Not Your Parents’ Mount Moriah

This portion, which begins our ancestor Jacob’s transition into young adulthood, is one of the great journeys in the story of the Jewish People. Jacob sets out from his parents’ home in Beersheva, the only home he has ever known, fleeing for his very life. He is headed to the household of his mother’s brother Laban, more than a days’ travel away. On Day One, seeing that the sun is about to set, Jacob stops to rest for the night at a spot called Luz.

And so, because this is a foundational story, to our sages, Luz is not just Luz. It holds mythical significance on two levels-personal (to Jacob) and communal (to our People) level. RASHI, in his commentary on Genesis 28:11, contends that the phrase “he encountered the place (vayifga bamakom)” refers to Mount Moriah. Mount Moriah is where the Akedah took place-when Jacob’s father Isaac had been bound and offered as sacrifice to God by his own father. In stopping to rest for the night at this spot in the desert, Jacob went to sleep in a place that most likely haunted his father every day of his life.

On a communal level, Mount Moriah represents the testing of Abraham’s faith, the betrayal of a son by his father, the shocking action that hastened Sarah’s death. But on a personal level, Mount Moriah can represent a place of life trauma, a moment in time in which the world as one knows it ceases to make sense. Occurring during wartime or peacetime, such a betrayal causes a shattering of worldview, and a loss of hopes and dreams. Even for those who go on to thrive by finding new meaning and a shift in identity afterward, one’s own Mount Moriah remains one of life’s turning points, whether hidden away as secret or openly told.

And what happens when Jacob stops to rest for the night at this place, his father’s Mount Moriah? Jacob encounters God, and he says, “Truly, God was in this place, and I did not even know (Achein, yesh Adonai bamakom hazeh v’anochi lo yadati).” Members of every generation, as they come of age, seem to head toward an encounter with their parents’ Mount Moriah. Not always knowing the reasons why, they fling the gates wide open and explore the place for themselves. It seems to be a necessary part of the journey if they are to fully inhabit who they are and embrace who they are meant to become. It is from that place that great healing and insight takes root. Who knew?

Written for and presented at Shomrei Torah Synagogue in Los Angeles, California.

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