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Learning to nourish the voice within

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It was Israel Zangwill, the close associate of Theodore Herzl, who said that the Jewish people were “a people without a land”. We are a wandering nation. As Paul Johnson, in his seminal History of the Jews notes – after the Roman sacking of the Second Temple, the Jewish nation began the long and arduous journey of life as a nomocracy. Our national history, as Jews, has been defined by hardships and the murky shadow of exile. There is hardly a part of the globe, where we have not endured persecution and the bitterness of being a nation in exile.

The Parsha of Vayeitzei is known as ‘the portion of exile’. It is characterised by the fact the portion is sealed, with no breaks or paragraphs in the passage, like the experience of exile, it seems to be endless. The keystone of the parsha is a well-trodden tale where Jacob finds himself on the run from Esau:

He came upon a certain place and slept there… He had a dream; a ladder was set on the ground and its top reached heavenwards, and angels of God were going up and down on it. (Bereishit 28:12-15)

Many Rabbis, over the centuries, have attempted to expound this popular passage. One, offered by the Midrash, is that Jacob was envisioning the Jewish people, his very descendants, in exile. The ascending and descending angels represent the four empires – the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Assyrians and finally the Romans. Each one of these empires initially vanquished the Jewish people; but eventually they fall and disappear, as bygone emblems of an empire. G-d offers Jacob and the Jewish people encouragement for the exile: “I will be with you”. There are striking similarities between the experience of Jacob and his son Joseph. Both have dreams preceding their banishment into exile. Both gain redemption through their dreams.

However, as I reflect on this story, I ask myself: what does exile mean for me........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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