Jacob is on the run. He is on the run from his brother Esau who is upset with him because he “stole” their father’s blessing. At their mother’s urging, Jacob is to go to Haran to her brother’s home. Jacob begins his journey with a dream. The dream he has is as vivid as life itself. He dreams of a ladder that connects heaven and earth and he encounters God! Upon his awakening he knows he has had more than a dream –he has had a prophetic vision. It changes him. The feelings linger with him. And he marks the very spot with a monument of stones calling the place Beth-El. This spot does become important in subsequent generations as a holy place of connection between God and the Israelites. It becomes a worship site much later in Jewish history. So Jacob is clearly seeing the future of this holy place in his dreams.
Although he began his trip in fear of his brother, his fear is transformed into awe before God. Ironically, the Hebrew word for fear and awe are the same, trh. Jacob says, “God was in the place and I did not know it!” He is changed by his dreams and although he continues on his journey toward his family he believes God’s presence is with him.
And indeed, Jacob receives all kinds of protection on his sojourn in Haran. Not every moment is easy. He tries to marry his cousin Rachel and is deceived by his uncle Laban. He marries both Leah and Rachel, sisters but has to work more than 14 years for his uncle!
But Jacob’s blessings continue through the birth of children and acquire additional wives and wealth.
“God was in this place but I knew it not!” exclaimed Jacob. It is a moment of gratitude that continues throughout his sojourn and his return to Canaan.
As we Americans sit down to our Thanksgiving tables, united with family again as Jacob was in this week’s Torah portion, our challenge is to recognize and give thanks for the many ways God’s presence blesses our lives. The Thanksgiving holiday asks us to reflect on and share aloud the gratitude we have for family, friends, work and life itself. These are blessings the Jews gives thanks for each and every day.
So as you sit down together, be reminded of Jacob’s dream and his willingness to acknowledge God’s blessing and presence in his life. And do the same.
Here is a prayer you might share:
As Jacob felt your Presence, O Holy Blessed One, help us around this Thanksgiving table to feel Your nearness. Bless this home and all who gather at this table. Let us share in the abundance we know flows from You. Grant us health and wellbeing and peace of mind and world. O Holy Blessed One let us acknowledge Your Presence in our lives. Help us make Your Presence manifest in the world by the actions we taken to perfect your creation. Let us be able to say, “God was in this place and we knew it not.” Amen.