Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayetze
To dedicate this lesson
Ya'akov's Home

Parashat Vayetze

1. The Gate 2. Boundless Bounty 3. Drawn to Ya'akov's Home 4. Reflecting on the Present 5. Laying the Groundwork


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

kislev 5759
1. The Gate
2. Boundless Bounty
3. Drawn to Ya'akov's Home
4. Reflecting on the Present
5. Laying the Groundwork

(Adapted from the dvar Torah delivered by the rabbi to a gathering of residents and guests at "Shabbat Bet El")

"How awesome is this place. This is surely the House of God, and the Gate to Heaven."
Welcome to Bet El. This holy, awesome place perhaps best epitomizes Ya'akov Avinu, the prime figure among the Avot, our forefathers. Ya'akov reaches the highest level of holiness of all of the patriarchs, and his place is here - in Bet El. This spot is the top of Ya'akov's "ladder," - which, according to some opinions, is spiritually "parallel" to the geographical location of Bet El.

From here, one is able to view the greatest "heights," get a glimpse of the "Gate to Heaven." It's crucial to know where the Gate to Heaven is, since the entry to Heaven is only by way of that gate.

This concept - that there is a specific path to come closer to God - is apparent in the verse in Tehilim (Psalms 118:19) that reads: "Open for me the Gates of Righteousness, I will enter them, and give thanks to God. This is the gate to God, Righteous people are permitted to enter it." The Torah is a spiritual passageway, and Bet El is its material, earthly, point of entry. It is here, in Bet El, that, with the help of Hashem, Ya'akov discovers the Gate to Heaven.

Rabbi Yossi once said: "Anyone who makes his Shabbat pleasurable is rewarded with a boundless inheritance, as it says in the book of Yeshaya (Isaiah): 'Then you shall derive pleasure from Hashem; He will, in response, lift you up to the highest places in the land, and feed you the inheritance of your father Ya'akov.'" The rabbis elaborate: "Not like Avraham, with regards to whom it was said: 'Rise up, and tour the land, its length and breadth.' [The Torah here describes Avraham's relationship to the land as being limited to certain boundaries] Not like Yitzchak, with regards to whom it was said: 'To you and your seed I am giving all of these lands...' But like Ya'akov, with regards to whom it was said: 'And you shall spread out to the west, east, north and south...'"

"You shall spread out to the west" is a modern-day reference to our very own Arutz Sheva radio station, whose ship is still at sea; it is anchored some 20 kilometers off the coast of Israel, and 67 kilometers from where we are now, Bet El. God-willing, we will eventually move eastwards, and then further north and south...

In the Tractate of Pesachim, our sages quote Rabbi Elazar, who asks "What does the verse in Yeshaya (Isaiah) refer to, when it says: 'Many nations will (in Messianic times)say, Let us go up to Hashem's mountain, to the home of the God of Ya’akov.' Is Hashem the God of Ya'akov and not the God of Avraham and Yitzchak? No! Rather, the verse seeks to distinguish between Avraham, who is identified with a mountain: 'As it will be said, on the Mountain of God he will appear,' and not like Yitzchak, who is associated with a field, as it says: 'Yitzchak went out to pray in the field.' Rather, like Ya'akov, who is associated with a home, as it says, 'And Ya'akov called the name of that place Bet (House of) El (God)...'"

Earlier, we cited a verse that predicted that many of the world's nations will ultimately declare, "Let us go up to the Hashem's mountain." In the future, the world's nations will not simply be drawn towards God, (Who dwells on this mountain) - they will seek out the House of the God of Ya'akov. The non-Jewish nations will not be drawn by Yitzchak, who is identified with a field, a wide-open field that could potentially accomodate host thousands...They will be attracted - by the home symbolized by Ya’akov. A home is a framework, a place that serves as a dwelling, gives a structure to, contains within it, the infinite Divine bounty present within a Jewish family. When the Jewish people reaches its potential, returns to itself, ties into its unique internal essence, then the nations of the world will be attracted, will be driven to ascend the Mountain of God, to reach the house of the God of Ya'akov.

There are times when we must look inward, and by way of an insular approach, later influence others... This is reflected in the commandment to Ya'akov: "And you should spread out to the west, east, north and south." The approach of Ya’akov Avinu is dual: He first turns inward, builds his private home; he then reaches out, moving in all directions - with an eye to positively influencing even distant corners of the land and of the globe...

I would like to say a few things about the situation in which we find ourselves at present. We are all busy struggling with how to respond to the events that have befallen us, how to perceive them. What does God want from us?
I think that what is happening now is akin to that which our teacher and master, Rav Kook, said during that awful period known as the Holocaust, although obviously not on the same scale as the Shoah. He said that the Holocaust marked the destruction of the "Galut," of the exile... In other words, the Shoah was a painful, awful period, but it was like a surgical procedure - a type of surgery of transition, in which God transplanted us from the diaspora to the Land of Israel. He uprooted us in a very painful fashion but - did so, so that he could bring us here.

I think that we can even look in the same way at our present crisis, our current suffering, at the weakness of spirit that has overtaken the country, its leaders and decision-makers. We are witnessing the crisis of secular Zionism. It is disintegrating. True, it is a very painful, even overwhelming proces - a literal "Hurban," or destruction; the process is bringing about many serious rifts both in the Land and in the nation. What is happening here, however, is not an overall, wholesale destruction of Jewish life, but the destruction of the particular, superficial secular path that has guided modern Israel until now. This is destruction for the sake of rebuilding. It is bound to bring about the crystallizing of the inner, spiritual, essence of our nation.

Of late, several new concepts have been broached in response to the crisis, like "a leadership of faith," "Jewish leadership," and the like. These are positive developments, but any such movement must be careful to view the Jewish experience broadly, not narrowly. A religious leader is not simply someone who dons a kippa (skullcap) on his head. True Jewish leadership means leadership built upon the solid foundation of Torah. An internal, spiritual strength must be its message; it must reflect the deeply-rooted beliefs of Jewish sources; it must be moved by a desire and ability to elevate the nation.

Our country's present political actors - a leadership not guided by the great ideals of Torah - is crumbling, and this disintegration is surely affecting us, too...

Nevertheless, we must see in the latest events - the peeling away of an external, superficial approach that has fulfilled its previous mission. The time has now come for a great spiritual revolution. We have to already see in this crisis the groundwork for the next phase of our growth, of the blazing of a new, spiritual trail within our nation. A revitalized nation will be led by a true Torah-true leadership, a leadership of people of faith, a leadership that actualizes all of those God-given powers within us...

On behalf of the entire community, I wish to thank all the guests who have come here for "Shabbat Bet El." All of you are flesh of our flesh, our brothers. Many of you have relatives who live here. Yet it is not only the people who live here in Bet El, but many many people all over the land who are connected to us here, and who hear, from here, the resounding voice of Ya'akov Avinu. Today, we saw the ladder standing firm on the ground, with its head reaching heaven. Let us all jointly climb that ladder and ascend to even greater heights. If we do so, we will surely soon merit the building of our Bet Elohim - God's Home - the Bet Hamikdash - in all of its splendor and glory, in our Holy City of Jerusalem, speedily in our days...
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