A Tidbit of Torah – Parshat Vayehtseh 5784

(10) Jacob left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran. (11) He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night… and lay down in that place. (12) He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it. (13) And the Lord was standing beside him… (1) Jacob resumed his journey
B’reysheet / Genesis 28:10-13, 29:1

Our parsha opens with Jacob setting out on a journey to an unfamiliar land as he flees from danger. Exhausted, Jacob stops to rest for the night, in his dreams encounters God, and awakens in the morning with a new sense of purpose. Rabbi Elimelech Weisblum of Lizhensk1 suggests that just as Jacob was drawn to the holiness of this mysterious place, Jacob would seek to create places for God in the world around him, venues in which divine purpose could find expression.

Jacob’s journey would continue fraught with challenges to overcome and filled with opportunities for personal growth. By the end of the parsha twenty years have passed, Jacob has wives and children, flocks and herds. Elements of the promise received from God at the outset have been fulfilled and Jacob begins his journey to Canaan, to the land of his destiny and where the promises he himself made can be fulfilled. Jacob’s journey will become the journey of Jewish people through the millennia, pursuing the promises and potential of the divine purpose.

Centuries later our journey would bring us to these shores to become part of the unfolding promise of a new nation, a journey that would encounter severe impediments, face bitter conflicts, and struggle to live up to its promises. As we mark a most unusual Thanksgiving we need to reflect on the progress of our collective journey. Are we closer to being an America of the people, by the people, for the people, in all its religious, racial, and ethnic diversity? Are we prepared to confront the mistakes of the past, to Native American tribes who were displaced and destroyed through aggression and disease, to African Americans who were involuntarily brought on the journey and still haunted by the legacy of slavery? Are we, America, living up to our promise to be a haven for refugees who would join the journey?

Thanksgiving affords the opportunity to express our gratitude for the many successes we have achieved, the freedoms we enjoy and the blessings we share. It is an occasion to reflect on what brings us together and unites us as a nation. Finally, like our ancestor Jacob, it is a moment ask ourselves how we can contribute to the pursuit of our societal promises.

Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom –

Rabbi David M. Eligberg

1 Rabbi Elimelech Weisblum of Lizhensk, Poland (1717 – 1787) was one of the founders of the Hasidic movement as part of the inner “Chevraya Kadisha” (Holy Society) school of the Maggid of Mezeritch which became the leadership of the third generation of Hasidism during its rapid expansion. Rebbi Elimelech’s teachings were recorded by his students and published a year after his passing in the classic work Noam Elimelech containing many key aspects of Hasidic ideology characteristic of the “Mainstream Hasidic” path.