- Torah and Jewish Thought
Shalom and thank you. In this past week’s parasha, VaYetze, Yaakov Avinu pours (olive) oil on the stones that rested his head, where he had his famous dream. The anointing with oil is well known....with Kohen Gadol, Kings (both Jewish and other), our Karbanot. However, I believe that this reference in VaYetze was the first in the Tanach with regard to using oil. for the purpose of consecration. What is the origin of this rite? Why olive oil....why not dust of precious metal? blood from sacrificial animal? Was it purely practical?..... Because that’s what Yaakov Avinu was carrying? R’ Steinsaltz writes in his newly minted Chumash that the oil was the olive oil that Yaakov would use for bread dipping for his meals. Because it doesn’t spoil easily (like wine)? Because it was valuable (extra extra virgin....)? Because it rises, when combined with watery substances (like cream on milk)? Is this an older practice that Judaism accepted. Ramban wrote on this passage that ultimately, the rite was permitted at the Mizbeach, but that stone pillars were banned in Eretz Yisroel. Thank you. Orrin Davis
Yes, Ya’akov was the first in the Torah to consecrate with oil, and it may be, among other reasons, because it was relatively readily available, and the Torah prefers to make things easier, like the sacrifices coming from available domestic animals and not wild ones which need to be hunted. RSHR Hirsch explains that the concept of consecration or kedusha, actually means: designated. Just as oil is pure and separate and doesn’t mix with other liquids, so too the designated rock, king, Kohen, or holy vessels, are accordingly separated and uniquely designated for their new and pure role, and no longer mix with the unholy. He adds that oil also symbolizes health and happiness (Tehilim 104, 15) and peace (as in the dove’s mouth after the flood). In addition, wine is sometimes problematic (as by Noach), and in general, as opposed to blood, the Torah prefers vegetarian, whenever possible, as we all were in the Garden of Eden and will be in the future ideal world.