In this week’s Torah portion, our forebear Jacob is on the run from his twin brother Esau. He lies down with his head on a stone, and he has a dream, or a vision, of a ladder rooted in the earth with its top penetrating the very heavens. On that ladder he sees angels moving up and down continuously, traveling between earth and heaven and earth again. When he wakes, he exclaims “God was in this place, and I — I did not know!”
I can’t think of a more appropriate Torah portion for our New Member Shabbat. As I look around the room at all of your faces, I know that God is in this place for sure.
Finding God in this place is what we’re all about. Not only “this place” in the sense of the synagogue building, though we are blessed with a beautiful building and it is easy to feel the presence of the Holy when we gaze through these enormous windows at the willow tree and the mountains.
Some of us find God in this place via davenen, which is to say, prayer. Davenen is a Yiddish word. But the Hebrew word for prayer is להתפלל, which means to judge oneself. Some of us find God here by entering into prayer, and in so doing, coming to know ourselves more deeply. What arises in me as I bless the creator of light this morning? And what will arise in me as I bless the creator of light tomorrow morning, or next Shabbat, or the Shabbat after that? As we pray together, we witness our own subtle movements of soul. As we say and sing these familiar words we connect ourselves with the community and with our tradition, and maybe we find God in that connection.
Some of us find God in this place via service — not the “service of the heart” that we know as prayer, but service of others. Those who gather here each month to cook meals for homebound seniors as part of our Take and Eat crew find God in dedicating their hands and hearts to feeding the hungry. Those who bring childrens’ pajamas to our collection box, so that those who can’t afford warm winter sleepwear for their children can rest easy knowing that their kids are safe and warm on the coldest nights… those who bring toys to our gift collection box, so that those who can’t afford gifts for their kids this winter can rest easy knowing that there is something for them to give… in serving others here we make this place holy, and maybe we find God in that.
Some of us find God in this place through Torah study. Whether that means sitting here in the sanctuary discussing the weekly Torah portion, or studying a text during the kiddush after services, or participating in our book group, or taking part in our Introduction to Judaism class — all of these are forms of Torah study, and all of these are doorways to noticing the presence of God.
Look around the room and recognize that God is in this place. God is in this place because we make this place holy with our choices, with our study, with our service, with our prayer.
One of our tradition’s names for God is המקום –– “The Place.” God is in every place where people truly meet one another. God is in every place where people pray, and in every place where Torah is learned. We read in the Mishna (Avot 3) that wherever two people gather and study Torah together, the Shekhinah is with them. Shekhinah is one of our tradition’s names for the immanent, indwelling Presence of God. Sometimes we experience God as transcendent — up there, out there, far away, too vast to imagine. And sometimes we experience God as immanent — right here, with us, even within us. In Torah (Exodus 25) we read ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם — “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” Or maybe it means “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell within them.”
We have made a sanctuary here in northern Berkshire. May it be a place where God dwells with us and within us. May we always wake to the presence of God in this place, in this moment, in this interaction, in this breath. May each of us be a blessing to this congregation, and may this community be a blessing for each of us, now and always.
This is the d’var Torah that Rabbi Rachel offered on Shabbat morning. Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi. Image by Albert Houthouesen.