Parashah Vayetzei bridges the Jacob-Esau narrative as it takes us from Jacob’s departure from his home to Haran and the encounter for years with Laban and Rachel and Leah. The portion (Genesis 28:10-32:3) deals with many recurring issues, such as the interplay of family dynamics, issues of marriage, infertility and sibling rivalry and also contains the very famous passage of Jacob’s dream (28:10). In the dream, Jacob sees a ladder (sulam) with angels going up and down “and God was standing beside him”. Jacob wakes and utters one of the most famous of all Torah lines “Surely God is present in this place and I did not know it”. (28:16)
Rabbis for centuries have looked at this verse and rendered interpretations. The founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov, is quoted to have said that this voice is inaudible to the human ear but is heard by our soul (neshamah), and we can either choose to respond to that voice or ignore it. As we look around now at our community, something is calling the collective soul of our people. The exposure of the rise in anti-Semitic acts has awakened a segment of the community that has been dormant for a while. Likewise, we are witnessing the awakening within all segments of our community of a spirit of creativity and innovation. The Jewish Boomer cohort is part of this.
I just returned from a three-day meeting sponsored by K’nissia, an organization headed by Rabbi Sid Schwarz,* that brings together representatives of what they call “emerging communities”. Several dozen people from around North America participated in this gathering. It was cross denominational and multi-generational. What was present was a serious dynamic of creativity. Across the Jewish landscape there is a growing wave of innovation and spirit unlike other moments in recent history. It is, in many ways, operating in new territory, not bound by traditional communal organizations or boundaries. Whether some of this is sustainable, only time will tell. However, what is important is to see that there is this wave of creativity.
The Boomer cohort of this gathering (by the way, the largest of the tracts) reinforced the idea that, like the symbolism of Jacob’s dream, the spirit of creativity and visioning knows no age limit. Our search for a sense of purpose and meaning and engagement with the great issues of our times and lives was present in numerous discussions and presentations. Perhaps this Torah portion can remind our generation that we need never stop our dreams, never relinquish the desire to grow and learn and seek meaning. Our generation has acquired a lifetime of experience, a type of what we like to call “spiritual capital” that needs to be shared. Too much of our community still “sleeps” as it ignores the valuable experience that our generation can pass to those who now are emerging. There is a need for our generation to awaken the institutions of the Jewish world to the dreams and visions that remain within the soul of our generation.
Rabbi Richard F Address
- you can listen to our podcast with Rabbi Schwarz by going to the “Seekers of Meaning” section on jewishsacredaging.com
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.