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November 25, 2020
9 Kislev 5781
Parashat Vayetzei
Genesis 28:10 - 32:3

Dear Friends,

What do we do when we experience a true moment of holiness? How do we process it?

This week, I was privileged to be part of an online gathering sponsored by the Academy of Jewish Religion (AJR). Finding the right language to describe it does not come easily. From the outside looking in, one might say that we were studying a new translation of Psalm 27 with a chaplain currently in hospice care at home. Those are certainly the facts. Close to 70 of us gathered online -- current students, faculty, and alumni. In the time of COVID, we have often been part of large groups gathering together, but this occasion was different. We were taught by a master teacher in an exchange of learning that sparked all of those present. The topic at hand was death, as seen through the lens of one psalm. The fragility of life was made manifest along with its inherent holiness. As this one-time community grappled with a text, a sukkot shalom (shelter of peace) emerged as tears fell and those present were filled with gratitude and possibly a greater understanding of what holiness is all about.

This week’s Torah portion opens with Jacob on his journey into the unknown even as he makes camp for the night, with a rock as a pillow. As he sleeps, he has an amazing dream of angels ascending and descending, in the place where the Divine presence resides and where the promise made to his grandfather Abraham is renewed.  He awakens awed by the experience and anoints a stone with oil as a monument to the experience. Then he vows that God will be his God if he is able to ultimately return to his father’s house. He says this after saying “God was in this place and I, I did not know.”

As the Torah portion continues, it becomes apparent that Jacob did not quite understand what to do with this pivotal moment in his life. It takes him over 20 years to get home to his father’s house.

All of this brings me back to where I began this week. How do we understand the holy, sacred, moments that we experience in our own lives? Do we recognize them when they occur; does it take a lifetime of experience (which Jacob did not have at this moment) to get it? Could it be something that we need to teach one another? How do we recognize it?

Thanksgiving is upon us -- that grand secular holiday whose roots can be found in the harvest holiday of Sukkot.  This year finds us observing this moment in a way that is quite different than years past. However, it still has the capacity to be a moment of reflection, of gratitude, and of connecting with those we care about.  We have the capacity to make this a holy moment using the tools at our disposal. Unlike Jacob, we do not need to wait for some time in the future. The moment is now, and accessing our gratitude is a sacred act. Each and every day is a blessing.

May you all be blessed and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Rinda Shriner-CaHN

Tue, April 13 2021 1 Iyyar 5781