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Vayetzi – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This Sedra, which translates as “he went out”, covers about 20 years in the life of Jacob. It follows the flight from Esau to the flight from Laban. It begins in the evening and ends in the morning. Jacob goes out alone and returns with two wives, Rachel and Leah, and eleven children. (Although we should never forget Bilhah and Zilphah, also the mothers of the heads of some of the eventual tribes; Benjamin will be born later).

It is at the beginning of the journey that Jacob encounters God in the story we recognise as that of “Jacobs Ladder”. It is in a dream and his first words on awakening are

אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְהֹוָ֔ה בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָֽנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי:
Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it

The word “Makom” (מָּק֖וֹם) is taken to indicate not just a physical space but a spiritual one. In the Perkei D' Rebbe Elieazar the question was raised

Why is the place where Jacob rested called “HaMakom”?

The answer being

Because in every place where there are righteous people, God's spirit is with them.

It is not defined by geography. It is a place where we encounter God.

(In the 16th century Jews fleeing from Spain and Portugal settled in Holland. Amsterdam, which was a haven and where we could practice our faith, was sometimes referred to as “HaMakom)

At this place, which Jacob renamed Beth-El, he seems to qualify his acceptance of God by asking

if you bring me home and give me peace I will tithe to you

We still ask the same thing each day at the end of the Amidah when we recite

שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵֽינוּ וְעַל כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן: עֹשֶׂה
Oseh shalom bimromav ,hu ya’aseh shalom, aleinu v'al kol Yisrael, v'imru amen

He Who makes peace in His high heavens may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel and let us say Amen.

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