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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayetze

Leaders, Ladders & Stones

Rabbi Stewart WeissKislev 8 5776
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One of the most famous visual images in all of literature opens our Sedra, as Yakov falls asleep and dreams of a ladder extending from Heaven to Earth, with angels ascending and descending upon it.

Innumerable interpretations of this dream have been offered. My own take is that Yakov himself was meant to be a "ladder," a bridge to connect his people to the Almighty, helping them to continually rise in kedusha and come closer to Hashem. This would be done by virtue of
Torah learning, and Yakov – who is the only person in the Torah described as a "Yoshev Ohalim," a resident of the Bet Midrash - was the perfect person for this holy task.

But I also want to draw your attention to another symbolic metaphor that appears over and over in this Parsha. Vayetze begins with Yakov gathering stones, which he places around his head, either to create a kind of "wall" to keep wild animals away while he sleeps, or as a kind of pillow upon which he rests his weary head.

He then takes these stones – or, actually, a singular stone; Chazal ascribe animate properties to the stones, which combined themselves into one cohesive unit - and he makes a monument out of it. He then anoints the stone, as one would anoint a king or a Kohen Gadol, and he marks the spot as "Bet El," the House of G-d, i.e. the future Bet HaMikdash.

But we’re not done with stones yet. Soon, Yakov will meet Rachel at the well, where, powered by love, he will remove, in super-human fashion, the huge stone from the well’s mouth. Finally, at Sedra’s end, he will again gather stones and create another monument, which he names, "Gal-Ed," as a "witness" to the pact made between him and Lavan.

What is the significance of the stones and its ubiquitous appearance throughout Yakov’s life?

Stone, which lasts virtually forever, is a metaphor for the eternity of Hashem; "Tzur Yisrael – the Rock of Israel," is one of G-d’s names. Steadfast and sturdy, the rock is the prime ingredient used in building. Yakov, via his use of stones, builds his life. First he builds a connection to Hashem at Bet El; then he builds a connection to his beloved Rachel; then he builds a wall between himself and Lavan, from whom he must always keep a safe distance. These are the primary "building blocks" of any Jewish life: Having a relationship with G-d; creating a family with a partner you love; and establishing your rightful place in society.

Even the Hebrew word for rock, "even," is all about connecting. It is composed of 2 words – "Av and Ben," Father & Son. Yakov’s hope for the Jewish People is that we connect from generation to generation – through Torah.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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