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Journey Here, Journey Now

The poet David Whyte writes:
Pilgrim is a word that accurately describes the average human being; someone on their way somewhere else, but someone never quite knowing whether the destination or the path stands first in importance; someone who underneath it all doesn't quite understand from whence or from where their next bite of bread will come, someone dependent on help from absolute strangers and from those who travel with them. Most of all, a pilgrim is someone abroad in a world of impending revelation where something is about to happen.
Likewise, one of the Torah’s great themes is that of journeying. We are traveling to a place (the land of Israel) to which we never fully arrive. And when our patriarchs do arrive at this long sought-after destination their arrival proves only temporary.

Our arrival always remains unfulfilled. The destination remains but a dream.

This week, we discover Jacob who becomes Israel is forever journeying.

The young Jacob is now on the run after deceiving his father Isaac and tricking his brother Esau out of the birthright. He is rightly terrified Esau might kill him and so sets out on a journey to his mother’s hometown. Somewhere on his way to Haran from Beersheva, he stops for the night. God appears to him in a dream.

We do not know where Jacob stops. The Torah reports: “He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set.” (Genesis 28) And yet it is here, in this apparently nondescript place, that he experiences God and gains reassurance from God’s promise.

This place is of course not located in an ordinary place. It is found in the promised land of Israel. “The ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring.” We do not know its GPS coordinates. We might not know where exactly Jacob rested for night and where he experienced God. We do know that it lies within the borders of the promised land.

Perhaps this place is not as nondescript as we were first led to believe.

The story concludes with the most curious of lines. “He named that site Bethel (meaning the house of God) but previously the name of the city had been Luz.”

Jacob arrived at a city? How did he not know this? Why did he sleep on the cold, desert floor when he was in fact in a city? Was he too exhausted to find lodging? Was he too distracted to search for bread from a stranger? Why is this detail only revealed in the story’s conclusion?

Did Jacob’s fear prevent him from seeing that he was within this city all along?

Perhaps the Torah’s message is that we have already arrived but don’t know it. Our fears prevent us from seeing. Again and again, we refuse to open our eyes to the revelations standing right in front of us.

Traveling is great. Our get-togethers with friends are often filled with such tales of adventure. “You have to go to Mexico City. Our trip to London was fantastic.” Often, we set out on such trips to discover meaning and find beauty.

Then again, maybe we are already where we need to travel.

Our journey is not about going somewhere. It is instead about discovering inspiration here and now.

The journey is where we stand. Now!

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