Off the Pulpit: What’s in the forest?


In this week’s Torah reading, Jacob runs away from home and has a dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder. Upon waking he exclaims: “There is God in this place and I did not know it.”

The most common explanation of Jacob’s words is that he did not know that God was in the place where he lay, that God was everywhere – the young man is discovering for himself that religious truth. But we might also understand him to be talking about his internal place. In a time of displacement, or fear, or simple confusion, he discovers God, and did not know that God was manifest when he felt himself in such a state.

When the Chasidic master the Seer of Lublin was a boy he would go into the forest. One day his father, concerned, asked why he went there. The boy answered, “to find God.” His father smiled and said, “But my child, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?” “Yes,” said the boy, “God is. But I’m not.”

All of us discover different parts of ourselves in different places. There is place inside us where God dwells, waiting to be discovered.

(Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple of Los Angeles.)

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