Vayeitze - How Awesome is Now

It’s 4:54 on a wintery afternoon. I walk into my study, which has windows facing west. It’s been a typical day, some work, some errands. Nothing special. My attention is grabbed by spectacular colors outside the window.

"Alan!" I yell to my husband. "It’s the most amazing sunset. Grab your coat and let’s run outside before it changes."

It was the most amazing sunset- shocking bright pinks and subtle purples, in colors and shades I had never in my sixty-one years seen before. How is this possible?

Like the story of Jacob, in this week’s Torah portion, I was moved to think, Yesh Adonai bamakom hazeh, Surely G!d is in this place, v’anochi lo yadati, and I did not know it. Mah norah hamakom hazeh, how awesome is this place. Ayn zeh ki im bayt elohim. It is none other than the house of G!d, v’zeh sha’ar hashamayim, and this is the gate to heaven. (Gen. 28: 16-17)

My experience of that sunset was as if G!d said, this is my gift to you, to make today special. How is it you did not know this very moment is awesome?

The contemporary spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, has a few best-selling books, all about "Realizing the Power of Now." He makes "being in the now" seem like a new concept, but in fact, it is an ancient Jewish teaching.

In Judaism, moments can be special, moments can be holy. Shabbat is such an extended moment in time. However, the word makom, which is one of the names for G!d, also means a place, a physical space.

Our ancestor Jacob had lain down to sleep on his journey to Charan, in a spot called HaMakom, The Place. In this place he took a stone and put it under his head for a pillow. There he had his vision of angels of G!d going up and down on a ladder, and heard G!d’s promise of blessing and protection for him and his descendants.

After he awoke and realized the significance of his experience, he took the stone that he had put under his head, set it up as a pillar, and renamed that place Bayt-El. And so we have many synagogues today, named for the place of Jacob’s stone, Beth-El.

Most of us don’t have visions of angels, or hear G!d’s voice clearly, but we can appreciate the awesome power of stones, whether it be the natural wonder of the Grand Canyon, or the human-built wonder of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the wall of stones that remains from the second Temple.

One of my cantorial students, Dorothy Goldberg, shared this recollection with me this week.

"My family was entirely secular in its Judaism," she said. "We never belonged to a synagogue. My father had family in Israel, though, and when I was 13, he took me to Israel to meet them. The highlight of the trip for me was our visit to the Western Wall.

As soon as I touched the stones of the ancient bricks, I felt a surge of power, as though I was suddenly infused with the energy of all the people who had been here and prayed here before me. I saw the mortar of paper that had been built up in the cracks between the bricks, a mortar made of thousands of prayers placed in G!d’s place, for G!d’s attention. I leaned my head against the stones, closed my eyes, and felt suspended
in time and space, one of an ancient people turning to plead to our G!d. This from a girl who’d never even been to a synagogue service.

When I told my father of my experience, I said, "I felt that I touched G!d."

She knew, and we know, that we cannot, in fact, touch G!d. Yet we can touch, taste, see, hear and smell thewonders that G!d has given us in this world.

Mah norah hamakom hazeh, how awesome is this place, this moment, this connection. May we have more and more awareness of these special, holy times.