Reflections on leaving Temple Beth-El’s Home
Marzy Bauer shares a d’var Torah on parashah Vayetze from earlier this year, around the same time the congregation of Temple Beth-El voted to sell its building, its home of 70+ years.
In the Torah, Jacob is fleeing from danger and confusion he encountered when he left home. In search of his ancestral family, a young Jacob arrives at “a certain place.” The physical and emotional stress of his flight has exhausted him, and he retreats into sleep, there to be confronted by a strange dream. A sulam or ladder appears to him, and “angels of God were going up and down on it. And God was standing beside him.” (28:12) Then Jacob wakes up and with a wonderful expression of awe, proclaims, “Truly, God is in this place, and I did not know it! (Gen. 28:16–17). He goes on to “name the place Beth-El.” (Gen. 28:19)
It shouldn’t be surprising that in his quest for a spiritual experience, Jacob dreams of a ladder. I think one reason this passage in the Torah resonates is because of what a ladder does – it connects. Jacob is bereft – he has been forced to leave his family and his land of birth, he’s all alone and frightened. Then he sees a ladder and finds God beside him.
We have all stood where Jacob was. We’re all looking to connect with something – whether spiritually or humanly. Perhaps each of us has a ladder like Jacob’s that is just waiting for us to grab its nearest rung.
I don’t know why nearly 120 years ago, our founding fathers named this congregation Beth-El. Our congregation is, like Jacob, coming to a different place. We are being asked to dream. What should our dream be about? How do we reconstruct a sacred community in a different place, both physically and mentally? What kind of ladder do we need to build to move us to the place where we can be assured of a fulfilling Jewish future?
Our congregation and community are the result of the collective dreams of those who came before us. My dream is that our congregation will continue to be more than a building, that it will always be a sacred community. As we look to the future, we must not lose sight of what a congregation needs to be: a place of study and learning, a place of welcoming, a place of caring, a place of worship.
My dream is that in all our important concerns about budgets and buildings, we don’t lose the dream of Torah, worship and gemilut hasadim (acts of loving kindness) and ladders to heaven, so that, our Beth-El, like Jacob’s, can be—and always will be—a place where Heaven and Earth can touch.