Vayetze, which begins in Genesis [28:10], is one of our most famous portions. Jacob, encouraged by Rebecca to leave town quickly to escape Esau’s anger, heads to Haran where he will eventually meet up with Laban, be tricked into serving him for years so he can marry Rachel. As you recall, he first must marry Leah and there ensues, what is now familiar bouts of deception and internal family conflict (the sisters this time). There are now familiar themes in the portion; Jacob meets Rachel at a well, a classical Biblical symbol of transition and change; and we re-visit the trans-generational pattern of deceit. However, despite all of this, the portion is known for its opening lines in which we see Jacob, stopping on the way to Haran, falling asleep and dreaming of the ladder (“sulam’) with angels going up and down. Then, as he wakes, Jacob utters one of our more famous lines from Torah that he comes to understand that God was in this place but he did not know it.([28:16])
Now this dream has had many many interpretations from the traditional (the promise of God to Jacob that he will be the father of a great nation, etc.) to the psychological (that the dream represents Jacobs internal conflict between his domineering mother and passive father or that this represents a first step in his desire to become and independent person). The theme that we often are not aware of God’s presence until an event impacts us is also a common thread that rabbis preach and teach about (see also the “Burning Bush” story)
Yet, in conversation with Boomers across the country, as part of our Jewish Sacred Aging work, this passage seems to find resonance. No matter what our age, tradition, I feel, reminds us that we are never “too old” to stop dreaming. I think that this message remains one of the most powerful of all of Judaism’s messages for us as we get older. It follows interpretations of other classic texts like Genesis 12 (“lech l’cha”) which remind us that there is no age limit on our capacity for and ability to dream about a world or our self that remains “in potential”. When we stop dreaming of a future, we die. Indeed, all of us know people who re-directed their own lives well into their 60s or 70s and found “God” in places they never thought possible. The message of Jacob’s dream for many of us may be just that: to never stop looking forward, to never relinquish the hope for a better world and the strength to help bring that future about.
Rabbi Richard F. Address