When Jacob was on his way to Charan, fleeing the wrath of his brother Esau, the Torah in this week’s Parsha relates how “Vayifga Bamakom-he confronted the place.” Commentators grapple with this unusual expression and provide diverse explanations as to what “confronting the place” means. If it were to simply mean that he arrived in a specific location, it could have written simply, “And he arrived at the place,” or “he came to the place.” What message does the Torah wish to convey when it says that he “confronted” or “bumped in” to the place?
Some commentators explain that it means that he came to this place unexpectedly. Rashi adds that the place — the ultimate site of the Holy Temple — actually “jumped” to come towards him.
We must realize that G-d does not perform miracles unnecessarily. The fact that he chanced on this piece of land suggests that his relationship with the location was not a casual and predictable one, but, G-d had to serve as a Shadchan (matchmaker) of sorts to bring them together.
We must try to understand what is the message for us in the realization that Jacob was brought together with the land.
Furthermore, the Torah relates in this verse that Jacob “stayed overnight there, for the sun had set.” Rashi explains that G-d had caused the sun to set early so as to compel Jacob to sleep in this holy place.” Once again, it becomes clear that G-d was “overriding” His own natural order to bring Jacob to this place. What was G-d’s objective and how does it relate to us?
To understand the significance of Jacob’s “bumping in” to this holy site, we should refer to Rashi’s other rendition of the Hebrew word Vayifga to mean that he prayed. Rashi further states that Jacob then instituted the evening service. Here too we are entitled to ask, what connection does the word “confronting” have with prayer and what is Rashi trying to teach us when he states that Jacob then instituted the evening service?
The answer to all of the above lies in a better understanding of the primary obstacle that prevents us from reaching “the place” and thereby realizing our spiritual goals. It can be summed up in one word. Intimidation. Intimidation is the primary reason for so many people’s reluctance to frequent the synagogues and Houses of Study or to otherwise connect with “the place,” the special place G-d had in mind for us to be at, but from which we might be quite distant.
While there are some who have no interest in climbing the spiritual ladder — the ladder was part of Jacob’s dream that is recounted in this week’s Parsha — most keep away from the spiritual locations because of fear.
For some it is the fear of the unknown. For others it is the fear that they will have to change their lifestyles that they have become so accustomed to, to enter into a new world. And for a third group, the fear is that they are unworthy and would be rejected. In their minds, they do not have what it takes to meet the challenge.
Whatever the cause of the fear, it is what prevents us from realizing our souls’ dreams. It is the single most significant factor that prevents us from coming closer to G-d.
Jacob, the Patriarch of the Jewish People, had to make the breakthrough for all future generations. It was Jacob — whose name is etymologically related to the idea of “breaking through” — who G-d made sure would “bump in” to the holiest place on earth, the future site of the Holy Temple at the most unexpected time. This means that Jacob demonstrated that even when you least likely consider or expect to be at this special location, G-d will make it happen. Jacob’s unexpected confrontation with “the place” paved the way for us to realize unexpected goals.
And what did Jacob do there? He prayed the evening service. This symbolizes that even when it is dark, a time that is associated with fear and uncertainty, we can still connect to G-d; we can still erect the ladder that connects earth to heaven.
The lesson for our generation in particular is a poignant one.
We have been reminded by our spiritual leaders that we are living in momentous times; at the tail end of exile, approaching the beginning of the Messianic age of Redemption. Recent world events have only served to reinforce this belief. Yet, we are also overcome with feelings of fear and trepidation. It may be fear of the unknown: What will life be like in the Messianic Age? Or perhaps it is the fear that our lives will change forever? Will we still retain our jobs, ambitions etc.? And occasionally it is fear that we are unworthy.
Yet everything around us compels us to realize that we have “bumped into the place,” that we are living in unprecedented times and are poised to enter into a very special era of closeness to G-d. We can see how we have been “thrust” into this new “location” and time.
What should our response be?
We should follow Jacob’s example. While Jacob was also fearful, as the Torah itself testifies, nevertheless, he regained his composure and instituted the evening service. By doing this, he essentially declared for posterity that “even, nay especially, when it is dark, we must and can enter into a state of connection with G-d and bring about the fulfillment of the ultimate “dream” — the imminent coming of Moshiach.