There once was a person who lived in a town near a large river. The news announced there was a big flood coming and everyone should evacuate. This person did not pack to leave and when asked why, the person said, “God will take care of me.”
When the river started to rise and flood the streets, people came by in a boat to take the person to safety, but the person refused saying, “God will take care of me.” When the river rose ever higher, the person climbed on their roof. A helicopter came by and tried to rescue the person, but the person refused the helicopter’s help and said, “God will take care of me.”
The waters rose ever higher and the person died in the flood waters. Upon reaching heaven, the person said to God, “I trusted in you to take care of me, why did I die?” God said to the person, “I did take care of you, I sent warnings on the news, I sent a boat and a I sent a helicopter, you missed seeing all of my helpers that I sent to save you.”
This search for seeing God is the lifelong task of all people of faith. It is even apparent in this week’s Torah portion, VaYetzei. Jacob leaves his homeland and his birth family to seek a bride from the right people, as well as a safe place far from his brother’s wrath. At the beginning of his journey he has a dream in which he sees a ladder with angels going up and down on it and sees God.
In his dream, God promises that Jacob’s offspring will be numerous and that they will inherit the land. God also promises “I will guard you wherever you go ...” This revelation means Jacob’s God is not a God attached only to one place. This God will be with Jacob wherever he goes. This is both comforting and a new way of seeing a Divine being. Formerly, gods were associated with specific places, but now theoretically, Jacob understands that his God will be with him on his journey.
Yet like the person in the flood, Jacob does not actually see these signs. Jacob, despite his dream, despite the inherited tradition of his ancestors, wants to see the proof throughout his life journey that God is present before he gives a tithe back to God. He both sees and feels God’s presence yet remains skeptical about his relationship with God.
Most of us fall somewhere between skepticism and acceptance of God’s presence in our lives. We often feel the need for proof. This week, as we Americans observe the holiday of Thanksgiving, may we see and be grateful for God’s presence in our lives and in the presence of God’s helpers at work in our world. May we especially be grateful to all the doctors, nurses, hospital workers, front-line workers, grocery clerks, postal workers, delivery people, teachers, scientists and so many more professionals as well as the many friends and neighbors who are making it possible for us to see God’s hands in the world around us.
May we join with Jacob and say and see that indeed “God is in this place.”
Rabbi Paula Jayne Winnig serves as interim rabbi at Congregation Rodef Sholom in Youngstown.