Thursday, December 1, 2011

Jacob and René

Sunrise this morning was at 6:58 AM, and as I hurried to make it to morning minyan / service at 6:45, the lawn in front of Temple Israel looked very much like this:
File:The Empire of Light Guggenheim.jpg

I had a momentary fantasy of strolling with a bowler and umbrella through a painting by the Belgian surrealist, René Magritte: L'Empire des Lumières / The Empire of Light.

One way to approach the artwork of the Torah is to place ourselves in it.  When Jacob finds himself, at the beginning of Parashat Vayyetze, transfixed by a vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to the sky, he is awestruck:

וַיִּירָא, וַיֹּאמַר, מַה-נּוֹרָא, הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה:  אֵין זֶה, כִּי אִם-בֵּית אֱלֹהִים, וְזֶה שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם
Shaken, he said, "How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven." (Bereshit / Genesis 28:17)

When we find ourselves struck by something we see or experience, it is an opportunity to recall the sense of "radical amazement" that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel brought to our attention in his theological writings:

"Among the many things that religious tradition holds in store for us is a legacy of wonder. The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted. Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin." (Heschel, God in Search of Man).

I imagine that I too would have had that sense of wonder if I were walking through Jacob's vision.  Much more challenging, however, is to find the radical amazement in the commonplace; look for it.

Rabbi Seth Adelson

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