Va-Yeze
For the week of December 6, 2003 / 11 Kislev 5764
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 28:10 - 32:3
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13 - 14:10
Originally published the week of December 9, 2000 / 12 Kislev 5761

The Gate of Heaven

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven." (Bereshit / Genesis 28:16,17).

Jacob had a vision of God in a dream. He had never experienced God like this before. When he awoke, he surmised that there was something special about the place he was in, referring to it as the house of God, the gate of heaven. We donít know if his conclusion about the place was accurate or just his own interpretation of his experience.

Jacob assumed that this was a special place. He gave a new name to the town, calling it Bet-el - House of God - and set up a pillar there. He then made a pledge that if God would keep his promise to bring him back there, he would be his God.

Whatever the significance of the place, Jacob thought God was more in Bet-el than he would be in the land of his ancestors where he was going. It would take him many years before he realized how real God was. Jacobís dream was to reveal to him that God was going to take care of him. But Jacob focused on the experience, not the message.

Like Jacob we sometimes have difficulty knowing God beyond our experiences of him. I know many of us have not experienced anything like Jacob did, but still God is often confined to events, activities, and experiences. We like to focus more on the wonderful things that God does than to learn the lessons that those things were designed to teach us.

The essence of idolatry is substituting a man-made object for the reality of God. That object may not be a physical item that we can touch, it may be a memory or a concept through which we relate to God. These things have the semblance of being helps to know God, but often get in the way.

It sounds so spiritual to be like Jacob and get excited over an experience. But God remained someone far away from him for a long time. It would not be until some other difficult circumstances in his life that God would become personal to him.

Could it have been any different? That is hard to say. But it can be different for us. Instead of our getting hyped over "what God is doing in our lives," maybe we should listen to what God is saying to us. Letís stop making monuments of our experiences, and let God into our hearts.

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