favorite stories about Shlomo [see the topic “Who Am I, this Ger” : Shlomo], and one I never tire of thinking about it because it gives me so much life (although I refrain from telling it with as much frequency).

It’s a story that appears in Holy Brother (p. 91), and in brevity it’s about an eight-year-old boy who asked his father, “Dad, are we alive and real, or are we only part of God’s dream?” Jolted by the profundity of the question his father replied that he’d have to ask a rabbi. No rabbi could give him a satisfactory answer, so he asked Shlomo. Answered Shlomo, “Wow, what a gevaldic question! Let me think about it awhile and I’ll get back to you soon.”

A few days later Shlomo phoned and said, “In reply to your son’s question - please tell him that we’re alive……in God’s dream!”

Which is what Ya’akov discovered. When you look inside, you see God’s dream. It’s so deep, mamash, so deep!

You bless me and I’ll bless you that we, too, will learn from Ya’akov to look so deeply inside ourselves so that we, too, can discover the ‘inside of the inside, the Holy of Holies, and there discover God’s dream.

Shabbat Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer


*         *         *
What I write doesn't invite comments within the topic, but I do want you to know
that all are welcome to write me should you have any questions or comments.
I can be reached at: d.e.ben.eitan@gmail.com.
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