Parashat Vayeitzei opens with Jacob journeying from Beersheba to Haran. As the sun sets, he decides to spend the night outside in “the place,” hamakom, where he happens to be, resting his head on one of the stones that he has found there. The biblical text doesn’t tell us the name of this place. Presumably, Jacob himself does not know it. Yet it becomes clear in the next few verses that where exactly this place is and what it is called isn’t important. For after Jacob wakes up the next morning from a dream in which he encounters God, he comes to the life-changing realization that the Eternal is present in this place. “God is here although I didn’t know it initially,” Jacob thinks to himself. “Indeed, this awe-inspiring place is none other than the house of God” (paraphrasing Genesis 28:16-17).
How do we feel God’s presence? It’s easy to envy Jacob’s dream, and his waking realization that he has been close to the Divine.
Arthur Green, in his Introduction to the Zohar, describes mystical experiences as, “striving toward oneness, a breaking down of illusory barriers to reveal the great secret of the unity of all being.” I think about Jacob’s experience in that light. It is a moment in which he understands that he is part of something bigger, and that his life’s journey has meaning.