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Rabbi Clark on Parashat Vayetzei

Mount Moriah (Wikimedia Commons photo)

When Jacob fled from Esau, setting out from Beersheba to Haran, “he chanced upon a certain place,” as it is often translated. The two Hebrew words, vayifga ba-makom, tell of a more forceful connection between Jacob and where he is than this English translation implies.

As Torah scholar Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg points out in her study of the parashah, the Hebrew root pei-gimel-ayin means “to strike” or “an injury,” and ba-makom is not “a place,” but “the place.” A better translation would thus be that Jacob “collided with the place.” Moreover, he and the place collided because Jacob was not the only one of this pair in motion.

There is some confusion as to whether Jacob is in Luz, which he renames Beth El, or at Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. Rashi puts Jacob at the latter, and to solve the problem of the unreachable distance between the two locales, he says that the earth contracted for Jacob – the place is so much where Jacob must be that it rushes to him at the same time that he moves toward it.

This relationship is the one that every synagogue and its members want to have. The ideal is that the two are so well-suited to each other that, as the members are going to services in the morning, so too the synagogue is moving toward them. In reality, the mutuality of this relationship can be hard to build and maintain. For it to work, members must be open to what their synagogue expects of them, whether that includes greater effort toward learning Hebrew or leaving their phones at home for the morning. Synagogues, too, must be willing to listen to what their members want from them, whether music to which everyone can sing along or services that do not drag. Now, when there is a great need for us to be together in synagogue, let’s get moving in each other’s direction.

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