|Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think. Thomas A. Edison
Thinking must be a very hard thing if so, few people do it. Marx called religion the opiate of the masses, implying that people who believe in G-d don’t think. Is that so? Does attempting to have a meaningful relationship with G-d mean you’re not thinking? How does this apply to us?
Jacob vowed (Genesis 28:22) that he would build G-d’s house in Beit-el (Bethel) and after nearly 22 years he had held him accountable to that promise. Arise, go up to Beit-El and dwell there, and make an altar there to G-d, Who appeared to you when you fled from Esau, your brother. (35:1)
We can understand G-d holding Jacob accountable to his vow but why does he tell him to dwell there? “Dwell” is a metaphor for thought (Ramban). Jacob had to stay in Beit-El until his head was in the right place for the task. It wasn’t enough just to erect an edifice, he needed to put his entire being into the project. Imagine a wealthy man who wants to do something special for his anniversary. He could bring in a chef to cook but he insists on doing all the cooking and room setup himself. His wife will have a completely different feeling of connection to her husband when she tastes and experiences the fruits of his labor more than if they had gone to a restaurant or even if a chef had come to their home. Anyone can make a reservation or hire a chef and caterer, but it takes care and thought to create the food and ambience she has experienced.
A woman we knew was dating a man and the relationship was getting serious. She came from a family of modest means and was beginning her career, but he was already a large income earner. She had to be out of town for business and when she told him her return flight information, he sent a limo to pick her up at the airport (long before Uber existed). She was upset and asked, “why didn’t you pick me up yourself?” He replied, “that’s how I do things; I thought it was a grand gesture.” “In my family,” she said, “we would have picked you up at the airport and had food and drinks waiting and asked you how your flight was.” Giving time and thought is something we really appreciate. In certain aspects of relationships, we don’t place as much value on getting things done as we do on the thought and effort—those are the things that really touch us.If that’s what’s involved for human relationships, imagine how that concept applies when dealing with G-d. It wasn’t enough for Jacob to merely fulfill his vow; he needed time to prepare himself for the magnitude of building a structure dedicated exclusively for G-d.How do we become part of the five percent that Edison was referring to? We need to think about our relationships—from the most intimate to the rest of the people in our lives. What will be the context of my day? Will I encourage, discourage, or be uninterested in the people I encounter? How will I treat people who love me and dedicate their thoughts and actions to me (even though they sometimes make mistakes)? How will I talk with G-d? What will I ask for?
Being mindful has become a buzzword but Jews have always understood its necessity. Jacob was embarking on an important mission but couldn’t do so without taking some time to understand its magnitude and the focus it would entail. We also have important missions to carry out. It might be being a good role model or building important educational or charitable institutions. It behooves us to follow Jacob’s example and dwell a bit before embarking—that contemplation might prove to be one of the necessary tools needed to do whatever you need to. Good Shabbos