The Torah portion in Genesis 28 begins with: Vayeitze Ya’akov – “Now Jacob set out…”
As he slept out under the stars at the beginning of his journey…
… he dreamed, and behold a ladder was set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and, behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. (Genesis 28:12)
Any good journey begins with a dream. In his dream Jacob sees a ladder with angels ascending and descending. For a dream to come true and become reality, it must also be grounded, meaning the dream cannot be detached from reality, otherwise it is just a fantasy. But when it is grounded in such a way, the sky is the limit.
The movement of the angels fascinates me. Some of the time the angels are down here among us, serving us. The movement on the ladder in the dream also indicates the ups and downs to be found in every journey, blessed as it may be. Despite the blessing and the sense of his destiny, when Jacob awakens from his dream and meets reality, the future does not seem promising.
He is actually starting his journey at a low spot, a “downer.”
“Descending” from his country.
Running to escape his brother.
Leaving his parents.
Facing the unknown.
He is flooded with doubt, and fears for his very survival.
When we are in that place where we have nothing more to lose, we are willing to do anything to survive. These are the moments when Jacob allows himself to do something daring that no one had done so far. To make a deal with God.
He sets conditions:
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” (Genesis 28:20-22)
In my paraphrase, Jacob says to God:
“Do you want me to go the way you intend for me? Fine, but I’ll do it on my terms because I too have my own will. If you are God you will fulfill your part in the contract. Then, I too will fulfill my part.”
And what does Jacob want? He is simply asking for basic needs. Protection, food, clothing for his body, and returning home safely. And with those terms he sets off again on the journey, and God proves to be flexible and willing to negotiate and is also the first to fulfill His part of the contract.
God protects Jacob and provides him a family. Jacob has food to eat and clothes to wear.
Now God is waiting for Jacob to fulfill Jacob’s side of the deal. Just like on the ladder in the dream. God performs the movement of coming down from top to bottom. God descends towards Jacob, fulfills His part and waits for Jacob to ascend towards Him.
Waiting, patiently contending, is a major part of this story. Jacob “holds on” for his beloved Rachel. Leah waits for Jacob’s love. Rachel waits to get pregnant.
It is especially moving to see God wait long and quietly, without being in a hurry, for the moment when Jacob will remember the covenant.
God waits in anticipation for 21 years.
Waiting and patience are necessary. They are a very important asset for the ripening of time. It is not enough to know what the calling is. We see here that knowledge alone is not enough for Jacob.
We go through extended preparation and maturing to fulfill the calling, a lot of ups and downs. On the face of it, life, marriage, children, work and comfort all seemed to make Jacob forget the dream, forget about his part in the contract.
He stayed in Harran near Laban his father-in-law for many years. And as with any good story, something has to happen that will wake us up from our “slumber.” Something that will connect us back to our essence. Something that will remind us where we came from and where we are going. Something that will make us realize that the role of our present situation is over and there is something else, better, toward which we need to start striding.
In Jacob’s case that wakeup call is the birth of Joseph the son of his beloved Rachel. The beloved son is the one who made Jacob realize that he lived in a foreign land, working for strangers, raising his children in a country not his own, far from his father, far from his God, far from himself.
Jacob, who from the beginning saw Joseph as an heir, realizes he has nothing to inherit in their current location. Then he remembers the blessing. He remembers the dream and he begins to understand his destiny. The time has come to do his part and reconnect to God, reconnect to his essence, understand his mission and return to his home in peace.
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