Weekly D’var Torah Parashat Vayetzei 5779

The Midrash Tanchuma tells us that when Yaakov dreamt of the angels ascending and descending the ladder to heaven, he saw the angels of the other nations rising and descending. He saw the angels of Babylonia, of Perisa, of Greece, and of Rome all rising and all descending. According to one version, he did not see Rome descend, and when he asked why, God told him not to fear, Rome would descend from the highest place. According to another version, he saw Rome’s angel descend as well, and he was asked why he himself did not also climb the ladder. He said that he was afraid, as all the others that ascended the ladder fell, and he did not want to fall. God told him that God would see to it that Yaakov would never fall. Still, he was afraid. As a consequence of showing such fear, and such lack of trust in God while  visiting the mystical realms, his descendants were to be enslaved, conquered, and exiled by those four empires. But just as the fall of Rome could not be seen at the time by Yaakov, but was nevertheless inevitable, so too was God’s rescue of the Jewish people.

We are at a time when there is a great deal to fear. Anti-Semitic acts are in the news again. Fires burn across California. Every day, we read about something else in the news or on our Facebook pages that inspires fear.

The pasuk, the Biblical verse that the Midrash above quotes is “Do not fear, my servant Yaakov, says the Eternal, and do not be faint of heart, Israel. For behold, I shall save you from far away, and your descendants from the land of their captivity….For I am with you, says the Eternal, to save you (Jeremiah 30:10-11)”.

This can be taken in at least two ways. Both are what we call “emunah,” One way is that of belief. If one believes that ultimately, the crises of today will be resolved, there is room for hope. If we believe that God truly will save us from our crisis, we are likely to be less afraid. This kind of emunah looks to a better future for comfort.

The other “emunah” is one of trust. If one trusts that one is alive at this moment, trusts that the sensations of this moment are here to felt now, but only now; if one trusts that one can go through all that this moment is, and know, fundamentally, that one’s life and one’s being are more than this moment, then the present moment can be experienced and felt completely without a sense of crisis or fear. One’s sense of being can be stronger and larger than one’s sense of fear.

The first kind of emunah is belief in the Almighty. The second is trust in the ultimate essence of Being. Either way is a method of attaining what the pasuk says: For I am with you, says the Eternal, to save you.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Aaron Shub

Aaron Shub is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh,

a Modern Orthodox Jewish community in Portland, ME

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