D’var Torah: Opening our minds to divine inspiration

Rabbi Ari Hendin

Rabbi Ari Hendin

As the Torah portion Vayetzei (Gen. 28:10 – 32:3) opens, our spiritual ancestor, Jacob, is running from his brother, Esau’s, wrath after obtaining his brother’s birthright blessing by trickery. Jacob makes camp, and has an amazing dream: angels are going up and down from heaven to earth on a ladder, while God tells Jacob he will be blessed with many descendants, and with land. When he awakens, Jacob says, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it!” He now realizes that the seemingly ordinary dirt upon which he slept and the rock he had used as a pillow were none other than “the abode of God” and “the gateway to heaven”!

During my childhood and adolescence I struggled with the idea of God. Raised as a Christian, I found myself unable to connect with either Jesus or the church. By high school I questioned the existence of God altogether. Yet one day, as I dissected a frog in biology class, I remember thinking how amazing its organs were, and I had an inexplicable feeling that I was encountering divinity! I had a similar feeling of divine awe when I first saw the Grand Canyon. During these moments, I felt certain there is something greater than us humans, that keeps this world from being totally random, and connects us all to one another. Perhaps you, too, have had a “God was in this place and I did not know it,” moment.

Such spiritual “awakenings” are certainly easier to achieve when we witness miracles such as birth, or the grandeur of nature. But what about in the every day moments? Are we awake to the ways in which God shows up for us in the mundane? Jewish Spiritual Direction or Hashpa’ah/Divine Flow is a method designed to help us tap into the spiritual dimension of life, to notice how The Divine shows up for us-moments which otherwise might go unnoticed. Through working with my own spiritual director, what I once would have labeled as “chance meetings” or “coincidences,” I now see as bashert/meant to be. When the right person shows up in my life at just the right time, I now see the Holy One at work.

A spiritual director’s role is that of a companion and witness to another’s spiritual journey, rather than that of counselor. Spiritual direction is about discerning the presence of divinity and inviting God, Spirit, Shechinah, or whatever one calls holiness, into one’s life with greater awareness. Holiness can be found in life’s difficult and challenging moments, as well as in the joyous ones. Focused kavannah/intention helps infuse mundane activities, such as eating and exercising, with holiness. Through spiritual awakening, we can notice the presence of holiness in our own lives, and more clearly see the pinimiyut/sparks of holiness within others.

Parashat Vayetzei

Rabbi Ari Hendin is Song Leader for Shir Hadash, a Jewish educator, and a Spiritual Director-in-Training. More information on Spiritual Direction can be found at www.sdiworld.org.