This verb yifga carries with it a punch, quite literally. For much more than mere arrival or encounter, yifga connotes a sense of collision – of two objects striking each other. It is no mistake that this verb shares its root with the modern Hebrew term for terrorist attack, pegua, and for injured– nifga.
Last year the war with Gaza coincided with this week's parsha. It had been a week of collisions, from the actual and awful exchange of explosives, to the more subtle yet still-insidious throng of words launched at us in the media and online.
I realized that that essential verb yifga colored my entire understanding of that week, that war, of the nature of the conflict that riddles this Land.
For this is one of the Torah’s defining stories of relationship with the Land of Israel. First, “the place” that strikes Jacob is no less than Mt. Moriah, the historic site of the binding of Isaac and of the Temple itself. And what’s more, the core content of God’s message to Jacob is nothing less than the promise that this land is given to his seed. (See full text below.) This vision is at once a mystic glimpse of the corridor connecting heaven and earth, as well as the highly political promise of Jewish possession of the Land of Israel.
As such, it is really no wonder that our current-day experience of “the place” is one so terribly fraught with violence, with awe and intensity. Just as Jacob collided with this spot, so too we do collide with this Land. Just as this was for Jacob the site of his father’s fearful binding, and also a place of holiness and prayer, so too for so many of us, to be in Israel is to be struck, to be flooded, by both a sense of prayerfulness and fear.
Jacob wakes up after his astounding dream and exclaims, “God is in this place and I did not know it.” He is filled with fear and adds, ‘Mah nora hamakom hazeh’. How awesome, how awful, is this place, the house of God…”
All too often we do not “know” that God is truly housed here. Certainly the evening news and trends of world-opinion would say the opposite. Even the uber-holy Jacob didn’t get it! Even Jacob admits he did not apprehend G!d here. That is, not until he was hit by it. Not until that pegua of Mt. Moriah had thoroughly struck him into a state of knowing.
And so perhaps it is with us too. That with each hit, with each pegua, we can access some otherwise inaccessible revelation of the God. I admit that it is arguably absurd to ask or expect that anyone could, or should, behold God in these horrific attacks. And yet, I must speak for myself and say that that week I found solace in this teaching. I found solace in the fact that we have a long religious tradition of mixing prayer and Jerusalem and fear. The violence that accompanies Israel, as unfortunate as it may be, is but a testimony to the fact that this place is full of God, fearsomely full of God.
Yes, that week I could have easily seen myself as a victim of hateful attacks, or as a partaker in a national narrative of violence. Or I could stretch for significance in the face of all that violent absurdity. I could close my eyes and dream God into this place. I could envision the ladder connecting all this dross of worldliness to something so much higher.
Yes, this place is awesome. Yes, like Jacob, my voice cracks with fear. And yes, like Jacob, I utter an affirmation that God is here. Even with each fresh pegua, “God is here.”
Count me as one who has
with this mountain,
with this gravelly amalgam
of prayer and fear.
A place so revered
for 3-thousand years
that I have no choice
but to stop in my tracks
and pay homage
to the impact
And though the truth
in the conflict
and her spinning dust
yet I have glimpsed enough
to know that
this is none other than
the House of God.
she is replete with
and safe rooms
where huddled children
howl as sirens sound
and war looms.
this is our sacred ground.
Rattled and riddled
with bullets and shrapnel
ironically and eternally
by the prattle
of our enemies.
This place is our very own concoction
of awful and awesome.
Of blessing and foreboding
All folded up
As we sleep upon
our rocky beds
For we have been granted
the vision of prophets
at this collision spot
of pain & promise.
God has opened our eyes
to behold the ladder
that we might exclaim,
“God was here all along
And I, I did not know.”
And so we find refuge
in this sacrament
of dirge and dirt.
at this monument
collides with earth.
10. And Jacob left Beer sheba, and he went to Haran.
י. וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּלֶךְ חָרָנָה:
11. And he arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place.
יא. וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם וַיָּלֶן שָׁם כִּי בָא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וַיִּקַּח מֵאַבְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם וַיָּשֶׂם מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו וַיִּשְׁכַּב בַּמָּקוֹם הַהוּא:
12. And he dreamed, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.
יב. וַיַּחֲלֹם וְהִנֵּה סֻלָּם מֻצָּב אַרְצָה וְרֹאשׁוֹ מַגִּיעַ הַשָּׁמָיְמָה וְהִנֵּה מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים עֹלִים וְיֹרְדִים בּוֹ:
13. And behold, the Lord was standing over him, and He said, "I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land upon which you are lying to you I will give it and to your seed.
יג. וְהִנֵּה יְהֹוָה נִצָּב עָלָיו וַיֹּאמַר אֲנִי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ וֵאלֹהֵי יִצְחָק הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שֹׁכֵב עָלֶיהָ לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה וּלְזַרְעֶךָ:
14. And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall gain strength westward and eastward and northward and southward; and through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth and through your seed.
יד. וְהָיָה זַרְעֲךָ כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ וּפָרַצְתָּ יָמָּה וָקֵדְמָה וְצָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כָּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה וּבְזַרְעֶךָ:
15. And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you."
טו. וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ וַהֲשִׁבֹתִיךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה הַזֹּאת כִּי לֹא אֶעֱזָבְךָ עַד אֲשֶׁר אִם עָשִׂיתִי אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי לָךְ:
16. And Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said, "Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know [it]."
טז. וַיִּיקַץ יַעֲקֹב מִשְּׁנָתוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר אָכֵן יֵשׁ יְהֹוָה בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וְאָנֹכִי לֹא יָדָעְתִּי:
17. And he was frightened, and he said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."