God often appears to us where and when we least think He will.
We experience a long series of tiny events, which amount to a life, and occasionally catch glimpses of the bigger picture, and perhaps even what part our role may be in it. This thought was captured by the song “Scarlet Begonias”, by the Grateful Dead:
“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest places if you look at it right.”
This week’s parsha opens up with a description of Jacob’s journey away from his parents, and away from the brother who sought his life. The description is worded in a manner that the sages found curious. The phrasing led them to analyze what on the surface seemed to be small, insignificant details, yet hidden within were important keys to Jacob discovering his own destiny with the LORD.
“Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place….Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen.28:10-12, 16-17)
Rashi, the great 12th Century Jewish sage, says that the Torah makes special mention of the fact that Jacob “departed”, rather than simply saying that he “went to Haran.” The Midrash Rabbah suggests why:
The departure of a righteous person from a place makes an impression upon those left behind.
For at the time that a righteous person is in a city, he is its magnificence, he is its splendor, he is its grandeur. Once he has departed from there, its magnificence has gone away., it’s splendor has gone away, it’s grandeur has gone away. (Genesis Rabbah, 68:6)
So the first thing the Torah is telling us, then, about Jabob’s journey to Haran, is the fact that his departure deeply affected those he left behind. They lost the benefit of the glory of God which he reflected upon them. This is an important thing to remember, as we seek our own purposes: we are not independent of our surroundings, but we impact them.
When the text says “he came to a certain place”, it is speaking of “the place”; the place of the future Temple, and the place of the binding of Isaac, his father.
The Talmud tells us that Jacob had gone past Mount Moriah, but “felt bad” about doing so, and so he decided to return. The Talmud goes on to say that as soon as Jacob decided to return to “that place”, the earth miraculously contracted and he found himself at Mount Moriah, the place. Continue reading