“And Jacob came upon a certain place and remained there all night… and he took one of the stones of that place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.” (Genesis 28:10)
So begins this week’s Torah portion. Jacob falls asleep and dreams of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, with angels traveling up and down, and God above.
When he wakes, he says, “Surely God is in this place, and I, I did not know it.” He both awakened and Awakened; he woke from his slumber, and he awoke to God’s presence.
In such a place, where the only pillow is a rock, he found God. The lesson for us is tantalizing clear and yet incredibly difficult — we can find God anywhere, but we have to wake up to God’s presence.
It’s not always so easy. Rocks make terrible pillows. Things get in the way. Lately, events have been getting in the way, including mass shootings, ravaging fires, and rockets raining down on Israel from Gaza.
Where is God in all this? How can we possibly find God in the town of Paradise, California, which was completely destroyed by fire?
This, I believe, is our challenge. It’s easy to believe in God when we’re in the midst of the beauties of nature, or holding a child’s hand. It’s much harder when there are rocks instead of pillows, and warped people seek to harm others, or fires spin out of control.
Our sages noticed that the angels traversing Jacob’s ladder start on earth, go up to heaven, and then come back down. They don’t originate in heaven. They begin right here on earth, just like us. They are disguised as normal people, going about their lives, doing normal things. In that very normalcy lies their secret; with feet on the ground, they reach for heaven, reach for God.
And one more thing strikes me about that very first line – the word “place” is used three times, in Hebrew makom. Which is one of the names we use for God – HaMakom, the Place. So not just the rocks, but the very place itself is God. Jacob remained “in that place;” in other words, with God, all night long.
Each of us must discover for ourselves that God is here, even in this place, even in this time. And with God’s help, we can strive to be like the angels, feet on the ground, arms reaching towards heaven, doing our part to heal the world.