Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayeitzei
“God wants you to …” What a strange concept. With my human limitations, how can I possibly “know” what God wants? One cannot define the wants or needs of someone without knowing who that someone is. Even (and maybe especially) in religious sectarianism, one can only define what that religion’s take is on some aspect of the Deity. To say that one’s understanding of God is all there is makes God finite and not infinite – it puts God in a box limiting God’s impact on the world to only the boundaries of one believer’s limitations.
So, we get to this week’s Torah portion, and amongst the incredibly rich narrative, one episode always gets to me. Jacob steals his father’s flock and sneaks his family out of camp. After his father-in-law Laban wakes and learns of the treachery, he follows after Jacob. Unbeknownst to Jacob, Rachel, stole her family’s idols as she left. From the text, it appears as if Laban is more concerned over losing his “gods” than his family or flocks. He accepts Jacob’s excuse that leaving resulted from missing his father’s home, but then, “And now that you’ve chosen to leave because you miss your father’s home, why did you steal my gods?” Jacob swears an oath that he knows nothing about this theft. Laban searches the camp. When he enters Rachel’s tent, she is sitting on the idols and claims she cannot rise for her father, since she is menstruating.
How does one steal God? How does one steal a god and then hide that god in the way that Rachel does? The text says that she stole them –not take them. Using the term “stole” connotes malice – taking something of value with malicious intent. Tradition diverges over whether she stole them to keep Dad from being an idolater or because she still was one and was afraid to be away from her “god.” Either way, Rachel’s actions present us with a conundrum she stole God. Whatever Rachel’s end goal, the text makes it clear that she intended to deprive her father of sacred value.
One cannot dictate another person’s path to faith. Indoctrination may be “religion,” but not all religious behavior roots in faith. Stealing her father’s idols could as likely be done to secure herself as it was to save her father from blaspheming. Of course, Israel does not receive the Ten Commandments for hundreds of years to come, but how would it impact our perception of Rachel as a matriarch, if she worshipped God through idols? What right did Rachel have to determine how her father found God?
We live in a world where we get to experience lots of diverse faith and religious practices because of the diverse people with whom we interact. Each path teems with divinity. To say otherwise would only mean that I lack an appreciation for the breadth of God. While I cannot prove that God does not exist only in someone’s box, that person cannot prove that God does not.
Our only recourse is to appreciate that each of us sees God through our own legitimate lens. We can take exception to how we use our perception of God to include or exclude people from the world of value, but we cannot diminish their perceived relationship with divinity. If anything, our commitment to respect each other will, in and of itself, grow another’s appreciation that God is bigger than any one box, while our denigration will serve only to degrade society further.
I go back to a sacred teaching from the Talmud, “Aelu v’aelu, divrae Elohim Chayim – These words and these words are both the words of the living God.” As a parent, this understanding of a God who communicates with everyone makes a whole lot more sense than claiming that the creator of all likes only a few. Shabbat Shalom.