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Torah Commentary
Vayeitzei (November 24, 2012)

Missy Bell,
of Youth Learning and Engagement

IN THIS WEEK’S TORAH PORTION, Vayeitzei, Jacob receives a blessing from his father, Isaac, and then leaves his family home in Beersheva to seek a wife. During one night of his journey, he goes to sleep and dreams of a ladder that goes up to heaven. He sees angels going up and down the ladder. Then, he sees God beside him. God blesses Jacob, offering him and his future children the land around him. God tells Jacob that God will remain with him throughout his life. When Jacob wakes up from this dream, he says, “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:16)

Jacob’s epiphany helps reminds us that God is everywhere. However, following Hurricane Sandy, and after other disasters and catastrophes, many people wonder where God is. A classic tale about the Kotzer Rebbe helps us find the answer:

A young man once came to Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. “Rebbe, I can no longer believe in God. I can’t believe in God because the world is so filled with pain, suffering, ugliness and evil. How could there be a God in such a world?!” “Why do you care?” asked the Rebbe. “What do you mean, why do I care? How could I not care? Innocent people suffer; the world is ruled by cruel people. Why does God allow it?”

Again, the Rebbe inquired, “But why do you care?”

The young man screamed out: “Someone has to care! Someone has to see the pain of the world and cry out! If not, all the suffering is meaningless. I care because I want a better world, not only for my children but for all children!”

The Rebbe responded, “If you care that much, then God exists. You see, God exists in your caring.”

The week after the hurricane, the Seventh Grade Mitzvah Corps students had a special session in which they learned why it is a mitzvah — an adult Jewish responsibility — to respond to disaster. As a class, they studied this text and realized that God exists in all of us as we help those who are suffering as a result of the hurricane. God is in each of the Mitzvah Corps students who helped make 150 meals distributed to those affected by the hurricane. God is in the Religious School students who contributed more than $1,300 in tzedakah to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City for hurricane relief. God is in the students and their families who took initiative to bring supplies to residents of Staten Island and who raised hundreds of dollars through bake sales and candy sales.

God is also in the congregants who contributed to the van loads of supplies that were delivered to those in need and the congregants who contributed to the Philanthropic Fund, which gave $10,000 to the Union for Reform Judaism’s Hurricane Relief Fund and $75,000 to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City in order to help our city recover.

The Seventh Grade Mitzvah Corps students also discussed what it means to be created b’tzelem Elohim — in the image of God. The students thought that this meant that we share qualities with God, especially compassion, and that each of us has a little bit of God inside us.

If you, following the hurricane or any other hardship you may be experiencing, are wondering where God is, you don’t need to look far. God may not appear in our dreams as God did with the characters in the Torah. But as Jacob, the Mitzvah Corps students, and all the generous congregants of Temple Emanu-El remind us, God is all around us and inside each of us.

Join the conversation and post your thoughts.

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