Parshat Vayetze: Divine Encounters and the Self
After twenty wonderful and successful years as Rabbinic Director of Kolel, I would like to share with you that I am moving on. This will be the last parsha you will receive from Kolel, although you can always access previous postings from years past on this website. I truly hope you have learned, grown, and expanded your Jewish horizons through the years with our wonderful parsha writers. I deeply appreciate what each one brought, and I enjoyed writing them myself very, very much. Thank you for your comments, support and interest in learning with us through these many years.
I’ll be taking a few months to myself and then together with the Canadian Reform movement I will be starting an exciting new project in the fall of 2012: a downtown Reform congregation! It has been 20 years since I have been a congregational Rabbi and I miss it. I am very excited about going “back to the bima.”
If you have any questions about Kolel or Jewish learning at the Prosserman JCC please contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-638-1881 ext 4255. If you would like to contact me directly you can reach me at email@example.com
The 2011 parasha series was made possible by the dedication of our donors Randy Gangbar in memory of Marcy Gangbar, Jacob Langer and Ferne Sherkin-Langer and family, an anonymous donor in memory of Esther and Sheldon Litowitz, and many online weekly donors.
Our Text: Genesis 28:16: “Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely God was in this place and I, I did not know it.”
Our Question: How can Jacob encounter God and yet not know it?
Our commentators: 1)Rashi, most famous commentator of the early Middle Ages (12th century.) The “father” of Torah commentary. 2) The Kotzker Rebbe, Menachem Mendel of Kotzk.
Commentary: 1) Rashi: If I had known God was here, I wouldn’t have gone to sleep. 2) Kotzker: God was here because I was able to subdue my ego.
Explanation: Both Rashi and the Kotzker are speaking about the role of the ego in the spiritual world. Rashi asks, how is it possible to sleep through a Divine encounter? His answer is simple: a lack of awareness on Jacob’s part causes him to miss the spiritual moment. If only I had known, he says; but to “know” he would have had to be aware of the potential. In other words, he would have had to be more self-aware. The Kotzker is saying the opposite. Jacob had too much “I”, hence the double use of the word. I could only let God in when I made room, by making my “I” secondary to the experience. My “I” did not know because my “I” was being sublimated to God. In other words, Jacob would have had to be more self-negating.
Concluding Thoughts: Which is it to be, to have a true spiritual experience, an encounter with an Other that is full and meaningful: do we need to negate our sense of self and make more room by filling less room ourselves, or do we become more aware of ourselves, know ourselves better, and therefore be more ready and more “awake”? The world is full of wonder if we just open our eyes. Then the more we know ourselves, the more awake to our own spiritual yearnings we are, the more we can know God. Or conversely, the more we empty ourselves of ego the more room for God there is. If “I” fill the universe how can I have enough space to let God in? A very Jewish paradox: both ways work. May we always be awake and aware, yet humble enough to make room for others.