THE HIGH AND THE HOME – “Vayeytzey”—Gen.28:10-31:3, by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
When Jacob leaves home, ostensibly on his way to Haran to find a wife, but more importantly to get out of harm’s way in the person of his vengeful brother Esau, he stops for the night in a place that is strange to him, and goes to sleep on a rock. That place, that rock, that night, becomes a life-changing experience for him. Because that is where he has his famous dream: a ladder reaching into heaven, with angels climbing both up it and down it.
Interesting that the story has the angels going up first and then coming down. If angels are heavenly creatures, how did they get to the bottom of the ladder to climb up? Didn’t they have to come down first?
Rashi explains that these angels were already with Jacob. They were the angels of the Land of Israel, and they could go no further with him, because he chose to stop for the night just at the boundary line. So these Israeli Guard angels were changing places with a second group of angels who would accompany him outside the Land. Of course Jacob was totally unaware of this whole Changing of the Guard — until his dream.
What is striking is his reaction when he wakes up. Actually two reactions. The first – awe. “Certainly G-d is in this place and I did not know it!” Wow! What a dream! It must be Divine inspiration. That is the shock reaction. I was religious all the time and didn’t realize it! Then on further thought, he begins to digest the message he got in the dream – the message of Divine guidance on his journey and back home again. And he offers a return commitment. A contract, if you will. “If G-d will be with me on my way, and see that I have food to eat and clothes to wear, and if I can come home safely to my father’s house, then He will be my G-d, and whatever You give me, I will return You a tenth.” In other words, if this dream was a true flash of prophecy, and it comes true, I will believe. And if I get home safely, I’ll even make a contribution.
Each of us in our attitude toward our faith takes one of these attitudes. The contract, or the thrill. At different times, maybe both. Something wonderful happens to us – the thrill of love, or winning the lottery, or getting our discharge from the Armed Forces, or the birth of our first child, or maybe just climbing to the top of a major mountain and being alone with the universe. And we suddenly discover the Master of that Universe. Suddenly we realize that we were really religious all the time and didn’t know it. If that’s your experience, congratulations. You can savor the wonder of life.
Or… the daily grind becomes more complex. More grinding. We wish for some childhood simplicity. Let me go home safely to my father’s house, and I’ll be glad to pray. I’ll even make a contribution.
The first attitude is easier, but doesn’t come to everyone. The second is more common. Both are legitimate, and neither is the whole story. Which one applies to you? #1 can make you a Returnee, a “bal teshuva,” overnight. #2 should prompt you to reach back into your memory for the truths of home, the hope of home, the warmth of home. Recapture them where you are now. At least, try to approximate them. Learn a few things you never bothered to learn at home, and maybe some things you made a point to forget. Some Torah, some Minhogim – customs. Maybe that is what made home Home. The traditions of our homes prepared us for life’s climactic moments – the “Wow” – and for the yearnings of “Take me back to my father’s house.”
Here’s wishing you the supreme high of the “Wow.” And the fortitude to acquire the way home.