Vayetzei — Genesis 28:10-32:3, The Parashat Hashavua for Saturday, November 17, 2018

We are going through painful and difficult times. Yet another shooting, this time at a nightclub in Southern California. This time committed by an angry man for no apparent reason. Now fires burning in Northern and Southern California. Whole communities, like Paradise, near Chico, almost completed burned. Whole cities evacuated in the wake of these fires. It is easy to give up hope. But we must not. In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob is on the run from his brother Esau, and he lies down to sleep. In his sleep he dreams “He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.” (Genesis 28:12) Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (Poland 19th C.) interpreted this verse suggesting that it was humans, not angels, that were going up and down the ladder. The ascent is an opportunity for internal spiritual growth and service, and descent as re-entering the external world and trying to change it for good. The purpose of a religious life then is, to grow in morality and in compassion and then to become agents of change. As he put it, “to to make of the earth a heaven.” When the events around seem overwhelming, if we remember this we can continue on our task.