How Full of Awe Is This Place!

Vayetzei By :  Marcus Mordecai Schwartz Ripps Schnitzer Librarian for Special Collections; Assistant Professor, Talmud and Rabbinics Posted On Nov 28, 2014 / 5775 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective

In 1969, as a senior pursuing a BFA at the University of Memphis, my mother, Ann Kibel Schwartz, made a series of prints, including this one on themes from Genesis, as her senior thesis. She drew the images for these prints from magazines, newspapers, and print advertisements. The images were starkly modern, but their juxtaposition in collage, drawing on the ancient themes of the Torah, created an old-new whole.

“And Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen 28:16–17)

This is Jacob’s first introduction to God. Jacob has always been domestic, while Esau, his twin, was the wild one. Now, alone and vulnerable in the outdoors for the first time, Jacob encounters the Holy directly. It is as an unrestrained individual, free from the bonds of society, that he is able to face the Divine. But the Divine is itself an unrestrained force, full of power and mystery. While Jacob treasures this experience, he is simultaneously afraid, and must feel a longing to return to the safe contentment of domestic life. Surely, he feels many contradictory things, all in the same moment.

But the Holy draws us, even while it frightens us. And the metaphor in this print is a recognition of something that lies beneath the surface of the familiar. Multiple images overlap, marking the manifold experience of Jacob’s encounter. And the wild man in the image is recognizable, even palpable. We may mistake it for Esau at first, but it is Jacob. Perhaps we need just a bit of that wild, selfish drive if we are to meet the Holy.

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