How our Ancestor Jacob’s Partnership with God Helps us to be Thankful in Difficult Times
The Sabbath before Chanukah always brings us the portion of Torah “Vayeshev”, relating the distressing story of Joseph and his brothers. In so doing, it shows us what Chanukah also reveals: events in the world, however worrisome they may be, do not necessarily indicate things are as bad as they seem.
In the story, Joseph is banished by his brothers, at first to death in the wilderness and then, instead, confinement to slavery in Egypt. Thus the brothers are rid of the one favored most by father Jacob, even if it brought grief to their father who assumed he was dead. As it turns out, not only was he alive, but it was necessary that Joseph ended up in Egypt as the only one with the skillset to interpret dreams, which at home made him seem superior to everyone and fueled the brothers’ anger, and in Pharaoh’s court, made him the only one able to solve a serious problem that awaited Egypt and the world. By interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph was able to enable Egypt to store food during 7 years of plenty in order to have provender in the 7 years of famine that followed. Had Joseph not been there, due to the brothers’ ridding themselves of him, there would have been no saving Egypt or the surrounding areas at the time. The rabbis see this as God working behind the scenes.
Similarly, the Chanukah story is one that has not yet been produced in Hollywood, possibly because it is too unbelievable even for a Hollywood script, that the small band of Jews organized by the sons of Mattathias were able to vanquish the vast army of the Greek empire and save the Jewish people, against ALL odds, and thereby vouchsafe the future of Judaism (and other religions i.e. Christianity, that came out of Judaism).
Behind the scenes, God works in ways that humans may neither notice nor believe. What is significant is that the one who suffered the most over the loss of Joseph, Jacob, who favored him above the others, which may have generated the hostility to begin with, had initially fled his own home after wresting the final blessing from Esau, as he dressed in his clothes and tricked father Isaac into bestowing it upon him. As Jacob left for what his mother Rebecca indicated would be a few months (that ended up being 20 years!), he “hit on the Place” as he was leaving, where he experienced the famous dream about the ladder with angels going up and down. There, Jacob was “hit” by the presence of God and a promise that he would survive the unknown, as he headed toward his uncle Laban for refuge. In awakening from the dream, Jacob acknowledged that he was in “Bet EL”, the presence of God, “God’s house”, with the ladder indicating a connector between this earthly realm and Heaven itself. Jacob vowed a vow indicating that if, in the unknown journey he was embarking upon, God would provide clothing and food and at the end would bring him back home safely, this would indicate that God was indeed with him and that he was experiencing life in Covenant with God.
The teaching we are blessed with from Jacob, as God blesses him, is the understanding that Covenant with God is not something extraordinary or spiritual in a way that separates us from the world. On the contrary, God is to be found, and God’s blessings abound, in life’s ordinary and ongoing moments that we generally overlook and usually take for granted. Clothing to wear, food to sustain ourselves and outcomes we dream or expect actually coming true is worthy of gratitude to God for ongoing miracles of our being.
Is it possible that the villainous activity of ISIS is actually a way that is uniting the world??? As I write these words, such hopes are with me as we all face the horrors of such events that destroyed lives in Paris, in Israel, in Mali, and elsewhere. If the nations of the world can unite to root out such evil, is it possible, in so doing, to be left with a world that is closer to appreciating how Shalom means all the pieces and parts coming together in a complementary whole?
Jacob’s awakening on that morning on his first day away from home accompanied by his AHA that God will be “proven” to be with him in partnership/Covenant by sustaining him in the ordinary matters of life also provides pause for reflection during this holiday period: sensitivity to the needs of others and the premise of the importance of “Peace on Earth and Good Will to Human Kind” is not or should not be a seasonal goal or wish or prayer. The premise of the holiday period is best served as a heightened reminder that every day is Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanza and so much more.
Let’s make today special and see in the common repetitious moments that we experience so often, awareness that this day and this moment is a blessing and a miracle beyond our comprehension, as well as an opportunity to be of support and help to someone that would appreciate it and or needs it.
We finish each Kaddish with these words: “May God who makes Shalom in God’s realm of Essence and Eternity, i.e. “Heaven”, join with us in making Shalom over all of us in our world and over Israel and all humankind”. As Jacob’s Ladder connects Heaven and earth, so are we invited to do so with these words.
May the light of Chanukah shine within you and through you throughout the holiday season and throughout the year!