Being Alone

Being Alone...Spending Time with Ourselves and Removing the Distractions so that We Can Hear Our Own Inner Voice - or the Transcendent Voice of God

I’d like you to think of a time in your life when you were alone. Maybe you were away on a trip, or out for a walk, or simply at home by yourself. What was it like to be alone? What did you think about? Did you try to fill the space with distractions to make up for the solitude. 

I have a feeling that most of us don’t like being alone. I’m not talking about being lonely – I am talking about spending time with ourselves and removing the distractions which fill our lives with noise so that we cannot hear our own inner voice – or the transcendent voice of God.

The truth is, Judaism is not a religion which emphasizes solitude. We traditionally begin and end our day in a minyan with others. 

As Parshat Vayetze opens, Jacob flees from his father’s camp. For the first time in his life, he is alone.

Jacob grew up surrounded by people. As a homebody he rarely left his mother’s side. Living in a tribal encampment there were always people around. Even when he rose in the middle of the night, he was aware of the people sleeping in the tents around him. Privacy was unheard of in a tribal enclave.

Now, standing on alone somewhere between the only home he had ever known and his uncle Laban’s homestead in Haran, Jacob hoped that someone, even a stranger would pass by. He remembered the story of the angelic strangers who visited Abraham before his father was born. Where were they now? Jacob was not only alone but he was lonely and scared.

In his alone-ness, Jacob encounters God. Lying down to sleep, he dreams of a sulam, a ladder that reaches to heaven. And there he encounters God, who reassures him, “I am with you and will bring you back to this land…” In the morning Jacob awakes with a start, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know!”

It is in the wilderness that our forefather learns to listen to his own inner voice and to discern the presence of God in his life. These encounters teach him that solitude is a necessary part of our spiritual development.

Solitude is not unique to Jacob. Moses encounters God in the wilderness when he comes upon the burning bush. Jonah discovers God from the belly of a fish and prays. And Elijah hears the still small voice of God while hiding in a cave in the desert. Each one returns from solitude with a new sense of mission and purpose. Each gains a deeper understanding of his self.

We live in a world where we now depend on solitude. Yes, we can reach out and make calls and see each other over zoom but it is certainly not the same as seeing people panim el panim and being able to touch them. Television and internet are our meeting places. We can always find to do so that we are never spiritually alone. I pray that during the day of Thanksgiving which we celebrate this week; that as we notice all that we are grateful for, we try to find space for ourselves. This has been an extraordinarily challenging year, may we see in the challenges that God, was always by our side.


Blessings – Where do blessings come from? Where do they go? What is their source of power? What is their effect?

Where do blessings come from? Where do they go? What is their source of power? What is their effect?

While our tradition mandates that we pronounce blessings of all kinds and for all kinds of reasons, the blessings that we utter, as we bless God, invariably begin “Barukh attah Adonai… – You, Eternal God, abound in blessing.” Thus, the blessings originated by our tradition proclaim God to be the origin of blessing. And we pray incessantly that we, or the ones we love or the land, may be blessed.

Isaac, our second Patriarch, is, indeed, recognized as someone blessed by God- in spite of his lackluster character. The locals, after concluding a peace covenant with Isaac, proclaim: “You are now the blessed one of the Eternal.” (Gen. 26:29) But is Isaac’s status – as someone blessed by God – simply being acknowledged, or is Isaac’s status achieved by means of concluding a peace treaty with his neighbors? Does God’s blessing flow from above or because of human efforts?

The same ambiguity hovers over the drama of the blessing bestowed, not upon Isaac, but by Isaac. We become aware of the question when we compare the ways Isaac and Rebecca speak about blessing. Isaac tells his beloved son, Esau, to prepare a tasty meal for his aged father “so that my soul shall bless you before I die.” (Gen. 27:4) But when Rebecca relates this statement to her son, Jacob, she phrases it this way: “Look, I heard your father speaking with your brother, Esau, saying, ‘Bring me some hunted catch and make some treats for me and I will eat and bless you before the Eternal, before I die.’” (v.v. 6-7) Rebecca adds to Isaac’s words the missing mention of God’s Presence.

Yet, Isaac certainly recognizes that God, and not (only) Isaac’s own soul, showers blessings. When his son (imagined by Isaac to be Esau), covered with his best hunting gear and animal skins, draws near to kiss his father, Isaac “inhaled the smell of his garments and blessed him, and he said: ‘See, my son’s fragrance is like the fragrance of the field, that the Eternal has blessed.’” (v. 27)

The senses melt together as in a dream. What did Isaac, blind in his old age, smell and then “see?” Did Isaac mean to say that God had blessed the field, or that God had blessed his fragrant son? Perhaps he was convinced that his son was already blessed because he “saw” his son surrounded by the open field, standing in the midst of God’s showering of blessings. “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field.” (Gen. 24:63) Did he see himself, and all of us together, in a field, just like Esau, under a blessing-shower raining down upon us continually? Perhaps, thought Isaac, it is because we are constantly soaking up God’s blessing into ourselves that we are able to send forth blessings from out of ourselves. What was his own soul’s blessing but a natural outcome of our naturally blessed state, unforced and innocent?

This must have been Isaac’s dream. For surely, like Abraham before him and Jacob after him, surely Isaac also dreamed. But the desperate cry of his son, Esau, shattered that dream. Esau’s cry was not for a blessing of the already blessed, but for a blessing for the not yet blessed. It is one of the most tragic scenes in the Torah. The birthright has been given to Jacob, the younger son. Esau comes in from hunting and preparing his father’s favorite dish. His father understands that he whether intentionally or not, he had given the blessing to his other son and tells Esau that the blessing is done. Esau cries out what is left for me. We can feel his pain. Isaac makes up a blessing on the spot to heal the soul of his shattered son. We each deserve blessings and many of us can feel and see them acutely. It is my prayer that we learn to bring blessings to each other through our words and our actions.