In this week’s Torah portion, Vayetzei, we read the famous story of Jacob’s ladder. Our ancestor, Jacob, dreams of a ladder stretching up to the heavens, with angels climbing from top to bottom. God is beside Jacob, promising that his descendants will spread to the ends of the earth to create a great nation and bless all who come from him.
It might seem that God truly is showing favoritism to Jacob, since in last week’s Torah portion, Jacob completely tricked his brother Esau into giving his birthright over to him, and then deceived his blind father Isaac into giving HIM the blessing instead of his elder brother, Esau. But if we read further, we can see that while it may appear that Jacob has it all, he too gets what’s coming to him.
When he and Rachel meet, they instantly fall in love, and Rachel brings him to stay with her father (his uncle) Laban for one month. Jacob agrees to work for Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel. At the end of the seven years, Laban puts Leah in Rachel’s place. Jacob needed to work for another seven years in order to marry Rachel. Rachel was not able to bear children…Leah was. The passage tells us that when God saw that Leah was the hated one, he opened her womb. All the while, Jacob and Rachel were begging to have a child, yet were not able to do so.
Often it seems that those who cause destruction and pain continue to prosper and thrive, and that they are, in a sense, Teflon. This parsha shows us that this is not the case. That it is not until Rachel and Jacob had to endure the pain of watching Leah and her maidservants continue to bear child after child, and to feel the indescribable yearning, that she finally was able to bear a son: Joseph. May we have the strength to understand that everyone’s path to becoming the best version of themselves is not always a straight one.
Many know that we lost our beloved Aunt Joan, the Matriarch of our family. The pain of losing her has been extremely difficult for our family, as she passed away before Shabbos, the day that we were to celebrate our niece’s long-awaited Bat Mitzvah party. Then the next day, we buried her. Often God does not make sense. To be in a relationship with God is like being in a relationship with anyone else: we call it out when we don’t understand the choices they make or the reasons for things we must endure. Abigail said she wanted the pain to go away. I told her that we must first walk through it, as if walking through a tornado. The concept and practice of Shloshim, the 30-day mourning period, allows us this time to do just that: to talk to God, in Kaddish, every Shabbat (or weekday, if we choose), to help us get through this tornado of grief.
I invite you to listen to this gorgeous setting of El Maleh Rachamim, by my beloved teacher, Cantor Israel Goldstein, who also passed away, before his time, this year. May the memories of all we love be a blessing, and may we continue to stay in dialogue with God, no matter how we are feeling about God’s choices.