Yom Sheini, 18 Av 5779
Monday, 19 August 2019
Parashat Va-yeitze 5775

Parashat Va-yeitze
Rabbi Monique Mayer - 28th November 2014

Whenever there is a traumatic event in the world or in my life, I look to our sacred tradition for comfort, seeking something to ground me while life explodes in chaos. Sometimes I find solace in the liturgy of Siddur Lev Chadash, whether in a particular prayer that moves me, a psalm, or prose.  I also look to the weekly Torah portion for guidance.  After last week’s brutal events in Jerusalem, I felt a combined sense of anger, pain, and desolation. Desperately, I turned to the pages of my Tanakh, wondering what inspiration I might draw from them.

In this week’s portion, Jacob lays his head down to sleep in a particular place and dreams of angels descending from and ascending to heaven. God speaks to him and says, Ani Adonai Elohei Avraham avikha veilohei Yitzchak. Ha’aretz asher attah shokheiv alekha l’kha etnenah ul’zareikha—“I am the Eternal, the God of Abraham your father, and God of Isaac. The ground on which you are resting I will assign to you and your offspring” (Gen 28:13). And then, V’hinei anokhi imakh, ush’martikha b’khol asher teileikh vahashivotikha el ha’adamah hazot…--“Behold, I am with you, and I shall protect you wherever you go, and I shall return you to this earth…”(Gen 28:15)

These verses can be read as God’s prophecy for the Jewish people to inherit the land of Israel; this is how I have always understood the text. However, after the events of the past week, I sought another interpretation. My biblical dictionary failed me. I could not find variant definitions of aretz andadamah to satisfy my need to view the text differently. And then it came to me: the wordsaretz/adamah, ground/earth, can be read figuratively. What is meant in the prophecy by the “ground” or “earth”? Foundation! What is the foundation upon which Abraham, Isaac, and all future offspring—i.e., us—will rest? Torah. And what is, according to Hillel, the whole of the TorahDa’alakh s’nei l’chavrakh la ta’aveir—“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour” (Bavli Shabbat 31a). Verse 13 can now be read: “The foundation—Torah—on which you are resting I will assign to you and your offspring”. Continuing with verse 15, God promises to be with us and protect us always, and shall return us to this earth. This verse offers comfort and reassurance: whatever challenges we face in life, God will always be there to help us find our way back to the core principle ofTorah—of living our lives in such a way that we avoid doing wrong to other people. The meaning of the text is not merely figurative. Torah literally grounds us, giving us hope as we take right action, inspiring us to meet and move through life’s challenges.