The movie Citizen Kane has been voted by many film academies and publications to be the greatest American movie of all time. Though the film’s cinematography was cutting edge in 1941, these are certainly not up to the technical capabilities of today’s films, so it is rather the penetrating story that has kept this classic on the top of the experts lists for over half a century. It is loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearse, but it is really a searing look into human desire for love, acceptance, success and peace.
The movie begins with Charles Foster Kane on his deathbed and a zealous newsreel reporter searching for the secret of his life and success – what made him tick. The film flashes back to the beginning of his life as he happily plays in the snow with his friends, and proceeds through his life struggles for success. His rise to wealth, power and influence. It traces his failed marriages, his alienation from friends and his self-inflicted prison of loneliness. Between the narratives of his life, the film keeps coming back to Kane’s deathbed where in a semiconscious state he mouths his last word, “Rosebud.” The reporter is convinced that rosebud is the key to what makes Kane tick. But Kane’s lifelong associate Thompson doesn’t think so and responds:
“No, I don’t think so; no. Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe “Rosebud” was something he couldn’t get, or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn’t have explained anything… I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a… piece in a jigsaw puzzle… a missing piece.”
At the end of the film the audience is shown precisely what “Rosebud” means. It is the name and trademark on the young Kane’s sled. It is not an important person or event in his life, rather it is a symbol of happier and simpler days, a moment in his life where he felt joy, peace, and acceptance. It emblematic of the course most of us take to one degree or another when we veer away from that which can truly bring us happiness, and endeavor instead for the accumulation of fleeting wealth and other’s standards of success.
Today’s parasha also chronicles a quintessential human struggle, that of our ancestor Jacob. Jacob was what they called back in the day, a mover and a shaker, a wheeler and a dealer. He just knows how to make things happen, even though it always comes with a price. He manipulates his brother Esau into trading his birthright for a solitary meal; and then in turn manipulates his father into giving him a blessing. Later he goes after the woman of his dreams and gets her even if it takes 14 years. Along the way he also winds up with three more wives and his father-in-law Laban’s best livestock. But it all comes with problems, alienation from his brother, and strife between his four wives, which later spreads to his twelve sons. In next week’s portion, Vayishlach, we will read that an Angel will bless Jacob, and he will name him Israel because “he has strived with man and God and prevailed”. So how then does Jacob keep it together? What is the secret of his fragile “success”?
I believe it is that Jacob has his own “Rosebud” a place where he had known peace, a place where he had assurance of prosperity. When he left his father’s home he stopped to rest at Hamakom (literally, The Place). It is at Hamakom that he sees the gateway to the unseen universe, and angel’s ascending and descending. In fact Jacob does not just arrive at Hamakom, but we are told that he encounters Hamakom. This is not just “the place” because of the occasion of Jacob’s arrival, rather it is “The Place” as in “The Place To Be”, “The Happening Place”, and “The Only Place that Really Matters.” It is here that God promises Jacob prosperity (Genesis 28:13-15) and Jacob responds (vv.20-22) by vowing fidelity and establishing a monument at the place where he meets God.
All at once “This Place” seems to answer the question, “How does an infinite unseen God transcend our finite world? The answer of course is that only the Creator can create access to the creation. He meets us halfway, just short of where we can’t proceed. Though God is everywhere, He finds us within the limitations of our tangible reality. Hamakom therefore is more than a mere locale. The rabbis of old recognized Hamakom as one of God’s many names. It is often translated as “Omnipresent”. Hamakom is not a particular restricted area; rather it is “The Place” for each of us where we encounter the Holiness of the God of Jacob.
Natan’el had such an encounter (Yochanon 1:43-51). His brother Phillip had met Yeshua and just knew he was “the one that Moses and the Prophets had wrote of.” When Yeshua saw Natan’el approaching he declared “There is a true son of Israel in whom there is no guile.” Of course the plain sense of the narrative would suggest that Yeshua was speaking to Natan’el’s character in a way that only Yeshua could. But as we look at the whole story it would seem that he is speaking with echoes of Jacob’s encounter at Hamakom. Remember Jacob, Israel, was the one whom many argued was filled with guile, and had supplanted his brother, but whom God had vindicated. Natan’el responds by asking how Yeshua knew him. I don’t imagine Natan’el thought Yeshua was stalking him; rather he probably took his comment as mere flattery to win him over. But then Yeshua responds and adds an incredible twist to this story, “Before Phillip called you I saw you while you were under the fig tree.” Fig tree is a common metaphor in rabbinic writings for studying the Torah, a metaphor that was in common usage at the time of this encounter. Apparently Natan’el had been studying Torah, and very likely the story of Jacob at Hamakom. When Natan’el in amazement declares Yeshua to be the “Son of God” Yeshua responds, “I tell you that you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man!” What an incredible statement! Yeshua effectively said that he was Hamakom, that he was “The Place” where the infinite and inscrutable Creator of the world might be known and met! He was saying that he was God incarnate!
For Phillip I am sure this encounter with Yeshua, Hamakom was his “Rosebud” just as Jacob’s vision of the stairway to heaven at Hamakom was his. “The Place” the encounter that they each could return to time after time to seek simplicity and harmony, simple hope in a world wrought with complication and confusion. May it be so for us as well. As we transverse this world we each can make choices and take comfort based upon our very best experiences, our most meaningful encounters, the occasions where the King of the Ages steps into history and visits us – our “Rosebud”, our Hamakom.