Divrei Torah by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Circling Home: Parashat Vayigash
Jacob’s long journey is culminating as the truth is finally revealed to him. His son Joseph is alive after all. Jacob is stunned. He has been in mourning for twenty years. Now, suddenly, the world as he knew it is turned upside down. Torah tells us that upon hearing the news of Joseph’s existence, Jacob’s heart goes numb. Despite the wonderful news, he cannot process it. How is he to regain his center? How does Jacob transition to a new normal?
Torah tells us that once Jacob sees the wagons that Joseph sent for him, he is able to accept the news. With this physical proof he decides to make the journey to Egypt. Jacob sets out and immediately we are told that he stops along the way in Be’er Sheva. This name should ring in our ears. We have encountered this place before. This is Jacob’s ancestral home. It is the place where his father Isaac re-dug the wells of his father Abraham. And it is the place from which Jacob fled in his youth, running in fear from his brother Esav after deceiving his father. It is the same road upon which Jacob laid himself down and dreamt of a ladder connecting heaven and earth; the place where he encountered God; the place where God reassured him that he would not be alone on his journey.
As Jacob’s world once again comes undone, when his reality is turned upside down, he goes back to the place where once he experienced a profound connection with all of life, a sense of God’s reassuring presence and protection. He returns to the place where he once proclaimed, “God is in this place and I, I did not even know it.” There, he makes a new offering to God. Jacob knows instinctively what he needs at this critical tuning point. And God responds.
In this moment, in this place God calls out to him again, in a night vision, saying,
“Jacob! Jacob! And he answered Hineni- I am here. And God said, I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt for I will make of you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt and I will also surely bring you up again. And Joseph shall put his hand upon your eyes. And Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes. (Gen. 46:2-4)
Jacob returns to his deep center, to the place of his dreams and his anchor. It is there that he reconnects with God’s reassuring presence. It is this turn on his path that allows him to move forward into the unknown.
These days we are experiencing a world whirling with change. We are seeking truth yet we are barraged daily with information expressing a divided reality. We are faced with political intrigue and radical changes to so many of our societal safety systems. New revelations about climate change and the horror of innocent lives taken through violence all over the globe pours through our morning coffee and somehow we are to go about business as usual.
When I look into Torah this week I see a man whose world has turned upside down. His heart goes numb. This is an altogether natural response but it becomes dangerous if it persists. Our challenge is to keep our hearts open and yet not be carried away in the whirling winds of today’s challenges.
Jacob provides us with a beautiful lesson on finding center in changing times. Jacob tells us to return to the root of our lives, to revisit the roots of our strength. For some this may mean connecting to God through prayer and Torah. For others it may mean connecting with nature, listening to music, skiing, meditating or connecting with family. Whatever the path may be, this is a time to restore a relationship with one’s true center and draw strength and peace from that place.
We are blessed by a tradition that gives us the gift of Shabbat for just this purpose. It is a time we can count on, to drink from the wells of our ancestors and return to what we hold as most holy in our lives. May this Shabbat be restorative, balancing and bring you peace.
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Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Rabba Kaya served as Interim Rabbi of RJC from October 2017 through June 2019.
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