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Parashat Ki Tetzei

November 30, 2011

By Susan Elkodsi


“And Jacob left Beersheva, and he went to Haran. And he arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set” (Gen. 28:10-11).

The term bashert is often used when speaking about falling in love, or when something happens that we truly feel was “meant to be.” We read that Jacob was forced to camp out bamakom, “at the place,” on his way from Beersheva to Haran, because the sun had set. The intellectual, left side of my brain knows that it would have been dangerous for him to continue traveling in the dark, but the more creative, right side of my brain, is convinced that it was bashert that he stopped in this particular place. It was here, bamakom, that Jacob had the dream about angels going up and down a ladder, and when he awakened from his sleep, he said, Akhen, yesh Adonai bamakom hazeh va’anokhi lo yadati, “Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16).

It’s interesting that Rashi wrote that had Jacob known that the place where he had chosen to sleep was holy (i.e., that God was there), he wouldn’t have slept there. Did Jacob have any control over where he camped for the night? Perhaps Jacob did choose that particular spot; but perhaps God chose it for him. Either way, it was where Jacob needed to be. Rashi later quotes Bereshit Rabbah 68:10, which says that the words ki va hashemesh, “for the sun had set,” implies that the sun set suddenly for him, not at its usual time, so that he would have to stay there overnight.

Does this mean that Jacob was merely an actor following a script in this story? I don’t think so. I’d like to suggest that God didn’t force Jacob to camp bamakom, “in that place,” for the night, but that God gave Jacob a gentle push by bringing darkness early that day.

So it is with us. I don’t believe that God controls our actions as if we were puppets on a string, but I do believe that whether we are aware of it or not, God is with us, present in our lives, in subtle ways. When I was in sales years ago my car made a right turn into a Honda motorcycle dealership I hadn’t planned to call on. I walked out with a nice sale. More recently I went to Lord and Taylor instead of Macy’s as I had planned and ran into a friend who was seriously ill. I still tear up when I think about how wonderful it was to see her buying prom shoes with her daughter. And in the summer of 1986, had my mother not been talking with the right person at the right time about who they could get to help David Elkodsi with Junior Congregation for the High Holidays, I probably wouldn’t have met my bashert.

Following the realization that he had been sleeping on holy ground, Jacob exclaimed Mah nora hamakom hazeh, “How awesome is this place!” (Gen. 28:13). Earlier this fall, Detroit Lions running back Jerome Harrison was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, and had to undergo a required physical exam. The exam revealed a brain tumor; if not for the trade, the tumor would have remained undiscovered with potentially disastrous effects. My first thought was that God was in this – meaning Harrison’s – place. I suspect that if I were Jerome Harrison I might be thinking the same thing; unhappy with being traded, but happy to be alive. I’m not suggesting that God orchestrates NFL trades, but I also can’t help thinking it wasn’t a coincidence. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca – of all the players on all the teams – this person was traded.

Jacob was attuned to God’s presence bamakom hazeh, “in this place,” because of his dream, and realized what an awesome place it was. When I take a moment to stop and think, I’m reminded of the chant we learned at last year’s AJR Retreat… “How awesome is this body…. How awesome is this place…. How awesome is this journey, through time and space.”

May we always stop and take a moment to acknowledge and enjoy the awesome presence of God in our lives, where our makom, our “place'” may be.


Susan Elkodsi is a rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion. This D’var Torah is in honor of the 40th anniversary of her bat mitzvah ceremony.