Torah: Your personal gateway to heaven
Rabbi Paul Tuchman suggests paying attention to the everyday miracles around you as a starting point for your personal encounters with God.
What’s on your computer screen, when you turn it on? What is your background, your “wallpaper?” What did you choose for your screen saver?
Is it your company logo? A green hill with blue sky? One of the pictures or designs preselected by the manufacturer? Do you just adore those flying toasters?
Or have you chosen your own background, something you want to see and enjoy from day to day? Maybe something that you find particularly meaningful or beautiful, something that gives you a sense of inner peace or a sense of mission? Something that can give you a moment of uplift or relief from trouble?
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On my screen, I’ve placed personal encounters with God. At various times, I’ve had a Hubble photo of the “Pillars of Creation,” a late Rembrandt self-portrait (the eyes as the mirror of the soul) and a landscape from my beloved Sonoran desert.
This Shabbat, we read about Jacob’s flight from home. We have seen him through the tumultuous story of conniving, jealousy and deceit. Now, with Esau’s threat — in contemporary terms, “Just wait till Abba dies; I’m gonna kill that kid!”— ringing in his ears, Jacob is alone, afraid and in the dark.
On his first night out, he dreams of a stairway to heaven and God standing near him, promising land, descendants, protection and blessing.
Jacob awakens and exclaims, “Surely God is present in this place, and I did not know it! … This is none other than … the gateway to heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17)
No matter what happened to Jacob afterward — as he will say to Pharaoh, “Few and hard have been the years of my life” — he could look back to this experience for comfort and security.
Where do you encounter God? Where do you go, in reality or in your imagination, to experience a divine moment? Where is your personal gateway to heaven?
If you don’t know, try this as a starting point: paying attention to the everyday miracles around you, nissim b’khol yom. Waking. Breathing. Your wondrous body, no matter how well or ill it is functioning. Being human. Being a Jew. God is in all of these.
Jacob responded to his divine encounter by setting up as a monument the stone he had used as a pillow, and proclaiming it to be Bet El, the House of God. (28:18-19) That stone became a k’li kodesh, a sacred vessel.
I’m suggesting that even your computer screen can be a k’li kodesh and a gateway to heaven, a reminder that, no matter how good or bad you feel, you have access to God.
“God is in this place!” Jacob came to know this, and now you know it, too.
Shabbat shalom! PJC
Rabbi Paul Tuchman is spiritual leader at Temple B’nai Israel in White Oak. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.