Parashat Vayetzei opens with Jacob running for his life. Having just stolen Esau’s birthright and procured his father Isaac’s blessing, Jacob is fearful that Esau is seeking revenge. Panting for breath, thirsty, hungry, exhausted, and absolutely terrified, Jacob’s journey brings him to an area in the wilderness. In this trying moment of fear and solitude, Jacob is comforted by God’s presence. As Jacob rests his head on a rock and settles down to sleep with the harsh gravel of the earth digging into his skin, he dreams of a ladder stretching from the ground to the heavens. Angels are going up and down on this ladder and God is standing over him. God says to Jacob, “Behold I am with you, and will keep you in all places where you go…I will not leave you…” (Genesis 28:15). In this trying moment, all alone in the wilderness, Jacob discovers that God is watching over him. Eleventh century rabbinic commentator Rashi suggests that when God says, “I am with you,” God recognizes that Jacob is afraid (Rashi on Genesis 28:15). God knows that Jacob requires a comforting presence in order to help him through this difficult time.
Jacob’s predicament resonates with many of us. We face moments in our lives in which we are unable to see where we are going. When we are afraid, and we find ourselves lost in the darkness of the wilderness, it is often difficult for us to sense God’s presence. Although we try to find comfort from God, God also becomes the recipient of our anger. Although we cry out to God in distress, we also yell, scream, and curse. And even as we attempt to cleave to God when we need God most, we also dismiss God, and blame God for our loss and our suffering. Yet according to the Babylonian Talmud, such behaviour is both expected and acceptable. Tractate Baba Batra teaches us, “A man is not held responsible for what he says in the hour of his distress” (Baba Batra 16b). Venting is healthy because it enables us to express our grief and anxiety, along with all of our emotions, rather than containing them inside of us.
When we find ourselves lost amidst the darkness of the wilderness, let us express what words we must, recognizing that God is present and God may serve as a receptacle for all the emotions we feel (however strongly we may feel them). For just as the sun sets, so too is the sun destined to rise again. As we awaken to a new day, filled with light and promise, may we be capable of looking at moments of our lives and recognize, like Jacob, “Surely God was in this place, and perhaps I did not know it (Genesis 28:16).