Vayetzei: Noticing the rock under your head

It’s a cliché, really.  You’ve heard it before.   We don’t appreciate what’s in front of us, we don’t notice the blessings in our lives, we don’t acknowledge the good around us until perhaps it’s gone.

Or when we lay our heads on a stone, fall asleep, and have a dream in which God talks to us.  That works, too.

Let’s take Jacob, for example.  When last we saw him (that would be last week, in parashat Toldot), he was on the run from a murderous brother from whom he had stolen their father’s blessing and birthright.  His mother, his only advocate in the family,  encouraged him to take off to save his life, and he would probably never see her again.  He was all alone and had to stop for the night.  He took a stone, lay down on it, and slept.  God came to him in a dream  and promised him that the land on which he was sleeping would be his inheritance, that it would be filled with his descendants, and that God “will watch over you wherever you go, and [God] will bring you back to this soil.  [God] will not let go of you as long as [God] has yet to do what was promised to you” (Gen 28:15)

Whew! That was certainly reassuring!  Jacob woke up and said, “Truly, God is in this place and I didn’t know it! …How awe-inspiring is this place!”  (Gen. 28:16-17) .  The world looked different to Jacob than it had when he’d gone to sleep.  No longer the lonely, pursued runaway, he now had a destiny to fulfill, and a promise on which to rely, just like his father and grandfather had.

I think we’re often in a position to say, “God is in this place, and I didn’t know it”, but we don’t.  I’m not suggesting that God is everywhere, like in that tree or in that rock.  Rather, I think we are surrounded by the blessings of God; in creation, the astounding world around us, in our relationships, in the ones we love.  We just don’t always stop long enough to notice.   But this week, we can.  Thanksgiving Day may be an artificial, Hallmark-card construct, but there it is, and if that’s what it takes to get some of us to stop and say, “Thank you!  There are good things in my life!”, well then, so be it.

As I write this, someone I love is in a dangerous place,  and it doesn’t seem as if there will be a ceasefire, at least not tonight.  Maybe by the time you read this, it will be different.  Maybe he’s got a stone for a pillow.  Maybe he will even dream if he gets a chance to sleep, and I hope his dream will be as comforting as Jacob’s was:  that wherever he goes, God will be with him, that he will live to fulfill his destiny,  and frankly I don’t care if it’s on that particular soil or not.

I will have a full table this week, and I’m enormously grateful for that.  It has not been an easy year, for so many of us. We all know people who are struggling, and there are those this week who would be grateful for even a table and chair, much less food to put on it.   But I do think God will be in my dining room, and I will find the faces around the table fairly awe-inspiring .  In my family, we have long had a tradition to sing a song called “Thanksgiving Day”  (no big surprise!) written by Tom Chapin that goes, in part:  Thanks for our health, thanks for our hearth, and the bounty that grows from the ground. With our loved ones near, we bless the year that brought us safely ‘round.”  Granted, we may thank God who has brought us safely ‘round, but you get the idea.  And that about says it.

May your Thanksgiving Day be filled with opportunities to exclaim how blessed you are, and may you not have to wait another year before you can say again, “How awe-inspiring is this place!”

Happy Thanksgiving, and Shabbat Shalom.

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