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December 5, 2019
7 Kislev 5780

Parashat Vayetzei
Genesis 28:10 - 32:3

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion, Vayetzei (translated as "and he went out/left”), is very much about life’s journey. The particulars of this journey are about the life of Jacob upon leaving his parents home: his trials, tribulations, successes, and, of course, building his own family.

The beginning of the journey has always intrigued me. Jacob departs from his home under duress, having tricked his father to receive the first-born blessing, leaving a raging older brother behind. He is instructed to go stay with his mother’s family.

It makes one wonder how Jacob felt as he left home as a young man on the move, headed out on his own for the first time. The Torah portion opens with Jacob’s first night on the road. He has left Beersheva, his home, on the way to Haran and he comes to a place (described as a certain place, not just any place). Because the sun has set, he stops for the night. The text does nothing to dispel the image that Jacob is completely alone -- no servants, no pack animal -- just Jacob. It is the solitary nature of the journey that serves to remind us that ultimately each of us has their own particular road to travel even if our roads intersect with others from time to time.

Jacob takes a stone from that place and puts it under his head and lies down. He has a dream, an extremely vivid dream. In his dream there is a Sulam, a word we never see again in the entire Torah -- a hapax legomenon. We really do not know what it means, its meaning is derived from the context in which it is found. Sulam is a word that has different etymologies. Does it mean ramp, staircase, ladder or some other means of going up and coming down?

At first glance, Jacob's dream seems easy to imagine -- a Sulam reaching to the sky with Malechei Elohim going up and coming down. "Wait a minute," you say, “what’s a Sulam and what are Malachei Elohim?". If that’s not enough, God is standing beside Jacob reiterating the promise that was first made to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. The promise ends with the pledge that God will be with him and protect him until he is home once more.

This is a momentous dream. We don’t know exactly what a Sulam is. Malechei Elohim commonly translated as being God’s angels, but they could also be God’s messengers. But let’s push a little further and look beyond the Hallmark figures with wings and pasted on smiles on cherubic faces. What could these figures represent for Jacob? What do they represent for any of us as we begin an important journey or come to a crossroad in our lives?

Berakhot 55b reminds us that “A dream uninterpreted is a letter unread.”

Our dream lives provide clues for us. Some of us dream more vividly than others. If we look closely, our dreams provide clues. The question is whether we pay attention to the clues that they provide.

Jacob was quite young when he had this dream. There are those who might say that he was too immature to fully comprehend its import. When he wakes up, he says “God was in this place and I, I did not know.”

Our dreams are moments of revelation, but as it was for Jacob those revelations are hard to hold on to. This is a transcendent moment in Jacob’s life. As we read about it, imagine it, and dream about it, it allows us to recognize that, like Jacob, we too have had transcendent moments in our lives, if only we allow ourselves to see them. Each of us has moments that are so unique that words cannot fully describe them, a hapax legomenon of sorts, our own sulam.

These are the moments in our lives, moments to cherish, moments that are fleeting that fill us with wonder. It is up to us to remember them, each in our own way.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sat, September 19 2020 1 Tishrei 5781