Jacob dreams of a ladder touching the ground which reaches the heavenly spheres. Angels go up and down, and it’s a deep spiritual moment for him.

He wakes, pours oil on a pile of stones, and anoints the place.

I’m not sure that would have been my first reaction to a heavenly visitation, but that’s what he does.

We Israelites are freed from Egyptian oppression. We leave in a flurry of plagues, miracles and walls of splitting water. And what do we do?

We sit at the table each year, eat a paste of nuts, apples and wine, squeeze horseradish between two matzah slices, and recite from a book that’s shared at tables all over the world.

For Jacob, he’s had an experience he can never replicate. From the depths of his soul he wants to remember and mark that place. Perhaps he plans a return, or wants to someday bring his unborn children, to witness the place at which his inner transformation started.

We Israelites experienced a phenomenal reversal. Living as slaves, we were freed. Our overlords drown. The great Pharaoh is reduced to a defeated onlooker. During the ensuing escape, we accept a constitution which brings us and the world a new way of life. It’s a starling whirlwind.

In both cases, awesome occurrences must be turned into a manageable, transmittable ritual and memory which we can both handle and pass on.

We repeat these rituals to remind us of those transcendent moments. By repeating them we add to their power. Yet the repetition and sameness robs our rituals of the very transcendence we are attempting to remember and re-experience!

How do we repeat the same Friday night prayers every week and feel the reverence we want? How do we return to G-d with the same Amidah prayer every Shabbat morning and make it ‘new’ for us and for G-d?

How can our words, our events, and our special foods – all regulated by the calendar – feel spontaneous and heartfelt each time we try to remember? It’s an impossible combination but we are driven to  keep reaching for it.

This was our group discussion topic during our Sunday morning class – and it was all brought on by a text we were studying about how to light a Menorah.

Blessings and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Mark Biller