Parsha Vayeitzei: Jacob leaves his hometown of Beersheba and journeys to Charan. On the way, he encounters “the place” and sleeps there, dreaming of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, with angels climbing and descending on it; God appears and promises that the land upon which he lies will be given to his descendants. In the morning, Jacob raises the stone on which he laid his head as an altar and monument, pledging that it will be made the house of God.

We sometimes get hung up on holy vs unholy spaces. The synagogue is for Serious Prayer, and outside these walls we blend into the populace, and religion sometimes fades away. Of course, there are those who choose to display their religion very publicly everywhere, to varying reactions. In this story, Jacob has an internal religious experience, and decides that this place is holy for him. It doesn’t matter that he’s in the desert, and he doesn’t need to camp out there and make everyone else recognize it as a spot for divine inspiration; he just puts up a stone (which probably would be completely unnoticed by anyone else) and makes this place meaningful for himself. Internal experience, personal holy space. None of it requiring external validation.

May we all be able to find and make holy spaces wherever we need them, and may we all be able to find moments of peace and understanding this week, even in the midst of the desert of family gatherings.