This week marked the passing of Stan Lee, the Patriarch of the Marvel Comics Empire. Like so many sons of Jewish immigrants, Lee combined his passion for story-telling with the striving of the displaced-but-aspiring outsider to create a genre that moved from the margins to the mainstream. Most notably, he introduced human foibles and frailties to the field, forging superheroes who were as accessible for their faults as they were exemplary for their virtues—a concept familiar, perhaps, from such figures in Jewish tradition. Lee coined the salutation “Excelsior”, loosely translated from the Latin as “ever upward,” as both a clever motto and expression of the grit and dedication required to succeed in America.
In this week’s portion, Vayetze, Jacob is stuck in the middle between a dubious past of exploitation and trickery and an uncertain future in which his very survival is in doubt. He sleeps on the hard ground and dreams of a ladder extending into the heavens. He awakens from his vision to realize that “God was in this place and I did not know it.” Jacob was so immersed in his travails—his eyes literally and metaphorically cast down toward the baseness of his circumstance—that he could not look up even to behold the divine in his presence. How much more should we strive to raise our eyes—to heighten our awareness—to lift our consciousness to discern the great, the mysterious and the holy that surrounds us if we would but only look ever upward.
Rabbi Daniel Weiner