B'nei Mitzvah of the Week
Vivienne & Georgia Loigman
November 16, 2018
Parashat Vayeitzei - Genesis 28:10 - 32:3
Jacob dreams of angels going up and down a ladder. God blesses him. Jacob names the place Bethel. (28:10-22)
Jacob works seven years in order to marry Rachel, but Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah, Rachel's older sister. (29:16-25)
Jacob marries Rachel but only after having to commit himself to seven more years of working for Laban. (29:26-30)
Leah, Rachel, and their maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah, give birth to eleven sons and one daughter. (29:31-30:24)
Jacob and his family leave Laban's household with great wealth. (31:1-32:3)
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My Torah portion is Vayeitzei which is in the book of Genesis. Vayeitze tells the story about what happens right after Jacob steals the blessing which is meant for his older brother, Esau. Jacob runs away to the land of Haran. As night falls, Jacob goes to sleep on the ground, using a rock as a pillow. Jacob dreams of a ladder that connects heaven and earth, and angels of G-d going up and down the ladder. As the angels go up and down the ladder, God speaks to Jacob. I’m going to focus on what happens right after Jacob’s dream, when he wakes up. Jacob says: “Truly, the Eternal is in this place, and I did not know it!” He was awestruck, and says, “How awe-inspiring is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”
This reaction by Jacob is very interesting to me. My key koshi is: What do Jacob’s words mean? What does this teach us about God? Is God really everywhere? Rabbi Lawrence Kushner taught that Beth El is the place where Jacob learned to think beyond himself and his own needs. In other words, Jacob is saying: “God was here all along, and the reason I didn’t know it is because I was too busy paying attention to myself”. This means that sometimes in life we are too self- absorbed, and busy thinking about ourselves and our own problems, that we don’t notice that others might be upset or angry. Sometimes we aren’t paying attention to the bigger picture, and how we might be affecting others. Jacob is too focused on his self, that he doesn’t even notice that God is there with him. Rashi explains Jacob’s response to mean: “ For I had known [that God would be in] this place, I would have never gone to sleep.” I believe that Rashi is saying that if we all knew that we were in God’s presence then we would recognize how incredibly special and holy the moment was. We would never want to go to sleep! This is similar to Kushner’s interpretation, because sometimes we are too focused on what we need to be doing that we don’t notice the important things right in front of us.
I happen to agree with both Rashi and Kushner. I have thought alot about my key koshi and if Gd is really everywhere. I’m not totally sure, but I do know that I have felt God’s presence before on varying occasions, with various people. If God’s presence can be equated to magic, I have felt God many times when I am at camp with my bunkmates simply laughing and spending time together. I have felt God walking into campfires with lit torches on a clear and starry summer night. I have felt God’s presence when I was with my dad snorkeling on our last big family vacation together. While I may not have known that my dad was going to relapse so soon and ultimately pass, I felt a special, magical connection with my dad and the rest of my family on that day. I feel God’s presence even now when I think about the bond with my dad that will never be broken, whether he is physically here or not.
I think this is a significant teaching as I become a bat mitzvah. As they tell me, I am technically an “adult” now even though my mother tells me sometimes I don’t always act like one. I am sure Georgie agrees with her at times as well. Besides the point, I think we can bring God’s presence into our daily lives more by simply being more present. We can do this by listening and paying close attention to what the people in our lives are expressing to us. We can do this by being there for individuals when they are having a difficult time and not just being a fair weather friend available only for the good times. I think this is an important value to take into my teenage years and beyond into my truly grownup life.
Vivienne's Mitzvah Project
For my mitzvah project, Georgia and I have had the honor to work with Sharsheret. Sharsheret is a not-for-profit organization that helps support women who are suffering from breast and ovarian cancer. Georgia and I have started a toy drive for their Busy Box Program. A Busy Box is a package that is shipped to a family anywhere in the U.S. where there is a mother undergoing treatment and has contacted Sharsheret. Sharsheret will make up a box with toys and books and art supplies curated specifically by age, gender and interest. The kids will have activities to keep themselves busy while a mother is undergoing treatment. The package also comes with information for the mother to help discuss cancer in a way that a child can comprehend. This mitzvah project was especially important to me because while my father had a different type of cancer, I was so blessed to have many people care for Georgie and me while my dad was sick and my mother was helping care for him. Family members and countless friends took us for playdates, on outings, cooked us meals and were a huge support for our family during an exceptionally difficult time that I couldn’t even fully appreciate. I want others to have that experience if they have the terrible misfortune of having an ill parent.
My Torah portion begins when Jacob escapes Beersheba to go to Haran. It becomes nighttime, so Jacob goes to sleep. He makes himself comfortable by using a “stone pillow” since he is in the middle of nowhere. He falls to sleep and has a dream about a ladder. In this dream angels are going up and down the ladder. Also, God is standing next to and is talking to Jacob. God says to Jacob that he will bring Jacob back to this place and Jacob and his family will inherit the land. Jacob is also told by God that he will become the father of the nation. In addition, Jacob is assured he will always be protected by God.
The key moment for me in this text is when Jacob sleeps on a stone pillow and dreams, among other things, that God says he will always be there for him. That led me to wonder: Does his sleeping on a stone for a pillow symbolize that even when life is hard or painful, God can still be present and protective?
My father, Mark Loigman, in the fall one year before he died, went to Chevrah Torah with Rabbi Sirkman and other “students.” They studied several Torah portions, including mine. My father took a lot of notes on my portion that my mother saved for me, and brought to me while writing my drash. He underlined the writing of modern biblical scholar Nahum Sarna, who wrote that Jacob’s journey from Beersheva to Haran is a journey where he is in exile and utterly alone. Sarna says “his character is to be tested, personality molded and transformed by the experience.” My father also underlined the writings of Rambam on this portion. Rambam writes that God will guard Jacob’s descendants in their wanderings and rescue them from exile among the nations.
I agree with Sarna and Rambam, I believe that Gd can be and is present, even in the hardest of times, the important part is if you are willing to look for God. I will always miss my father and want him physically here. However, in the words of Sarna, “my character has been tested, personality molded and life experience transformed.” I realize that even though times can be painful and difficult, there can be an important lesson to be learned and shared with others. I believe I understand other people’s pain much better from the experience I had four years ago.
Georgia's Mitzvah Project
This portion and my koshi tie in with my mitzvah project. Vivienne and I are doing a toy and book drive for Sharsheret, an organization that helps women and their families face breast and ovarian cancer. With the toys we collect, Sharsheret will put together “Busy Boxes” for children whose mothers are undergoing chemotherapy, surgery and/or radiation. This way a parent can rest while knowing that their child is entertained and cared for by people who don’t even know them. I know that I was very lucky to have many people in my life who entertained and cared for me when my dad was sick and my mom was in the hospital with him. Thank you to all who have donated a children’s book or toy to our mitzvah project.