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In This Place, In This Moment

For four years I spent the long Thanksgiving weekend with my sister and brother as we watched and waited as our mother died a terrible, undignified, painful death. And it all comes back as this time of year cycles around.

This year is no different, except a new vision has begun to give me perspective and strength. This year, as I read Gen 28:13-17 it was not about the Jewish people’s destiny and blessing. Instead it is a tale in which God makes Jacob’s life a blessed one by making it clear that Jacob is part of a chain of being connected throughout space and time and on the transcendent and physical planes.

On the physical level, Jacob is told that this is the God of Jacob’s ancestors who pledges to be with him, to protect him wherever he goes, and to bring him back to his land. And on the transcendent plane, God tells Jacob that his life is linked to all human existence and that Jacob will play a role whose result will be that all families on earth into the most distant future and throughout the world will be blessed by Jacob’s existence and actions.

This message to Jacob is a message to those of us who come after Jacob: that if we are to make the most of our short times here we must understand that past, present, and future exist in each moment. In this moment we are the beneficiaries of all the good and evil that has been done, and that what we do in each moment will be the heritage we pass on to future generations.

This is our blessing and our curse. And it is our challenge. It is just too overwhelming a responsibility to recognize the transcendent quality of that moment. It is so much easier for every moment to be insignificant and of no real meaning. But if the ordinary is not so ordinary ... how can we simply function and just carry on our lives?

But what this vision offers us is the means not only to live our lives well but to have a way not to be overwhelmed by the pain, loss, and fear that inevitably will be our lot.

To return to the personal, one of my aunts is scheduled for surgery in a couple weeks, and she is certain she will die in surgery. She is not wrong that this may happen. However, it has not yet happened and may never happen. But by being filled with fear she reverses the normal flow of time and brings that future fear into the present where nothing has yet happened. We all do this. I am certainly not exempt from wasting my todays consumed by worry about things that will never happen.

These fears of loss, pain, and death have the capacity to rob us of more happiness than do actual loss, pain, and death.

In Vayetzey, Jacob responds to God’s message by recognizing that to that moment he had lived his life in such a way that he did not know God was in this -- and in every -- place. He had gone to sleep in what he thought was just an ordinary place. He awakes to a transcendent understanding of God’s presence in every place and time and recognizes that this ordinary place is actually God’s House -- Beit-El / Bethel -- the entry place to heaven.

Every place is a place where we can be filled with fear and worry. And every place is one where we can feel awe and connected through space and time with those who have and will inhabit this world ... and with the divine. Our tradition attempts to focus our attention on this fact through the many mitzvot that give us so many opportunities to give blessings that elevate every place and time.

So here is a simple way to remember to bring the divine into simple moments. Many blessings refer to "melech ha-olam." Olam can mean the world, and it can mean the universe in its dimensions of space and time.

So when you say "Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech ha-olam" ... remember that you can be saying "Blessed are you, our God, who is the ruler of all space and time ... and who is present through all space and time, including this one, and present in our joys and sorrows."
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah

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