November 22, 2001
Stand by Me
Parshat Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:3)
"Rabbi, I'm feeling off-center, unbalanced." "I'm depressed." "I'm anxious; not myself." "There is an incredible amount of negative energy in the air." "I don't want to read magazines; they are only filled with news of the war." "I now regularly go online to check the news throughout the day. I feel a need to be aware of what is going on all the time since everything changes so quickly."
These are the kinds of comments that I have been hearing recently. Since the tragic events of Sept. 11, many of us are experiencing the world in a way that does not reflect our usual approach to life. As we engage in our normal routines, we may be acting as usual, but below the surface is a heightened sense of tension. How do we prepare for what might come next? How do we wake up each morning and find the courage, or even just the energy, to do what we need to do?
Each day we venture on a journey. Our journey is like the one Jacob made, the journey we read about in this week's Torah portion, Vayetze. In this parsha, we meet Jacob as he is traveling from his home in Beersheba to Haran. Jacob is venturing out into the unknown, facing dangers of which he is uncertain. There may be physical dangers of beasts, enemies, illness. His journey might also include pitfalls because of his own limitations. Will his insecurities, his fears, his mistakes in judgment on this journey cause him to misstep? Will he be lost? Will he even reach his destination?
One thing that Jacob has learned while on his journey is that God is with him. While he lies asleep with his head on a rock, he dreams of angels ascending and descending on a ladder that reaches to the heavens. God is standing beside him and promises He will accompany Jacob on his way. When Jacob awakens, he declares, "God was surely in this place, but I did not know it." Then Jacob makes a vow. He vows that if God will guard him on his journey, and provide him with clothing and food, he will accept God as his God and give a tithe.
Why does Jacob need to say, "If God protects me," when God just promised to do so? Isn't his knowledge that God is with him enough? Does Jacob really need to bargain with God by saying that if God takes care of him, then he will give a tithe? Does he not believe that God will accompany him and bring him protection? The commentators in the newly published "Etz Chayim Chumash," tell us that Jacob does not doubt God's presence in his life. Rather, in addition to sustenance, he is asking for confidence and faith that he will recognize God's presence in his life. It is not a promise that Jacob makes; it is a prayer.
When we arise each day, we may be apprehensive. Yet, like Jacob, prior to this particularly difficult part of our journey, many of us have experienced God's gifts and presence in our lives. Our challenge is to believe that God will continue to be with us on the rest of the venture. As we awake each day, we need the faith that God will provide us with the resources we need to face the day's challenges, giving us trust, wisdom and fortitude. When we use God's blessing of comfort to support others, and when we ourselves experience a sense of reassurance, we may remember God's presence in our lives. To help us face each day, our hopes and prayers must be like Jacob's -- that we have the resources to persevere, and that we sense God's presence in our lives.