Generally, I do not remember my dreams. I awaken each morning, all too often in a bit of a stupor; slowly the fog rolls away, I am out of bed and into my routine. It is not until some point along the day that I truly [and hopefully] wake up. Still, too often, it takes something more extreme – for better or for worse – for me to be ‘awestruck’.
This week’s Torah portion begins: “He [Jacob] came upon a place – vayifga baMakom – staying for the night, because the sun was setting.” [Genesis 28:11]. After his dream about the ladder to heaven, our ancestor Jacob awakens, saying: “’Surely, God the Eternal is in this place, and I did not know it!’ Jacob was awe-struck, and said, ‘How awe-inspiring is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!’” [Genesis 28:16-17]
We often judge Jacob for his daze and surprise. How could he only now be awakening to God’s presence in his life? After his deeds of trickery and lack of compassion, how is he deserving of this revelation? It is easier to stand in judgment than to stand in his shoes. I feel for Jacob, though; these days, I understand his failure to notice. I have walked through many recent days in distress or distraction. The Chasidic master Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk taught that God is wherever we let God in. That is, we have to open the door; like Jacob, we have to wake up. There is potential to encounter God in every moment, but only if we open our eyes and our hearts. The word in verse 11 – ‘Makom’ – has come to be another name for God. From this, it can be understood that while Jacob came upon God right away, it took both a powerful dream and his having to ‘wake up’ to know in fact that he had encountered the Divine Presence, and that God would be with him on his life journey.
Today, for me on my journey, I know that there can be nothing more important than for me to be awake to the comfort of God’s presence and the wondrousness of this world we call home. I pray that each day it will be inspiring, but not surprising.