“G-d was in this place and I, I did not know!”
In my opinion this is without a doubt one of the greatest lines in Torah. We find it in Parasha Vayetzei: “Jacob left Be’er Sheva, and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream…” (Gen 28:10-12)
This is the story of Jacob’s Ladder–the dream of a ladder with angels going up and angels going down, travelling between Heaven and Earth. Jacob watches in wonder and hears the voice of G-d who promises that the place where he is sleeping– that exact place where he dreams–is an inheritance for him and his descendants, and offers him blessing and protection.
Jacob wakes with a start and exclaims, “Achein yesh Hashem bamakom hazeh v’anochi lo ya’dati!”– “Surely G-d was in this place and I, I did not know!”
Awestruck, Jacob continues, “Mah norah hamakom hazeh!”–“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of G-d, and that is the gateway to Heaven.” (Gen 28:16-17)
“God was in this place and I, I did not know. How awesome is this place.”
How many times have we looked back on and appreciated the moment we experienced something significant, but did not know it at the time? Maybe it was the first time we met someone who would play a significant part in our life, or the first time we saw or did something that would touch us deeply or teach us an important lesson? We may wish we could somehow go back and whisper in our own ear, “Pay attention! This is important! Know it: G-d is in this moment! G-d is in this place!”
G-d is described in Torah both as dwelling in makom (place) and being makom (place): G-d was in this place–maybe G-d was this place–and did we know? If we had known, would we have perhaps paid better attention? How does knowing G-d is in this place–or even more that G-d is this place, affect our confidence to move forward in new and exciting ways in our lives and in our life work?
The story continues with Jacob marking this special place so he would be able to find it again. He then does something beautiful: He changes the name of the place. “He called that place Beth El, though the city used to be called Luz.” (Gen 28:19)
Congregation Beth El: G-d is in this place! This community, this place that shares a name with the place of Parasha Vayetzei is indeed an inheritance for all of us and our descendants. I have absolute confidence that Beth El is the place where amazing things will happen for the Jews of Windsor; we simply must believe it and keep in the forefront of our minds that G-d is here–we have a hope and a future in this place, and the work we do to build our community will be the journey that takes us into the future that G-d has for us. Let’s be innovative and creative in
how that will look, and open to new ideas and new ways of being in this place.
“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God.’” (Gen 28:20-21)
May G-d bless us all with light and hope at this special time of the year and in this place.