Yom Sheini, 22 Iyyar 5779
Monday, 27 May 2019
Parashat Vayeitze 5776

Rabbi Yuval Keren
20th November 2015

 

It is said about Jacob and Esau that they were young, Jacob liked staying at home, while his brother Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the man of the field. (Genesis 25:27)

After stealing his brother’s blessing, Jacob has to leave home and travel the substantial distance to his uncle’s house in Haran. For a tent-dweller this was an unchartered territory, a time of uncertainty, and a time of great transformation.

It is at this point that he reaches a certain place (HAMAKOM) where he stops for the night. It is at that time of transformation that Jacob has his first spiritual encounter with God, and this encounter is in a dream.

When Jacob awakes from his dream he makes an observation in relation to the place:

“How awesome is this place! Surely this is God’s house, this is the gateway to heaven.” (Gen 28:16)

The Torah gives us vague clues as to where this holy place might be. Jacob calls it Bethel (The House of God) and we are told that it was formerly called Luz.

According to many of the Torah commentators it is clear that Jacob’s night break was Mount Moriah, the place of the future Jerusalem Temple. The stone he used as a pillow was the foundation stone, the place where the Holy of holies later stood and is today housed inside the Dome of the Rock in the Al Aksa perimeter in Jerusalem.

Jacob proceeded on his way to his uncle’s house. Yet neither he, nor his children after him ever forget this first encounter with God and the very place of encounter becomes a place of pilgrimage for generations later. Every Jew has a place in his or her heart to “HAMAKOM” to Jerusalem the place of Jacob’s dream.

The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple 2000 years ago forced us to look into alternatives to HAMAKOM, the Temple. We needed a place where we could recall and celebrate Jacob’s encounter with God. It was at that great time of trouble and transformation that the institution of the synagogue emerged out of the ashes of the burned Jerusalem Temple.

“Thus said the Eternal GOD: I have indeed removed them far among the nations and have scattered them among the countries, and I have become to them a Minor Temple(“MIKDASH ME’AT”), in the countries where they have gone.” (Ezekiel 11:16)

This “Small temple” among the nations has become the synagogue institute. For centuries Jews prayed in synagogues, celebrated lifecycle events, recited the Kaddish in memory of their loved ones who passed away and came together to meet, to study and to pray. The memory of HAMAKOM in Jacob’s dream was far from forgotten. Yet, the synagogue was a small MAKOM where every Jew could have a direct communication with God, could potentially act as the High Priest on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Each and every one of us could use the words of our lips and the meditations of our heart in place of the Temple sacrifice. Each of us, wherever we are in the world where there is a Jewish community could step into our own HAMAKOM and use Jacob’s words: “How awesome is this place! Surely this is God’s house, this is the gateway to heaven.”

The synagogue institution had more influence on Jewish life than any other Jewish institution. In our modern days there seem to be many challenges to the synagogue institution. Yet, none can provide a decent answer to the full experience a synagogue can provide. We must therefore work to ensure that our Minor Temple, the place of our dream remains the gateway to Heaven.