As I’ve commented on before, one of my favorite things about learning the weekly Torah portion is that I never know exactly what I am going to find. For me and for our students, each week is an invitation to connect to our sources and find personal meaning.
I wrote last week about Isaac’s wanderings in the field and his meditative practice that the rabbis connect to the afternoon Mincha service. In this week’s parasha, Vayetzei, Jacob, Isaac’s son, has a prayer experience of his own which the rabbis connect to the evening service, Maariv or Arvit. Just to give some context, in this story, Jacob is fleeing from Be’er Sheva and his brother Esau after having convinced Esau to sell him his birthright. Jacob is at the beginning of a series of events which will change the trajectory of his life and eventually become a large family and even a nation.
The text tells us that he “came upon a certain place.” The Hebrew va-yifga can be translated as “to chance upon '' and the commentaries on the Torah share a few different ideas as to what that may mean and why it matters. The sages in the Mishnah view this as a type of prayer and therefore, establish this as the inspiration for the evening prayer. Jacob chooses a nice rock and falls asleep after which he is visited by messengers of god going up and down a ladder. Jacob also receives prophecy from God about the future of his family. Rashi however, focuses more on the place itself and says that by referring to this place as THE place, that it is a place that has been mentioned before. He explains that this is Mount Moriah, not only the place where Jacob’s father was bound a few weeks ago, but also the future location of the Temple in Jerusalem.
In our 8th grade Alliance class today with our counterparts at other small Jewish day schools, we spoke about the importance of places and spaces and the text’s incredible ability (often with the help of the commentators) to connect these stories together through these geographic spaces. A question that arose in the group was whether or not a space like Mount Moriah was already chosen and therefore holy, or if it became holy based on the events that happened there. While I myself am really not sure, I think that it is an interesting question for us to ask about the spaces in which we live, pray, celebrate etc.
When I think about Ezra as a space that has had meaning in my life and the lives of countless others, I think about this question. Does the incredible learning and community building happen here because of what Ezra is and what it means to so many people, or is it more that a school like Ezra exists because of its students, teachers and supporters?
As we move into the month of December, the month of Kislev, and towards our Festival of Lights, Chanukah, and beyond, I’m grateful to get to spend my days in this wonderful space immersed in so many kinds of learning with students, teachers, and members of our extended community. This is truly a special and holy space and I look forward to continuing to hear how Ezra has special meaning in your lives and how it can continue to be that space for many years to come.