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December 01, 2011 - Image 79

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-12-01

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spirituality >> Torah portion

Our Divine Places

Parshat Vayetze: Genesis 28:10-32:3;
Hosea 12:13-14:10.


acob awoke from his sleep
and said, "Surely the Lord is
in this place, and I did not

know it!"
Shaken, he said, "How awesome is
this place! This is none other than
the abode of God, and that
is the gateway to Heaven"
(Genesis 28:16-17).
We all do it. We have our
special "places." We have
identified them and pre-
served them in our memo-
ries or personal archives. As
individuals and as mem-
bers of a people, our special
"places" help us remember
events and honor distinct
moments. Perhaps it is the
site of a first date, a chance
encounter, a lesson learned or, unfor-
tunately, a tragedy.
Perhaps it's the cemetery, where we
visit and pay respect to the names and
stories represented by simple monu-
ments. Perhaps its the sanctuary of
our temple or synagogue. Or even, per-
haps our home, our room, our chair ...
Sometimes seeing that place makes
us exceptionally sad, or proud, or
happy — as we look back, or as we
look inside. Sometimes being at or
remembering a place makes us more
aware of who we are. And sometimes
our experiences at "the place" leave
us with many more questions than
Thus it was with Jacob (later to be
known as Israel). Scholars point out
that his search for what is called in
Hebrew HaMakom (the Place) domi-
nates the opening of this week's Torah
portion. The word appears seven times
in the first 10 verses — Jacob stops
at a certain place as he is fleeing from
Esau, but he does not yet know its
importance, or its sanctity.
Yet, after a dream and an insight
and a prayer and a vow, the man after
whom we are all named recognizes
that HaMakom is not only a place, but
the Divine Presence that entered his
experience (and ours).
"Awesome!" he exclaimed.

Rashi taught that the site at which
Jacob's recognition occurred was
actually Mt. Moriah; it was the place
to which Abraham and Isaac had been
called to understand the meaning of
sacrifice and faith in the One God.
Our teacher, Rabbi Larry
Kushner, has written a
fascinating book about
several of the challenging
interpretations that genera-
tions of seekers have given
about Jacob's reaction to
HaMakom: "Surely the Lord
is in this place, and I did
not know it!"
Realizing that there is (in
the Hebrew text) an addi-
tional pronoun "I", Kushner
(and others) have suggested
that we render Jacob's realization as
"Surely the Lord is in this place. But
am I? I don't really know!"
It is a rephrasing of what I fre-
quently call the first and most impor-
tant question asked of us as respon-
sible human beings: Ayeka? Where are
As Rabbi Neil Gilman wrote, "Jacob
awakens from his dream and sud-
denly realizes that he has indeed been
designated as the heir to God's prom-
ises to Abraham and Isaac. But he is
far from sure that he is ready for that
role. Thus his reaction: God may very
well be here, in this place, ready to
meet me and commit to me. But am I?
Am I really here? Am I ready for this
charge? Am I the person I should be?"
Let us approach our special places
and special moments with the hope
that they can all be filled with awe. Let
us use the memories and insights we
carry with us on our journeys beyond
the immediate needs and emotions
that drive or pursue us. Let us look for
HaMakom, the Divine Presence in all
that we do. II

"If you can't be at home, Regent Street is the next
best thing." - Seena Rubin, resident

An American House Senior Living Cormnunity

Norman T. Roman is the senior rabbi at

Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield and an

adjunct instructor in religious studies at

4460 ()rcitarcii Lat-x'West Eioomfieif

the University of Detroit Mercy.


• Share the story of a special place that gives you a clearer sense of
your identity and personal goals for life.
• What makes a place holy?
• Was Jacob's recognition of "the Place" related to his fear of Esau or
of the unknown? Or was it a new self-confidence after seeing God in his

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