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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Where is the “Place,” and Where is the Ladder?

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Our parasha starts off with Yaakov’s dream of a ladder reaching from the ground to the heavens, with angels ascending and descending (Bereishit 28:12). These angels use the ladder in carrying out Hashem’s will. How are human beings, relegated to the ground, able to reach the level of agents of Hashem or reach the place of Beit El (literally, the House of Hashem) to see the ladder as Yaakov did?
One of Hashem’s names is Makom (the Place), as we say in the prayer of Acheinu, "the Makom should have mercy on them…" The source for this usage appears to be in the gemara in Shabbat (12b), where Rabbi Yehuda said that one who visits the sick should say "the Makom should have mercy on you and all those who are sick in Israel." A much earlier source for this Name may actually be hinted at in our parasha.
In the section that describes Yaakov’s special stay in Beit El, the most frequently repeated word is "makom," referring to the place where these events transpired. This word signifies that the place was a special, sacred one. The sanctity is not a function of human intervention but of the presence of the shechina (Divine Presence), which, Yaakov found out in his dream, existed there.
As was hinted in the gemara above, the shechina is also present at the bedside of the ill, as the pasuk says, "Hashem will support him on his bed of anguish" (Tehillim 41:4 – see this week’s Ein Ayah). Hashem is there to give strength to the sick person, and, for that reason, one who visits should act with the respect due to such a holy setting. That is why the prayer said there includes the name Makom.
Is it possible to induce the shechina to come to other places where we would like it? The answer may be found in the continuation of our parasha, when Yaakov responded to Hashem’s tidings for him. Yaakov made an oath that, in response to his success, he would "give to Hashem" a tenth of what he received (Bereishit 28:20-22). This oath is the basis for the generations’ old minhag to give one tenth of one’s total income to tzedaka. These funds do not become sacred and they are used, not for sacrifices or the like, but for acts of kindness toward Hashem’s creations. This is an example of imitatio dei, copying divine traits such as visiting the sick (see Tanchuma, Vayishlach 10).
One who acts in such a generous way has "Hashem with him," as Yaakov described. Such a person can go up and down the "ladders" that Hashem made, as the Tanchuma (ibid.) describes that Yaakov went to Aram without as much as a pillow for his head and came back from Lavan’s house as a rich man. When one uses his money properly, he does not need angels and physical ladders. As Rashi says in the gemara above, when one, such as a sick person, is privileged to be visited by the shechina, he does not need angels to aid his prayers.
May we always merit being in the right makom, doing the right things, and thereby acquiring the ladders that we need to continuously ascend.
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