We Have Awoken – Parshat Vayetzei 5778 – Rabbi Eve Posen
Something has awoken in us. In the past four weeks we’ve heard an outcry that was previously silenced. Those in positions of power are being held accountable for their actions, and victims who felt vulnerable and threatened are speaking out against their abusers. This is not to say that every instance of sexual misconduct is the same, or even that every instance happened exactly as reported. But one thing is for certain: the curtain is being pulled back, and a pervasive predatory culture is being exposed for what it is.
We’re not often shaken awake in such a deliberate way, but when something happens that rocks you to the core, either individually or societally, you take notice. In this week’s Torah portion, Vayetzei, we read about such a shock. Our forefather Jacob has an experience which, according to the text, literally shakes him. We begin with Jacob’s dream of the ladder while he’s on his way to meet his uncle, and continues with Jacob’s marriage to the older sister of the woman he thinks he is marrying. The rest of the parshah contains the birth of Jacob’s many children and Jacob and Lavan working out their father-in-law/son-in-law relationship.
There are actually several moments throughout the text in which Jacob has an encounter that changes or shakes him in some way. Specifically in chapter 28, verses 16-17, we read:
Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!” Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place!”
It is so incredibly easy to fall into a trap of sameness, of status quo. We assume that things simply are the way they are, so we don’t try to change them or speak out against them. Occasionally, like Jacob, we need to be shaken awake. We need something to remove the blinders. This is true if we want to change a social attitude or if we want our relationship with God to go beyond just picking up a siddur or putting on a tallit. It is in those moments when we are most deeply shaken out of ourselves that we can actually make a change or even encounter the divine.