Looking for some new ways to think about Judaism this week? Here are some reflections on Parshat Vayeitzei to add some modern perspective to our weekly Torah reading:
What does it mean for a place to be holy? What is a "House of God," really? How can a person make a place holy? These are just some of the questions that I asked myself when reading through this week's Torah reading, Parshat Vayeitzei.
In this week's reading, Jacob leaves his home in Be'er Sheva and sleeps in a clearing one night. This is when he has his famous dream of angels moving up and down a ladder, where God promises him that the land upon which he lies will be given to his descendants. While there are many commentators who work interpret the meaning of the ladder and the angels, the part that really interests me is what happens next. After Jacob wakes up, he turns the stone that he used as a pillow into a mizbeach, an altar to God, and pledges that this place will become a holy place. The "house of God," or "Beit-El."
As I asked before, what does it mean for a place to be holy? Does it have to be a synagogue or a place where you dreamt of God? Or could it be something else entirely?
For me, the places that are most holy are the places where I feel connected to my friends, family, and Jewish community. It could be a physical place, like a summer camp, or it could be a state of being, like how I felt at my youth group conventions. For me, holiness doesn’t necessarily come from God. It can if that is meaningful for you, but it can just as easily come from a feeling of peace, or connection. The lesson that we can take from this week's parsha is not only that it's up to us to make a place holy, but that any place can be holy, even a clearing in the woods.