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“And Jacob awoke from his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.”

Dear Friends,

My teacher Rabbi Larry Kushner tells the story of a man who went to a weekly therapy session every Wednesday for ten years. One day he walked into the office and sat down. He was shaking and his skin was ashen.

“What’s happened?” asked the therapist.

“Didn’t you hear it? Didn’t you hear the screams from the top floor of the building across the street?”

“That building is a hospital and the top floor is the lockdown unit. There are always cries and screams. But for the last ten years you have been so consumed with your own issues that you were unable to hear it.”

I was reminded of this story yesterday afternoon when I returned home from running some errands.

“Did you see it?” Raina asked me.

“See what?” I replied.

“Take a look out back.”

I did, and I was amazed by what I saw. Just that morning the trees in the glen behind my house were still in full “summer mode.” Here we were in the middle of November and they had not only not begun to shed their leaves but the leaves hadn’t even begun to change color.

Now, just a few hours later, every single tree had changed. The leaves were suddenly red, and orange, and green. The glen was alive in color.

But I would have missed it all were it not for Raina suggesting I get out of my head for a few minutes and take the time to really see what was in front of me.

It is a story as old as the Torah itself.

In this week’s portion Jacob has fled his brother Esau. Alone in the wilderness as the sun sets, he places a rock beneath his head and tries to sleep. He dreams a dream and, upon awakening states, “Behold, God was in this place all along but [until now] I, I did not know it.”

Later commentaries note the redundant use of the word “I” and teach that Jacob’s words might better be translated as “God was in this place all along but I was so consumed with myself that, until now, I didn’t realize it.”

The world is filled with miracles waiting to be celebrated. Too often, however, we are either moving too quickly, too focused on the device in our hand or simply too distracted to see, let alone appreciate, what is right in front of us.

This morning I poured myself a cup of coffee, moved a chair to the window and, for the next ten minutes, enjoyed the change of seasons.

Seeing and appreciating the world around us takes effort. As Shabbat approaches there is no better time to slow down, really see the world around us and express gratitude for life’s gifts. For God IS in this place. The question we are asked is, “Are we paying attention?”

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Daniel Cohen