November 15, 2007
Parshat Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:3)
I overslept this morning. I woke up an hour after I was expected to teach. Lost in a barrage of self-punishing thoughts and assumptions of dire consequences, I
panicked aimlessly, still wearing my pajamas, thinking of ways to fix it. I was in the darkness of a wakeful nightmare: the worst imagined place, where everyone hated me and my rabbinical title was revoked.
I had taken half a dose of the "so you can rest" medicine to get over a flu. Now my inner perfectionist was about ready to Sodom and Gomorrah me. Who was I to get away with such irresponsibility? Envisioning the worst possible repercussions -- furious students, calls to inform me that my inadequacies were unforgivable -- I was very much afraid.
Fear: the word used to describe Jacob's response upon waking into his own nightmare. He dreamed of angels and blessings promised him by God when he awoke.
"And He was afraid, and said, 'How dreadful is this place! This place is nothing if not the house of Elohim and this is the gate of heaven'" (Genesis 28:17).
Jacob was afraid from the lack of love in his waking life that still separated him from the blessings of his connection to the One. For what is fear, if not the absence of love? What is terror, if not the absence of trusting the Divine plan?
When he awoke, his ego eclipsed his soul; the barrage of self-punishing thoughts began to attack. Who was he to have gotten away with such trickery and deception? Just because he had the capacity to listen well to his mother and do whatever it took to get ahead should not merit his being forgiven such negligence of his father's incapacity to see, nor disrespect of his meathead older brother. He imagined the worst possible repercussions and found himself in a dreadful place -- of mind.
As was I.
And then I stopped. Standing in my bedroom, seeing the reality of the moment, it occurred to me: it is what it is. I had not intended it this way. My mistake had come from a lack of consciousness, out of my control and without malice. Had the situation been otherwise, I would not have made it.
The territory of self-destruction and anticipation of retribution were nothing beyond my ego's illusionary landscape. While I was standing in the guilt of my personal past and projected future, I was incapable of seeing the perfection of the present -- an eternal house of the Divine. "Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh," I will be what I will be.
Who am I to be rewarded for my gifts and forgiven my imperfections? I am who I am: created in the Divine image, entitled to be rewarded for what He has blessed me with and forgiven for not accepting those blessings for more conscious use in Her service.
Who was Jacob to be compensated for his behavior and forgiven his felonies? He was the one who prevailed, the one destined to bring forth Israel, the one with whom God traveled: into the nightmare and out again.
Jacob left his dream for the internalized voice of his mother ("the more possessions you have, the safer you'll be") and father ("it is only by your use of material to disguise yourself that you received my blessings"). As such, his moment of knowing that his place of mind was nothing if not infused with God was extinguished. He dismissed God's blessing eternal generations, protection and deliverance. Instead, Jacob bargained for food and clothing in exchange for his devotion. From his dread, he could not stay in the place of unconditional love, and thus he earned himself a 20-year lesson in returning there.
It's not for us to decide what form our providence should take. Jacob's desires for the pretty girl cost him a decade-plus of labor for her devious father; they ended up fighting and minimally fertile. The schlumpy wife he was first given easily gave him many children; in the end, it was next to her that he wanted to be buried. It was from fear -- from attachment to form rather than content -- that Jacob wasted years lost from the place of Light.
God's light is within all personal darkness; were we only able to relinquish control on fixing it our way, our path would illuminate the gates of heaven, where it is already exactly as it ought to be. The worst-case scenario for our ego becomes the passage of miracles for our souls in the instant we surrender -- sending our fears up the ladder into the transformative arms of Reunion.
That is my only prayer: that I may see I am standing on sacred ground, where Divine presence will infuse my thoughts and actions so as to make me ever more loving and trusting.
Rabbi Karen Deitsch works as a freelance officiant and lecturer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.