Vayetsei: Once you dreamed

Jacob…set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it. And the Lord was standing beside him and He said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac… All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Bereishit 28:10-15)

Once, at the mating time of the flocks, I had a dream in which I saw that the he-goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled, and mottled. And in the dream an angel of God said to me, ‘Jacob!’ ‘Here,’ I answered. And he said, ‘Note well that all the he-goats which are mating with the flock are streaked, speckled, and mottled; for I have noted all that Laban has been doing to you. I am the God of Beth-el, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now, arise and leave this land and return to your native land.'”(Bereishit 31:10-13)

Twenty years have vanished
since you dreamed. You saw
the ladder, bridging
earth and heaven.
Lying on the rocky ground
and staring at the star-splashed sky,
you heard the sigh of angel wings
and vowed to span both mortal
and Divine.

But now you picture goats:
herds of beasts – mottled,
speckled, streaked;
your gaze is focused downwards, as
you hear their endless cropping,
gnawing on the foreign verdant sward.
Against this earthly backdrop
floats the echo of your name
and when you wake, you know

you must return
and resurrect your dream.


Parashat Vayetsei contains two dreams both dreamed by Jacob. The first of these, which opens the parasha, is of the ladder reaching from earth to heaven. This vision is well-known and has been a rich source of commentary as well as artistic and literary expositions. The second dream, however, is far less well-known. In a commentary on Vayetsei, http://learn.jtsa.edu/content/commentary/vayetzei/5775/reclaiming-our-dreams, Marc Gary suggests that the latter dream is no less significant.
When the parasha opens, Jacob has fled from Esau’s wrath and set out for Haran. Night falls, so he stops and lies down with his head on a stone, and dreams. In his dream, he sees the stairway that connects earth with heaven and on which angels are ascending and descending. God stands beside him and promises to protect Jacob on his journey into exile and back home. (Bereishit 28:12–15) Jacob awakens with a sense of awe and realizes that God is present and he is at the “gateway to heaven”. Jacob consecrates the stone on which he had laid his head and names the place Bethel (House of God) (Bereishit 28:16–19).
The Torah then proceeds to recount the details of Jacob’s life in the next two decades, at the house of his scheming uncle, Laban. Gary notes, “They are years of treachery, deceit, exploitation, and fear. They are pivotal years in Jacob’s life — years in which Jacob confronts who he is and sees in Laban what he will become if he doesn’t pull back from the abyss.”
Gary turns to the second dream: “It is 20 years later. Jacob has been living in Haran as a part of Laban’s household and he has learned the true meaning of treachery. First, he worked as a virtual slave for Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel, only to find on his wedding day that he has been tricked into marrying Leah. Jacob must toil for seven more years to earn Rachel’s hand. Even after that, Jacob continues to be exploited by Laban, taking care of Laban’s flocks while he makes his uncle wealthy. The Torah tells us that Laban adjusted his wages 10 times — and I can guarantee that he wasn’t giving Jacob a raise. Finally, Jacob insists on getting a piece of the action for himself. He cuts a deal with Laban: Jacob will keep the speckled and spotted goats — which were quite rare — and Laban can keep all the others. Laban agrees, but either through God’s beneficence, folkloric magic, or a combination of the two, Jacob is successful and ends up with a large flock of speckled and spotted goats.”

And then Jacob has a dream, which he relates to Rachel and Leah, in which he sees the male goats mating with the flocks that are streaked, speckled, and mottled. And then an angel calls Jacob’s name, and intimates that God has seen how Jacob has been deceived by Laban, and has instigated the successful breeding of the rarer animals, and then reminds Jacob of Bethel, and tells him to return from exile (Bereishit 31:10–13).

Gary wonders what the angel in Jacob’s dream was saying, and suggests, “In my view, the angel was telling Jacob, “You remember Beth El, don’t you Jacob? You remember where you dreamed of a stairway to heaven? Now what do you dream about? Spotted goats that make you wealthy. You are dreaming of your bank account; you are dreaming of the stock market. You have forgotten how to truly dream. Worse, you have betrayed your dreams! You cannot stay in this place. Go back to where you can dream great dreams again!”
He continues, “Like Jacob, we all dream great dreams in our youth when we begin life’s journey in earnest. We dream of building a better world, easing suffering, creating new communities, finding God. But often those dreams slip away and are replaced with dreams of stock market bonanzas and BMWs — speckled goats. The parashah teaches us that when we cease to dream of stairways to heaven and instead become obsessed with material goods, we must take drastic steps. We must leave that place — spiritually, if not physically — and return to where we can dream again.”

In her book My Grandfather’s Blessings, Dr Rachel Naomi Remen describes part of a research study that she conducted, in which she asked a group of over seventy physicians to rate a list of twenty-three values in order of importance in their lives, and she asked them to repeat the task with regard to their work. These values included love, power, competence, control, wisdom, happiness, kindness, fame, success.
Dr Remen noted that none of the respondents’ two lists were identical and were actually often markedly different. So she says that while kindness might be number three on someone’s personal list, it might only score fifteen on the list of work values; and while competence might be the premier work value, it might be the last on someone’s personal list. These physicians were perturbed when they realized that they lived in one way and believed in another. She says that the exercise highlighted this discrepancy for the first time, and when they mulled it over, a surprising number discounted the possibility of actually living by the values they deemed important. Dr Remen cites one participant’s comment: “Life diminishes you,” and Dr Remen adds, “But, of course, only with your permission.” She adds, “What is true of these doctors is, I think, true of us all. The experience of sacrificing integrity to expediency is one that many people have daily.”
Dr Remen continues, “Integrity is an ongoing process, a dynamic happening over time that requires our ongoing attention. A medical colleague describing his own experience of staying true to himself told me that he thinks of his life as an orchestra. Reclaiming his integrity reminds him of that moment before the concert when the concertmaster asks the oboist to sound an A. “At first there is chaos and noise as all the parts of the orchestra try to align themselves with that note. But as each instrument moves closer and closer to it, the noise diminishes and when they all finally sound it together, there is a moment of rest, of homecoming.
“”That is what it feels like to me,” he told me. “I am always tuning my orchestra. Somewhere deep inside there is a sound that is mine alone, and I struggle daily to hear it and tune my life to it. Sometimes there are people and situations that help me to hear my note more clearly; other time people and situations make it harder for me to hear. A lot depends on my commitment to listening and my intention to stay coherent with this note. It is only when my life is tuned to my note that I can play life’s mysterious and holy music without tainting it with my own discordance, my own bitterness, resentment, agenda and fears.””
Dr Remen concludes, “Deep inside, our integrity sings to us whether we are listening or not. It is a note that only we can hear. Eventually, when life makes us ready to listen, it will help us to find our way home.”

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