Welcome to the season of dreams. This dark and cozy month of Kislev opens with the story of Jacob's Ladder and closes with the stories of his son Joseph's dreams. It calls us to pay attention to the subconscious, to cultivate a kind of inner cocoon. And it all begins with Jacob leaving his parents' home. Avivah Zornberg notes, "This is a journey that is pointedly different from his grandfather's originating journey: the lekh lekha wandering to the place yet to be shown, the promise of place and destiny. Jacob does not simply "go" (lekh); he leaves (va-yetzei)" (Genesis of Desire, 180).
And yet, what touches me most this week is the echo, the constant reminder, that we are a people in motion. Migration is encoded in our bodies, our histories, and our mythologies. Jacob's journey in particular may be distinct in that he knows both where he is coming from (Beer Sheva) and where he is going (Padan Aram). But it is unique in that he does not know why he is journeying.
More than once we hear of his encounters in the fields. In Genesis 29, Jacob resumes his journey and comes to the land of the Easterners. And we read:
וַיַּ֞רְא וְהִנֵּ֧ה בְאֵ֣ר בַּשָּׂדֶ֗ה וְהִנֵּה־שָׁ֞ם שְׁלֹשָׁ֤ה עֶדְרֵי־צֹאן֙ רֹבְצִ֣ים עָלֶ֔יהָ כִּ֚י מִן־הַבְּאֵ֣ר הַהִ֔וא יַשְׁק֖וּ הָעֲדָרִ֑ים וְהָאֶ֥בֶן גְּדֹלָ֖ה עַל־פִּ֥י הַבְּאֵֽר׃
"There before his eyes was a well in the open. Three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, for the flocks were watered from that well. The stone on the mouth of the well was large."
Now, we know for desert wanderers wells are by nature places imbued with meaning. For the midrashic imagination, the world is but a barren, overgrown wilderness. We live much of our lives in the weeds, in the thick of things, longing for spacious perspective.
And then comes Shabbat. Says the Song of Songs, "Come my beloved, let us go out into the field." Meaning, come meet me in this spacious fertile time. In the words of Art Green, "Shabbat is a magical time, a moment when the world that often seems a barren wilderness is transformed into a field waiting to be planted" (Language of Truth, 46).
About this particular well that Jacob encounters, the Sefat Emet teaches, in the name of Rabbi Isaac Luria, that when it says there is a well in the field, it reminds us that on Shabbat a source of living water is opened to us. To which Green responds, "The well is open. But that magic is still only potential, waiting for us to plant the seed and nurture it to grow. Only we can do that. The true miracle is that of our ability to open in response."
May we choose this Shabbat to leave behind the work of the week and enter into the magic of Shabbat, to drink from the well of connection and community, to quench our thirst for presence and create space for dreaming.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.