We are pleased to share Mikael Steinman’s dvar Torah on Parashat Vayetzei.
I… somehow managed to get a Torah portion (Parshat Vayeitzei) that everyone seems to talk about. The one where Jacob has left his home (ran away, really) after deceiving his father into thinking he is the elder son, and stealing his father’s blessing that was intended for his brother. When his brother finds out, he threatens his own sibling, saying that he’s going to attack Jacob unless he runs. Jacob promptly does so, and eventually comes upon an unspecified, unremarkable place to spend the night. When it starts to get dark, he takes a stone and uses it as a pillow to sleep on. He’s all alone and has nothing. But in a dream he sees a ladder reaching into Heaven with angels coming up and going down it! He then hears God’s voice telling him that where he is sleeping will belong to his descendants, and that they will “be like the dust of the earth”! God also tells Jacob that God will be with him wherever he goes, and never leave until God has given him what God promised. After Jacob wakes, he says one of the most famous lines in the Torah; He says: “Truly, the Eternal is in this place and I did not know it!” This is an awe-inspiring moment for him. And everything is good and beautiful… until Jacob displays some extraordinary chutzpah. He questions God! He says if God is with me and gives me food to eat and clothes to wear, then I shall give a tenth to God, and the Lord shall be my God. Why would he question God of all beings, asking God to “prove it”. This is one of our most famous ancestors (admittedly, he wasn’t always a very good person at first), talking back to The Ultimate superior being! He has just had this extraordinary dream, and he wants proof. Proof in what though? Does he want God to prove that God exists? Or does he want proof that he is good enough for God after all the bad things he’s done? He has just run away from his family, after tricking his father, his dying father, into giving him a blessing meant for his brother. Does he want God to prove that he deserves what God is giving him? Or does he need God to truly prove that God exists in the first place? Either way, he tells God that he will give God a tenth of whatever he gets, if God “proves it”.
Jacob is not that disbelieving, though. He does not completely need proof. He does say his famous line, and he does set up the stone he slept on as a monument. Maybe that’s because he will honor God just fine, as long as there is minimal or no risk to him (i.e. he won’t be wasting his time or resources on a being that might not always be there for him). I guess a lot of us are like that. We’ll worship God, just so long as it doesn’t get in the way of the things we want to do.
This isn’t just some five-thousand-year-old shenanigans people made up to get you to do stuff. It has meaning, and will continue to have meaning far into the future. What is that meaning? That’s mostly up to you. Some of the meaning I take from this is that it is okay not to have blind belief in God and the Torah. You don’t have to take everything literally. Take evolution for an example. I have a firm belief in God, but I also believe strongly in science. I don’t believe God suddenly, with a wave of a hand, went: poof, creatures! I do believe that God created the universe, the Earth, and possibly those first little bits of self-replicating DNA and amino acids. That is one example of a bit of doubt. It is not exactly what happened in the Torah. And God is probably okay with that. Remember, he put up with Jacob questioning him and all the other mishegas he did. God still made him an ancestor of the Jews, and gave the Jews a place to live where he had once slept. That still applies today; you don’t have to be perfect for God to like you (if such a term can even apply). Nowadays, as more and more people take liberal points of view, this becomes even more important. You can have some doubt. That’s fine. As the progress of science makes much of the Torah less literal. For me, it actually enhances it, changing the focus from the story itself to the important, underlying meaning. Doubt is not just okay, in some cases it can be healthy. If we did everything God ever said, I think we would have never made time for other, very important things such as family, and the advancement of humanity. Without having some doubt, we follow things blindly, not knowing where they take us. God most likely accepts our doubt because God knows that it is healthy in the right doses. As long as we don’t doubt important life rules, the doubt is acceptable. It might not necessarily be good, but it is okay. That is the meaning I take from this. Yours might be different… and that’s a doubt! And it is perfectly fine.
According to mother Sara, for mitzvah projects, Mikael:
- was a reading buddy at Lafayette library this past summer
- had a regular gig being a stocker at the EFFA food bank over the summer
- has collected socks for the homeless
- has donated to wildlife sanctuaries
- made his own tallit (see photo)
- He helped clean an after school center
Yasher koach, Mikael! Boulder Jewish News encourages Bar and Bat Mitzvah students to submit their d’var torah for publication, so that the community may learn from our young adults. Information about Mitzvah/Tikkun Olam projects is also welcome. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.