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March 23, 2006

The Quality of Gossamer
By Linda Shriner-Cahn

Jacob comes to an unnamed spot, running to an ill-defined future,
from a traumatic past. Everything is unsure. He has no moorings. He is
untethered, and then he puts a rock on the ground, rests his head,
dreams, and is transformed.

‘God was in this place and I, I did not know it.’ (Gen. 28:16’as translated by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner)

Jacob has a dream, a strange dream. It disconcerts him; it makes him
shudder. What does he dream? He dreams of a stairway that goes between
heaven and earth, with angels going up and down and God standing next
to him. It is almost too much, but there is more. God speaks and
promises him the future.

‘God was in this place and I, I did not know it.’

Jacob wakes from his dream and knows that he has experienced
something truly extraordinary, but he can’t hold on to it, can’t
sustain it. So he tries to make it last by building an altar to mark
the experience.

What is it about dreams that have the power to transform? Could it
be that when we dream, time as we know it stops and we are no longer
rushing wildly into the future? Is it that we exist only in the now and
possibly, just possibly, get a glimpse of the divine?

We experience an epiphany, a moment of clarity, and it has the
quality of gossamer. It cannot be grasped too tightly or it will
disappear. Yet these moments have the power to transform, if we only
let them in.

But Jacob is young and unsure, not fully formed. All Jacob can do is
ask that God take care of him and return him safely to his father’s
house. Then, only then, will God be his God.

Sometimes, at the most powerful moments, we do not know how to
respond. Jacob is at a loss. He does not want to lose his moment. He
wants, needs to be taken care of. He wants guarantees. There aren’t
any. There never are.

All we can do is realize that ‘God was in this place, and I, I did
not know it.’ and allow ourselves to be transformed. Sometimes it is
enough to bless the moment.

Shabbat Shalom.