December 4, 2003
The Place of Dreams
Parshat Vayetze (Genesis 28:10 - 32:3)
It was somewhat overwhelming, though not totally surprising, that listening to Simon and Garfunkel in concert turned out to be a significant religious experience for me. I found that they have the ability to remind us what the seeking and dreaming "Ya'akov" that is inside us actually looks like.
The Chasidic master, Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl (1730-1797), teaches in Parshat Vayera, which we read three weeks ago, that the Torah is a blueprint for each and every one of us. There is an Avraham within us -- the part of us that pleads in front of God, fighting the existence of evil. There is the Sarah within us -- the part of us that has to make painful decisions on behalf of a greater good in the future. Our self-doubt is Amalek, our self-sacrificing voice is Rachel.
And Ya'akov: he has multiple faces that he carries. Ya'akov, upon receiving a new name, Yisrael, continues to use his old name -- in Genesis 49:2, both names even appear in the same verse.
This Shabbat offers an invitation to look at Ya'akov the dreamer and to ask ourselves some important questions about dream life: What is it that we dream about? What is the content of our dreams? What do we remember of our dreams? And if we don't remember our dreams, what does this tell us?
But there are also dreams that are not dreamt at night. There are those that we dream with our eyes, hearts, soul and spirit. What are the aspirations that we carry with us and that lead us through life? As Yonatan and David used the place of the arrows in the field (the zodiac sign for this month, Kislev, is Sagittarius) as a sign between them whether it was safe for David to return home or not, we can ask ourselves, how far and how high do we aim our arrows in life? What are the visions that we create in our mind?
In the opening of our Torah portion, Ya'akov leaves Be'er Sheva and the next thing we know is that he arrives in Charan. A verse later he encounters the makom (the place), which we are taught is Mount Moriah, the place of the binding of Yitzchak. Rashi points out that Ya'akov reached Charan and then realized, "Is it possible that I passed a place where my ancestors prayed, and I did not pray?" Immediately he experienced a "quantum leap" and found himself back at Mount Moriah. Upon waking from his dream, Ya'akov says, "Indeed God is here and I did not know" (Genesis 28:16). The Piasetzna Rebbe, Rav Klonimus Kalman Shapira (1888-1943) highlights a shocking contradiction: How could Ya'akov say, "Indeed God is here and I did not know" when the whole reason that he went there was because God was present there?
The Piasetzna Rebbe teaches us that there are different qualities of knowing, as there are multiple ways to listen/hear, as there are many possibilities for seeing/observing/noticing. There is the sensing we do with our physical mind, eyes, ears and hands. And then there is an internal form of knowing, hearing, seeing and touching, one that transforms our essence and being. One that demands of us to be other than who we appear to be in the world. This was Ya'akov's exclamation -- he approached Mount Moriah with "head knowledge" -- that this was a sacred place, but questioned his "heart and soul knowledge." He wondered, "Will I indeed encounter God in this place where I know that God was revealed to my ancestors?"
Listening to Simon and Garfunkel, alone while surrounded by thousands, I questioned the tears that started to flow by the third song. I knew, with my heart and soul, that even those that came with friends or family were, in some way, alone while listening. Alone because the people that were there had come not to necessarily hear the music with their ears, or see Simon and Garfunkel with their eyes, but rather, they/we came to find our makom (place) again. We came to reconnect with a vision that we had in our youth that the world is a good place and that we have the ability to make it a holy makom. We came to rebound ourselves with a makom that promises us love and relationship. We came to feel again what it means to trust and be trusted. We wanted to reclaim our dreams and our own voice. For each and every one of us was standing on the stage praying to be "Homeward Bound," yearning to be nourished by the "Sound of Silence" and trying on what it means to cry out "I Am a Rock, I Am an Island."
God is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in God. Tzuri ve-lo avlata bo (Tehillim 92:16).
Reb Mimi Fiegelson is lecturer of rabbinic literature at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.