A ‘conversation’ on the parsha with luminaries of Torah scholarship

Rabbi Justin Kerber


I noticed something peculiar in the story of our ancestor Jacob’s young adult life. “And G!d went up from him.” (Gen. 35:13) It looked almost as if God “lifted off” from him. Could it really be, I wondered, that with the ending of Jacob’s conflicts with his brother Esau and his uncle Laban came the ending of his prophetic gift? Could reconciliation with relatives mean estrangement from God? As I mused, I began to gaze out my window.

“C’est possible,” murmured a strangely familiar voice.

My head snapped back to attention so fast my molars rattled. There sat across from me a gentleman dressed in odd medieval clothes.

“Who are you?” was my first coherent question. “Ben-Israel” he answered. “Rabbi Shlomo ben-Israel, of Troy-iss, France. He spoke an odd combination of Hebrew and French. But not like the French we studied in high school; it was more like the archaic French in legal jargon – like “attorney” or “voir dire.”

“I have no idea what this verse teaches us,” he went on.

“Mi señor,” came another voice. “Look at Genesis 17:22. The same phrase is applied to Avraham Avinu, our father Abraham, to make it clear that this was no vision or dream, but could only be prophecy. Since God had spoken to him and lovingly embraced him in the place that he stood – that place is also where God departed from him.’ Just like Ezekiel says (3:22), and so do we: “Blessed be the Glory of God from this place.”

This stranger, too, wore medieval garb. He spoke an odd, antiquated Spanish. Yet he, too, was somehow familiar. “ben-Nachman,” he introduced himself. “Moisés ben-Nachman, of Jerona, España.”

“OK,” I breathed, my head spinning. “So Jacob has come full-circle, so to speak: he received prophecy as he left the land of Israel, he receives it as he comes back. But has he lost something precious?”

“Hen, hen,” giggled a third voice. Had I had gone mad? Floating above us on a Persian carpet and smoking a hookah sat a tiny man grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

“Levi Yitzchak,” he said, “from Berditschev. Did someone say ‘Ezekiel’?” Suddenly, his flying carpet became an impossible contraption of wheels like gyroscopes, pulled by grotesque, terrifying creatures. “Zeke saw the wheel? Abe and Jake saw it, too!” “Hen, Hen,” he giggled again, letting out another puff of smoke, “A visit by the Merkavah – God’s mystical chariot!”

“Gentlemen, please!” I waved my hands to clear the smoke, and coughed. “You’ve taught me so much! Now I see what happened, and how and why. But I’ll ask again: Is it possible that Jacob, in gaining reconciliation and maturity, also loses something he treasures? Even though he is fulfilling his destiny, will peace elude him? Will he yearn for an intimacy with God that he can never have again?”

C’est possible,” murmured Rashi again. “The Torah was once in our hands, but now it’s in yours. Hold on tight, and don’t forget to pass it along. I will not contradict you. I have no idea what this verse teaches us.”