This week, we read that after Jacob cheated Esau out of his blessing and birthright, he fled Beersheba and set out for Haran. As he came upon a certain place, he stopped there for the night.
He dreamt of a stairway set on the ground with its top reaching to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down. God standing beside Jacob, said, “I am Adonai, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac … Remember I am with you. I will protect you wherever you go and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely, God is present in this place and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:13-16)
Many years later, the Rabbi of Kotzk asked, “Where is the dwelling place of God?” His learned students laughed. “What a thing to ask. Is not the whole world filled with God’s glory?” The rabbi answered his own question: “God dwells wherever a person lets God in!”
While it may be true that God is everywhere, we must be open to God’s presence. Jacob’s revelation of God’s presence takes place at the very beginning of his journey towards redemption from his awful behavior towards his brother and father. In fact, it is unclear if he yet knows he is on this journey, or if he is simply fleeing out of fear. His ability to feel God’s presence, to have a sense of awe and holiness, however, indicates that his heart is open to letting God in.
Later, in the Book of Exodus, as God is freeing the Israelites from Egypt, we read, “I will take you to be My people and I will be your God.” (Exodus 6:7)
Throughout the rest of the Torah we come to understand what God is promising – what it means for God to take us as God’s people and be our God. It is a promise of protection and of love and to be a source of strength and support. God made a covenant with our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a covenant God repeats with Moses and the Israelites, and it is the same covenant God makes with each of us.
And as God’s partners, we have the responsibility to be worthy of being God’s people. We do this by opening our hearts and letting God in, by being present and mindful, by acting and speaking so as to make God proud, and by being a dwelling place for God.
Rabbi Shoshana Nyer is the director of lifelong learning at Suburban Temple-Kol Ami in Beachwood and the Jewish educator at Camp Wise in Claridon Township.